What it is: Identity-related distress refers to uniquely high levels of distress experienced by those who are members of stigmatized, oppressed, or otherwise marginalized groups. Examples of identity-related stress include race-based stress or sexual and gender minority (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, nonbinary, intersex, asexual, agender) stress. This chronic stress can result from social conditions such as prejudice, stigma, harassment, discrimination, or other interpersonal concerns. Identity-related stressors can occur on a macro (society-based or policy-based), meso (community-based), or micro (individual-based) level.
Associated Concerns: Individuals experiencing minority- or identity-related stress are at greater risk of a number of problematic symptoms and outcomes compared to non-marginalized individuals. These include the likelihood of experiencing traumatic events and the development of PTSD, as well as the prevalence of a number of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Additionally, chronic identity-related stress has been linked to long-term health effects such as headaches, GI issues, sleep difficulties, appetite changes, poor concentration, decreased self-esteem, frequent shame experiences, and other factors that may decrease quality of life and ability to pursue goals and values.
How Identity-related Distress is Addressed at TAP:
The ways in which identity-related stress are addressed in treatment will vary from person to person. For some people, identity-related stress will be at the top of their list of concerns to address in treatment; for others, it will be an important part of their life though potentially a lower priority for treatment. Moreover, some people may wish to discuss identity-related distress from more of an acceptance-based perspective (e.g., working on increasing self-compassion related to marginalized identity, understanding the impact of aversive institutional and systemic racism and homophobia, depathologizing the impact of identity-based trauma and stress), whereas others may wish to utilize a problem solving approach to coping with identity-related stress (e.g., managing difficult discussions across identity lines, coping with overt and covert microaggressions, coping with chronic stress symptoms). Others may wish to have open discussions of identity exploration, including topics such as processing values mismatch (religion and identity), addressing chronic shame, and values-based goal pursuit. These techniques and approaches can be integrated into any of our evidence-based therapies for other symptoms and diagnoses, or may be utilized as a standalone treatment for identity-related stress.
Therapists at TAP are comfortable initiating and participating in conversations about race, gender, and sexuality with their clients. We believe that acknowledgment, curiosity, validation, and respect for identity, as well as open dialogue regarding similarities and differences between the therapist and client, are important to facilitating a nuanced understanding of each individual’s experience of the world.