An interview with Simon McGibbney – LGBTQ+ Counsellor, and Friend

Simon shares more about himself, his life as a counsellor, and tips on how LGBTQ+ people can help manage their mental health

Simon is an LGBTQ+ counsellor in Liverpool, offering services in person and online. See his profile here for a full range of counselling services

Let’s start with the basics Simon, are you an original scouser?

Yes and no. I’m from a place called Wirral which is in Merseyside, but there is a river that divides Liverpool from Wirral. To be a true scouser,  I’d need to be from Liverpool. I don’t really have a scouse accent, either!

How long have you been a qualified counsellor?

I started training in 2018 and began working directly with clients in 2020. I officially qualified in 2021 when I opened my private practice. 

Right now, I’m keeping my practice small while I continue on a project in an unrelated role, but I’m planning to expand very soon. Watch this space!

And for readers who may not know, can you explain to us what counselling is?

I think the essence of good counselling is a space and a relationship in which you as a client can experience unconditional acceptance, feel seen, and be understood by another human being. Through that process, some of the external ‘stuff’ that we carry can fall away, and what is left behind is a more whole and authentic person.

There is undoubtedly a lot more to it that than, and how counselling looks will depend on what the individual person is looking for, however, there is a large amount of research that shows the therapeutic relationship between client and counsellor is the biggest factor in successful counselling.

If you had to explain counselling as a comedic analogy, how would you describe it?

I don’t know about a comedic analogy, but I’ll give you another one: tending a garden.

You are the garden. 

Often when coming to counselling for the first time, the garden is overgrown with weeds, and parts neglected. Your anxieties, concerns and painful parts have sunken down into the soil; it can feel like an overwhelming task so it is avoided. 

In counselling, we go out into the garden, we look at it, see what’s there, and we get used to being present in it. We decide on the best place to start, perhaps we turn the soil, pull up weeds, or clear ground.  Slowly, those buried parts and painful experiences begin to release, making way for new growth, where seeds can be planted. 

Our seeds represent trying new things. Some of these seeds grow into beautiful strong and confident plants, others do not. You learn how to water, and care for your garden; what its unique needs are. You learn how to trim its borders, and keep its boundaries. You learn that your garden doesn’t look like everyone else’s, and nor should it. You learn to love your garden, because it’s yours, and it’s lovely.  

There are many other analogies and metaphors used within counselling. As a very visual practitioner, I often use metaphor in session with my clients as it’s a nice way of connecting.

What do you think about the word scouser?

Most scousers are fiercely proud of their scouseness, and why not? Liverpool is a wonderful place!

Did you wear a shell suit in the 90’s?

Ha ha, I did not.

I think my brother had one, but I wasn’t so lucky. Sadly.

Wellness HQ: We’ll share a secret with you, Simon – we owned one! We looked mighty fine too…

In your experience, what mental health challenges are most common within the LGBTQ+ community?

It’s important to say that everyone’s experiences are different, although it’s widely seen that shame, and people’s strategies to cope with shame, are big challenges for us in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Shame is a social function. and as long as the world is dominated by cis/het/traditional expectations and values, and where those cis/het identities are deemed to be normal, shame and its toxic side effects will continue to challenge us.

That said, shame, and other mental health challenges, in my view, are not LGBTQ+ issues – we don’t own these. But these are social and cultural issues that disproportionately impact us. We struggle because of the context we are in. If we look at the wider context, taking the garden analogy as the example, we can learn to take care of our garden as best we can, but, if its always raining, or not getting enough sun, or the garden is attacked by pests, it’s going to be more difficult for our garden to thrive. 

This is why community, pride and activism is important – we need to continue improving the external environments, that help our gardens thrive. 

I feel as a nation we can do more to help young LGBTQ+ people to prevent mental health struggles later in life. What do you think we can do to better serve LGBTQ+ young people in society?

I’ve been very emotional recently when watching some of the new TV shows with prominent LGBTQ+ characters. I’m thinking Heartstopper, Big Boys, It’s a Sin, Schitt’s Creek.

Its lovely to see myself represented in positive ways that I can recognise. So I am encouraged by this progress for the youth. But I know that those shows only represent part of our community and there is a way to go. More positive representation would be great for reducing shame. We need to show young people that they are perfect, whatever colour of the rainbow they fall into.

As mentioned in my previous answer, there is a wider intersectional aspect to this too. Some members of our community face more struggles than others; young trans people denied access to healthcare and their existence debated and LGBTQ+ POC facing racism and discrimination within the community, as well as outside of it.

As a nation and a community, more can and must be done.

For anyone struggling now, what small tips can you offer as a way for people to manage their mental health struggles on a daily basis and create a more secure space around themselves

Avoidance is not normally helpful. Whether you’re experiencing anxiety, trauma, grief or issues directly related to your LGBTQ+ identity,  sometimes the only way around is through.

I shared a quote on my Instagram this week, ‘only by facing all of ourselves, the good and the bad, can we become whole’, and it really resonated. 

Get the support you need, from a friend, or a professional. 

I always keep spaces open for new LGBTQ+ clients, so anyone in need of counselling can also contact me here

If you could give one piece of advice to parents of LGBTQ+ children to help prevent mental health impacts in their later life, what would it be?

Watch your words, because even small things stick. 

A number of people I’ve worked with have held onto comments made by parents decades ago about an LGBTQ+ person. Things that the parent probably said flippantly but were meaningful to the child – even if the child didn’t understand why at the time.

It’s reported that throwaway comments can be internalised by a child and contribute to a persons negative self image as they develop.

Seriously though, that shell suit. What colour was it?

ha ha ha I’ve told you, no shell suit. 

I think you want a new one though James!

Do you have a view on gay dating apps like Grindr and how these may feed into the mental health of the gay community?

Like all social media platforms, Grindr reflects the people using it. 

There are good and bad aspects. It’s a lifeline to people needing connection with other LGBTQ+ folks, for sex, relationships, friends or even advice on where to find the best night out in a new city! It also offers members of the community who maybe don’t feel comfortable on the scene a chance to ‘get out there’. 

However, Grindr, and other apps, aren’t safe for everyone and can be rife with racism and homophobia. These traits are things offending users themselves, rather than the apps, need to take responsibility for.

What’s the last book you read?

Last night before bed I read the June chapter of The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2022. 

It’s a super cute book with a month by month guide to what’s happening in nature, folk traditions, festivals, astrology and more. Sorry its not more exciting ha ha

After thinking about shame earlier, I am also going to re-read Alan Downs book The Velvet Rage. I haven’t read it for years and its a powerful read! Recommend.

Who’s your not-so-secret crush?

I’m rubbish at celebrity crushes! However I recently finished watching The Last Kingdom after a mega Netflix binge. Safe to say I am now crushing on many a Viking. 

Do you still own that shell suit?

James just buy yourself a shell suit already!

 

Author: Simon McGibbney

Titles: Counsellor

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