OUTCOAST partner, Aimee Beardslee, LMHC, EdS, MS, sat down with OUTCOAST to share her favorite childhood memory, what brought her to Florida, and why she focuses on supporting primarily the LGBTQ community in her counseling work.
Where did you grow up? Tell us a little about your upbringing.
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. I enjoy going back there a couple times a year to visit family, and I also love visiting Atlanta because it is a fun, diverse, and LGBTQ+ friendly city! Throughout my childhood I also visited extended family in Orlando, Florida and took trips to the Gulf Coast beaches every year. I always knew I wanted to move to Florida when I grew up! I longed for the warmer weather in winter and also to be able to zip over to the beaches in a few minutes, rather than having to drive five hours!
Favorite childhood memory?
Taking trips to the Gulf Coast beaches in Florida, where I loved to swim in the sparkling, blue-green water and build intricate sand castles on the white, sugary sand beaches all day and every day. I never wanted to go back home the last day of our trips…but now I am home!
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I attended Florida State University and earned a dual degree: a Master of Science (M.S.) and Education Specialist (Ed.S.) in Mental Health Counseling.
Why did you enter the world of counseling?
When I was living in Atlanta, I worked at the Feminist Women’s Health Center for two years. I worked in almost every role there: health worker, lab tech, front desk staff…but when I finally started shadowing the counselors and then eventually started doing counseling on my own, I was hooked. During my time there I also had my first opportunity to work with transgender clients, who came to our clinic to receive gender affirming healthcare, including hormone therapy.
What were you doing before counseling?
A little bit of everything! I always gravitated to helping professions before I decided to enter graduate school for mental health counseling. During my undergraduate years at Georgia State University, where I earned a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies with a Major in Women’s Studies, I worked as both a nanny and a bartender. The children were much easier to tend to!
I also worked as an Abuse Hotline Counselor for the Florida Department of Children and Families, as well as a Medical Technician at Florida State University’s student health center. Although I always felt like I was helping others in some capacity in these jobs, it wasn’t until I started doing counseling that I felt like I was able to help people on a very deep and personal level, as well as to really facilitate lasting change.
What is your favorite part about your job?
Easiest answer yet. My clients! It is such a privilege to have someone open up their heart and personal life to you. It is an amazing and powerful thing to witness a person evolving and growing right in front of you. Providing a safe, supportive space where my clients can truly be themselves and explore themselves (and their relationships if doing couples therapy)-sometimes when they are not yet able to do so with anyone else-is so crucial in setting the stage for therapeutic growth.
Vulnerability is hard, and therapy does take work, but the rewards are so worth it. When I see my clients recognize how far they have come in therapy and how much they have grown, I get so excited and proud with them. Seeing my clients reap the rewards of therapeutic work is incredibly rewarding for me.
Why did you choose to partner with OUTCOAST?
I became a reader of OUTCOAST’s newsletter several months ago, so I was already a consumer myself! I love that OUTCOAST represents and reaches out to Florida’s Gulf Coast LGBTQ+ community, the very community I also want to reach out to and support. It felt like a perfect fit!
Why is working with LGBTQ+ clients so important to you?
As a therapist and an LGBTQ+ identified woman (I’m comfortable with the terms pansexual or bisexual), I am incredibly passionate about increasing support for sexual and gender minorities. My research into LGBTQ+ issues started 17 years ago when I started my undergraduate women’s studies program, and this has continued to be my focus since then, including during my time at graduate school.
LGBTQ+ individuals are at a disproportionately higher risk for mental health issues (such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, suicidality) compared to non-LGBTQ+ individuals. As an LGBTQ+ affirmative therapist, it is so incredibly important for me to be well versed in how minority stress and experiences with discrimination and stigma (related to race, SES, ability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, and more) impact mental health. I want to ensure that I’m doing all I can to help de-stigmatize mental health issues and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. My goal is to help clients target the appropriate underlying issues they need help with, rather than just diagnosing, pathologizing, and ignoring the bigger picture that informs clients’ lives. I also want to emphasize my clients’ strengths and resiliency and help them use these to their advantage!
I also specialize in working with LGBTQ+ clients because it is so incredibly important for every person to be affirmed and to not have to explain themselves or experience subtle forms of discrimination when they are seeking support and relief. Even if a client is going to therapy for a non-LGBTQ+ related issue, it is important to still provide an affirming environment, as well as to be aware of how experiencing the world as an LGBTQ+ person can contribute, even partially, to issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress.
Have you been to any special trainings or conferences around the work you do?
Last month I attended Harvard Medical School’s two-day conference in Boston titled “Advancing Excellence in Transgender Health”. There were over 400 people in attendance from all professions-including therapists, social workers, nurses, doctors, ARNPs, and more. It was not only a great learning experience, but it was so uplifting to be around professionals who were just as passionate as I am about providing affirming care to transgender and gender non-conforming clients.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice has always been from my mom, who never dictated who I should be or what I should do in life. She always encouraged me to follow my own path- even if it wasn’t the same as everyone else’s- as long as it felt right to me.
As a therapist, I’m not an advice giver. I always remind my clients that they know themselves better than anyone else. They know what has worked for them thus far and what hasn’t. I am there to help them explore who they are and what they need to do to feel mentally healthier or to improve their relationships. I want my clients to step into their own power, gain trust in themselves, and use the skills and self-knowledge they have gained in therapy to know how to handle challenges in the future.
What would you tell someone who’s trying to “come out,” but doesn’t know where to start?
Start with yourself. Identity exploration is something that you have to do at your own pace, and there is no one “right” way to come out. Coming out is a process, and everyone’s process differs depending on innumerable factors.
Although some people may “just know” from an early age that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc., this is not everyone’s experience. Confusion and uncertainty are normal too! Some people are seniors when they start questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity. No matter where you are on your journey, you aren’t alone! Again, there is no single “correct” way to be LGBTQ+, and it can be difficult to allow yourself to hear your own voice when those of people in society, the media, your family, your workplace, etc. have their own opinions and assumptions about what it means to be LGBTQ+. You get to decide who you are. No one else.
Seek support from affirming people and resources. You can talk to an affirmative therapist, attend an LGBTQ+ support group (such as the ones at Rainbow Counseling, Metro Wellness, or PFLAG), talk to a close friend or family member with whom you have been able to share personal things without judgment, and/or find an online LGBTQ+ community (such as a private web forum or “secret” Facebook groups for people who identify similarly to you).
Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions about individual or couples therapy, my support group, or anything else! I’m located in St. Pete and provide office based therapy there, but I also provide online counseling Florida-wide. You can call me at 727-314-1864 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Aimee Beardslee, LMHC, EdS, MS
LGBTQ+ Affirmative Therapist
Owner of Rainbow Counseling