When they were 12, during a difficult time in their life, Andrés Larios Brown decided to become a therapist.
“Part of it was when I was coming into my own identity and understanding who I was,” Brown said. Born in Ogden, but raised in California, they said they were also brought up in Utah’s predominant culture and religion.
“There were these early signs of that question: ‘Am I lovable as I am?’” they said, “My life was filled with a lot of anxiety and depression.”
On one hard night, Brown said they woke up “feeling the sense of wanting to make the world a kinder and more expansive space. … I didn’t want anyone to feel as sad or hopeless as I did. So I got on my little dial-up computer and said, ‘What are helping professions?’”
It was then that they came across marriage-family therapy, the field in which they are now licensed. These days, Brown said, they are living their 12-year-old dream as a therapist who helps in their own community.
Brown is the northern clinical director at Encircle, one of four assistant clinical directors with the LGBTQ youth and family resource. At Encircle — always, but especially lately — Brown said, “we really try to focus on affirming human beings’s ability to thrive in their communities [and] families.”
Research from The Trevor Project shows that access to gender-affirming care decreases suicide ideation. The group’s 2022 national survey found that in Utah, 58% of LGBTQ youth in the state who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it.
According to Utah’s public health data resource, suicide was the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10-17 and 18-24 in 2022.
In their recently released 2023 survey, the group found that across the nation, 56% of LGBTQ young people who wanted access did not get it in the past year.
Here is what four Utah LGBTQ+ mental health organizations/therapists are doing to help:
Is there a waitlist? No.
How to access: Schedule an appointment at encircletherapy.org.
Locations: Provo, Salt Lake City, St. George.
At nonprofit Encircle’s locations, Brown said, there are several different resources available: Friendship circle’s (weekly group meets), educational resources, drop-in hours for LGBTQ+ people (ages 12-25 and first-time visitors), parents groups and general therapy services, including teletherapy.
Brown said the most common theme they see with their patients is the same question they asked themselves when they were younger.
“A lot of what we do and see for LGBTQIA+ youth is kind of this inner sense of ‘Am I lovable as I am?’ That’s a supreme need that we have as human beings,” they said. “So there’s a question that arises when we’ve been told that there’s a certain way to be or exist.”
Brown said Encircle now does not have a waitlist for their therapy services, but they are working to figure out the best way to meet the needs of the community. Part of that is having a patient access manager who can be a point of contact, helping those seeking resources get to the right places to do so.
Utah, Brown said, has a big capacity for community because of the way the culture is set up. But, they said, “that also means that sometimes there can be this fear of, ‘If I don’t enact some of these same frameworks or principles or go through the same milestones, do I still have that group belonging?’”
Part of Encircle’s goal, Brown said, is making sure that people are paired with therapists who can address their specific needs.
“I actually came back to Utah specifically to do this work: helping clinicians and therapists better meet our needs as LGBTQIA+ people,” they said. “At Encircle, we’re really invested in training our clinicians to understand the nuances of our experiences and the mental health needs that we have.”
Brown said people always should ask potential therapists questions to make sure they are a good fit.
“I always have this real profound reverence for our capacity as human beings to find healing, wellness, the goodness of us,” Brown said. “That reminder that we’re resilient, powerful and have the capacity to navigate through even really difficult times.”
Is there a waitlist? Yes.
Locations: Orem, South Jordan.
Lisa Hansen, clinical director at Flourish Therapy, said the nonprofit organization offers “counseling sessions for LGBTQIA+ individuals, couples, families and other relationships.”
The 1,200 sessions they offer each month come from telehealth and in-person services in Orem and South Jordan. Since 2017, the nonprofit has provided over 5,000 free sessions, according to their website.
“About 50% of our clients pay $25 or less for therapy, and 75% of our clients pay $50 or less for therapy,” Hansen said via email. “We also take most major insurances. We provide at least 250 free sessions of therapy every month for clients who cannot afford it and do not have insurance.”
Though they have 36 therapists, Hansen said, “we do always seem to have a waiting list as we receive about 100 applications every month. We offer an urgent assessment option for clients who need to be seen and discuss options for treatment.”
These days, Hansen said, the youth they most often work with are genderqueer, “young people exploring what gender means to them and how they experience and express it.”
“They learn that there are fewer spaces where they can count on being treated with basic respect than most teens,” Hansen said.
C Meyer focuses on advocacy for gender-diverse kids in youth residential programs in Utah. She identifies as genderqueer, and is from Spanish Fork. When her best friend transitioned, it led her to a focus in helping the mental health of the transgender community.
Meyer is working toward a master’s in social work, and works at Flourish as a non-licensed therapist and clinical intern. She also has run the transgender, nonbinary group at the Utah Pride Center for the past two years.
At Flourish, she said, she sees 20 clients a week, and 90% of them are transgender. Because of recent laws, she said, they now are the most heartbreaking population to work with.
“I feel very hopeless in working with them because, again, it’s just talk therapy. There’s only so much I can do with talk therapy working through body dysphoria,” Meyer said.
Is there a waitlist? Yes.
How to access: Appointments can be made at 801-355-3554.
Locations: 160 S. 1000 East, Salt Lake City.
Dr. Colleen Kuhn, a clinical child and adolescent psychologist who specializes in gender, has a private practice called One Haven. They said they knew from a very young age what they wanted to do.
“I always knew that I wanted to work with children and adolescents, because I love kids,” they said. They also said they knew they were gay when they were 5, and later medically transitioned in their 40s.
Kuhn said that, among their clients, they don’t have a lot of kids directly affected by SB16, but it still affects them emotionally. “They get the message from the state that they’re not wanted, valued, seen [or] heard — [that] who they are isn’t valid.”
Though Kuhn is in private practice, they consider themselves community-oriented, meaning they are connected to medical providers, lawyers and others in the community — such as LGBTQ-affirming makeup artists and hair stylists who they can share with clients.
Kuhn has also been on the board of The LGBTQ+ Affirmative Psychotherapist Guild of Utah since 2016. Their unique expertise and personal experience in adolescent gender therapy means they often have a waitlist — at the end of April it tallied at around more than 50 people — but they make an effort to keep in touch and update potential clients.
As a private practice, one thing Kuhn can speak to is the trouble of insurance costs for those seeking mental health services. In their national survey, The Trevor Project found that 51% of youth in Utah listed cost as a barrier to access.
“I had one insurance [that] they promoted LGBTQ+ gender policies and things like that and on [someone’s] insurance, the diagnosis of gender dysphoria wasn’t covered,” she explains. “So that parent had to fight and eventually [it] did get changed, but it took months and months and months for that to happen.”
The LGBTQ+ Affirmative Psychotherapist Guild of Utah
Is there a waitlist? Depends on the therapist.
How to access: Find a therapist at lgbtqtherapists.com.
Robin Tracy is a clinical director at Collective Recovery, and the organizational coordinator at The LGBTQ+ Affirmative Psychotherapist Guild of Utah.
Tracy said the calling for her profession felt totally natural to her for who she is and what she wanted. “I feel very called to my profession by God,” she said.
“Most LGBTQ folks who go to counseling aren’t necessarily going for their identity,” she said. “They’re going for all of the things that bring people into counseling, and their identity is a piece of that.”
The guild, she said, is a grassroots organization dedicated to “increasing cultural competency of therapists to work with LGBTQ folks,” so they can effectively counsel members of the LGBTQ+ community.
That essentially starts and ends with their resource directory guide (now listing 113 therapists and 24 different agencies), but, it’s important to distinguish between needs for sexual-identity therapy and gender-identity therapy, she said, like Kuhn’s expertise.
“In the early days, it was like this is therapy for or services geared towards people who identify as gay or lesbian or bisexual, and transgender folks didn’t have as many resources,” Tracy said.
In this era of a “constantly shifting landscape of legal oppression” Tracy said, “The impact on a person’s mental health is hard to even specify. … Youth have been the target of a lot of these bans because it’s easier to legislate what happens with kids than to legislate what happens with adults, who have their own autonomy and legal abilities.”
The Trevor Project — 24/7, no-cost availability via chat, phone, text. Go online at thetrevorproject.org.