Interview with Jamie Moran, LCSW on LGBT Social Work

[About Jamie Moran, LCSW]: Jamie Moran, LCSW, CGP, attended SFSU, graduating in 1986 with a concentration in Direct Service. He practiced in a variety of work settings including hospitals, emergency rooms, clinics, hospice, and home care focused on HIV/AIDS and other medically impacted populations.

Jamie was in the first group of clinicians hired in San Francisco to provide HIV antibody testing in 1985. He started his private practice in 1992 in San Francisco and added a Menlo Park/Palo Alto office in 1996; amplifying an earlier passion for group psychotherapy, group training and education. Currently, Jamie works with gay and bisexual men in group, offers group training and consultation to clinicians, and has a practice focused on grief, burnout, stress management and other topics. Jamie sees patients of a variety of orientations and works frequently with couples.


[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to become a social worker and, more specifically, a social worker within the LGBTQ community?

[Jamie Moran, LCSW] Fortunately, I came from a (somewhat) left leaning family where my Mother in particular was an advocate for a variety of causes. I had a minor in social work in undergraduate school, and had various community experiences that helped cement this interest. I helped promote gay educational and social activities my senior year in college by asking for funding with the student government and by writing an editorial when the gay group was not allowed to participate in a campus wide annual event (about which I was pleased, given it was 1975, that a small number of faculty joined me in condemning the administration for this decision). We invited Harvey Milk to speak at our college in 1975 and he created quite the event!

My first job after graduating was as an Eligibility Worker for Alameda County in Oakland, where I worked on eligibility for Aid to Families with Dependent Children. I volunteered on the "hotline" at the Pacific Center in Berkeley in 1976, which was (and still exists today) an LGBTQ counseling center providing groups, a phone hotline and other related services. This volunteer experience underscored the power of community and the usefulness of being both present as a volunteer and as someone who could be out and proud.

When I applied to grad school, the AIDS epidemic was in its early stages; it was a scary and difficult time in so many ways, but it was also a time of great community efforts. I emphasized HIV work in parts of both internships in school, and felt a great connection with many LGBTQ people and Allies who were showing up, participating and helping our community in crisis.

After graduating with my MSW, I stayed on as a volunteer therapist with my internship providing counseling for the LGBTQ Community. It was a great learning experience on so many levels and the volunteer group was strong and numerous. We learn, as Social Workers, to give back and to emphasize the needs of the community. Many of my colleagues from that pivotal and wonderful agency remain colleagues today though, sadly, many have passed away over the years.

Working with the LGBTQ community has been a profound learning experience over many years and with all the social changes we've witnessed. It is still amazing, as a Social Worker providing direct service, to see and feel the impact of providing support and connection for people who have struggled.

[OnlineMSWPrograms] Could you please elaborate on the mental, emotional, behavioral, and social effects that discrimination has on members of a marginalized community, such as the LGBTQ community? How do you address these effects in your therapeutic sessions?

[Jamie Moran, LCSW] Pervasive impacts on many levels seems like an apt description of the impact of homophobia on the LGBTQ community. I find it helpful to look at the macro impact in terms of themes, and also realize each person is an individual who has had unique stressors that may or may not be reflective of these themes. Three examples that come to mind are described below:

  • A certain number of my gay male clients struggle with perfection; we have talked about how early memories point out how perfectionism has a specific role of both protecting them, increasing safety, but limiting vulnerability. Many of them are working on increasing vulnerability in their lives to increase intimacy and connection, and clearly, to feel better about themselves.
  • Broader social dynamics, including racism, sexism, and other isms naturally play out in our communities, but can often be ignored, downplayed or misunderstood. A prime example of this is with LGBTQ people of color. Early on in the AIDS epidemic there was, at times, a lack of awareness about who was being hired and where resources were allocated. It is clearly disappointing to feel you have "arrived" in your community only to have familiar mainstream experiences of sexism and racism.
  • One of my therapeutic interests is on the concept of "injury and repair'. Basically, we all have injuries of a psychological and emotional level, but the repairs are often lacking. Group therapy is an excellent working environment to work on repair by being with like minded individuals who are motivated to share of themselves and also learn how to approach and integrate repairs. As a colleague of mine once suggested, gay men [and others] have been hurt in groups; and can now heal in groups. Most male environments, certain churches, and other ‘groups’ have been hostile and unsafe. There is a strong degree of potential repair by being in a positive, health enhancing group or environment.

[OnlineMSWPrograms] You teach a few unique workshops, including one called “coaching on flirting and dating”. Can you talk about why you think that’s important, particularly to LGBTQ populations? And how does it relate your overall practice as a social worker?

[Jamie Moran, LCSW] If you ask some of my closest friends, they'll share that I don't flirt very well at all, being an introvert and somewhat shy by nature. This gives us all a good laugh; so why not teach? My wonderful colleague Mark Mendelow and I developed this workshop because we saw a great need in many gay men and thought it would be good to help gay men with this topic. If one thinks about it, we are really talking about self esteem, risk and rejection, along with motivation and deserving qualities. In a roundabout way, we were promoting psychological healing in a (hopefully) fun and festive environment. I also tend to use a fair amount of humor in my overall work, and I think it really helps.

The fun we had as leaders, with purposeful focus, helped provide some balance to otherwise serious work and the heaviness many gay men experienced with the many impacts of HIV.

One social work tenant is to start where the client is while another is to take a client centered approach. Some clients need some low key time and fun, and most importantly, to be in a workshop or group where they are amongst like minded individuals. Being with others who are struggling can be such an immense benefit if handled therapeutically, since many of us have experience being scapegoated, marginalized or isolated. I was pleased to volunteer my time and expertise with the Harvey Milk Institute, which, for many years, hosted this class as a way of giving back to the community.

[OnlineMSWPrograms] What socioeconomic and health disparities do members of the LGBTQ community face, and how can social workers and other people in the helping professions help to address these inequalities?

[Jamie Moran, LCSW] I would say likely there exists similar disparities compared with the mainstream population, complicated by the possibilities of homophobia, hidden identity and circumstances. There are visible parts of the LGBTQ Community that appear well off and privileged, but that clearly is not everyone. Accessibility to services and reflecting basic needs in those services seems vital and necessary. In the Bay Area we are fortunate to promote a variety of services aimed at meeting these needs, particularly for vulnerable populations. Social Workers already perform vitally with advocacy, volunteerism, and other approaches to the macro issues we face culturally. If one has time to volunteer, it can make a huge difference. I really like it when I see Social Workers in politics, of which we have quite a few representatives and role models. Even outside of serving in politics, it is really important to stay aware, especially in today's politically charged environment.

Challenges include feeling overburdened with workloads, the possibility of burnout and vicarious trauma in our everyday professional lives and desiring balance, which sometimes precludes volunteering for additional tasks. For busy people, being approached with smaller sized requests can make a difference. Currently with Indivisible Guide ("A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda"), small tasks are easy to complete and create some sense of accomplishment.

[OnlineMSWPrograms] You’re a vocal advocate for group therapeutic sessions, with a focus on the positive effects it has on gay men. Why do you think group therapy is so vital, specifically for gay men?

[Jamie Moran, LCSW] In elaborating from question #2, many gay men grew up isolated and have reacted to the hostile world by being independent. This can continue in adulthood and often is looked at as a positive attribute. But many gay men are missing community, feel lonely or alone, and have been hurt by other gay men in addition to the world at large. Group offers a "repair" to these injuries in ways that aren't often replicated elsewhere. In group, you are amongst peers who are motivated, conscientious, caring and giving, and for the most part, willing to hang in there with the ups and downs of the group.

Unfortunately, sometimes group members are also injured in group, and the outcome depends on a variety of factors. If a repair comes out of the experience of injury in group, it can be immensely helpful. As a slight tangent, there is no way to avoid being injured in a relationship of meaning, it is what happens with the injury that makes the difference. This was something many gay men missed out on learning growing up.

Additionally, all groups offer the potential benefits of "joining" (this is how I relate to you), “supporting” (how can we be helpful to you today in group when you are really struggling?), “normalizing” (I thought often I was the only one but I have learned that is not really true), “validating” (your anger is totally understandable; I would be angry too!), and two profound and ongoing issues in life; trust and safety. Group encourages participants to be aware of and speak to the fluctuating experiences of trust and safety both inside and outside the group. Out of these discussions come the possibility of reflecting more purposefully what the group member needs. In many families and schools, safety and trust were not addressed openly and certain taboos were even promoted.

[OnlineMSWPrograms] For social work professionals and students who are interested in learning more about LGBTQ social work, do you have any recommendations for resources (online, print, or in person) that they can read themselves, or which they can refer to clients? How would you recommend they gain the knowledge and develop the skills to provide more effective services to LGBTQ people and organizations?

[Jamie Moran, LCSW] This is a great question and I would be really interested in how several colleagues respond to this vital question. One historic observation to be aware of is that at times, the "dominant" culture can rely on minorities for education and so I would encourage non LGBTQ Social Workers to not assume that an identified LGBTQ Social Worker wants to be in an education role. As another example, African American Social Workers have been asked to help White Social Workers understand certain cultural dynamics, to which some Clinicians are going to respond, you need to do the educating yourself without asking me, I've been asked way too many times.

Having said that, I have offered many workshops for agencies, non-profits and community organizations talking about these issues, usually on a volunteer basis. I also provide paid consultation on a variety of topics that may be a challenge to non LGBTQ Social Workers. I know we have a wealth of workshops addressing a variety of these topics as well, and I particularly encourage Social Workers to attend in person, as these topics are often better addressed live. Recently, an education institution DO YOU KNOW WHICH ONE?? I DON'T!!! began offering a certificate in LGBTQ counseling, a reflection of several courses relative to this cultural understanding.

I personally find valuable the privileged framework (thanks to Peggy McIntosh). As someone who is white, cis male identified, middle class, and gay, there are certain experiences in life that are much easier for me. And for non-LGBTQ Clinicians, I would encourage them to explore their privilege as it relates to clinical work and understanding of their clients. Respectfully asking if clients are interested in explaining or elaborating on their experience can be helpful, especially if we are able to acknowledge our potential for real bias and assumptions, and do our best not to react defensively when it is suggested that we may be biased, racist, homophobic, classist, sexist.

Thank you Mr. Moran for your time and insights into LGBT social work