Let's not get it twisted: bullying is the result, not the problem.
Article Type: Column
Subject: Psychotherapy (Health aspects)
Psychotherapy (Research)
Bullying (Research)
Suicide (Research)
Author: Bates, D. Dionne
Pub Date: 03/22/2011
Publication: Name: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association Publisher: American Psychotherapy Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 American Psychotherapy Association ISSN: 1535-4075
Issue: Date: Spring, 2011 Source Volume: 14 Source Issue: 1
Accession Number: 258131240
Full Text: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association recently ran an article titled "The Bully Epidemic." As a licensed therapist who works a great deal with issues concerning affirmation and self-identity, I was very excited to see the issue addressed in this publication. I was disappointed, however, to find that the article addressed this issue much like the media and various organizations, in that the real issue was not addressed.

I concur with author Irene Javors (2010); bullying is not a new issue. I think it is safe to say any minority or marginalized population can attest to that. Interestingly, this bullying issue has gotten America's attention. But, why? Why now? If this is an issue that has been problematic for many years, why address it now? How is the issue now different and more worthy of being addressed than it was in the past? Might it have anything to do with the fact that, as Javors asserted, there was a "deluge" of bullying incidents that occurred succeedingly? Hmm, possibly. Two factors, however, that continue to be minimized or excluded altogether in addressing the issue are 1) the incidents that occurred last fall involved youth and young adults who were bullied by others because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation and 2) who not only died (as Javors mentions) but committed suicide.

Between September 2010 and October 2010, there were 12 youth (of which the public is aware) between the ages of 13 and 19 who committed suicide as a result of the violence (verbal and nonverbal) inflicted on them. Though many victims identified as lesbian or gay, some did not and may not have been, but because they expressed their gender differently than what is considered "normal" for their biological sex, were thought to be gay or lesbian--and harassed just the same. Many of the commercials geared toward eradicating bullying do not mention sexual orientation. (Actually, many of the commercials that I have seen speak more to suicide prevention than bullying.) Likewise, some violence prevention agencies seem to omit sexual orientation as well. For example, I was recently forwarded a PowerPoint presentation from a military entity, developed by a state violence prevention coalition. While the presentation included various suicide statistics, there was no mention of sexual orientation or the fact that in a 2009 survey of 7,000 LGBT middle and high school youth, 8 out of 10 expressed being verbally or physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation. LGBT youth in grades 7 through 12 were twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to have attempted suicide (Centers for Disease Control, 2011). Regarding college students, the 2010 State of Higher Education for Lesbian, Gay, BiSexual, and Transgender People (Rankin, Weber, Blumenfeld, & Frazer, 2010) reported in the 2010 National College Climate Survey that out of 2,384 undergraduate students across 50 states, LGBT respondents "experienced significantly greater harassment and discrimination than their heterosexual allies and were more likely to indicate the harassment was based on sexual identity."

Given these trends, how is it that we can continue to talk publicly about bullying without naming specifically who is bullied? Certainly, individuals are bullied for a plethora of reasons, but research indicates that negative attitudes toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals put LGBT youth at increased risk for verbal or physical harassment at school compared to other students (Centers for Disease Control, 2011). Therefore, we cannot discuss bullying or suicide in vague terms or only in terms of race, religion, disability, body image, etc., without also discussing sexual orientation and gender as primary contributors.

Given the statistics and loss of so many youth last fall, I would like to Suggest that bullying and suicide is not the problem. The problem lies in the issue of intolerance and non-affirming attitudes of difference. Moreover, the magnitude of this problem demonstrates that attitudes pertaining to sexual orientation are more problematic than many want to admit and, in the silence, such attitudes have run amok. Bullying and suicide, therefore, have become the results of a larger problem.

One of the many things that we can do as clinicians to contribute to the solution of the problem of intolerance, nonaffirming attitudes, and the damaging results caused by such problems is to be more deliberate about specifically identifying and verbalizing problems our youth and society face when discussing the results. By identifying and verbalizing the problem, we not only decrease some of the fear of discussing the problem, but also are more proficient in educating others about the potential risks that can occur as a result of the allowed perpetuation of such problems. It is through education that fear is further reduced and awareness, open-mindedness, humanity, and affirmation are increased. Clinicians can also help youth feel more secure about being who they are, whether they are sexual minorities or express themselves differently than what culture dictates (e.g. gender expression). This may involve helping youth develop a better understanding about what sexual orientation and gender expression mean, work through self-esteem issues, and helping them develop support systems that will 1) empower them to be more authentic in their identity and 2) provide them the same level of protection as others. Helping youth identify different forms of violence (e.g. verbal, nonverbal, physical, direct, indirect, etc.) can also help them learn to be more vigilant about how they are treated and how they treat others.

What is not revealed cannot be healed, and while the issue of intolerance and non-affirming attitudes toward difference (particularly regarding sexual orientation and gender expression) may not improve overnight, this problem is certainly more likely to produce colossal and collateral damage if not appropriately exposed and addressed.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011, January 25). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health: Youth. Retrieved January 26, 2011, from http://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm

Javors, I. R. (2010). The bully epidemic. Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, 13(4), 64.

Rankin, S., Weber, G., Blumenfeld, W., & Frazer, S. (2010). State of higher education for lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender people. National College Climate Survey. Charlotte, NC: Campus Pride.

By D. Dionne Bates, PHD, LPC, DAPA

D. DIONNE BATES, PHD, LPC, DAPA, holds a doctorate in clinical psychology. She is a licensed professional counselor and holds Diplomate status with the American Psychotherapy Association. She currently serves as a staff psychologist with Georgia Southern University's Counseling and Career Development Center, where she is the Safe Space Coordinator and on the Sexual Assault Response Team. Additionally, Dr. Bates conducts a variety of workshops and provides consultation for agencies and institutions seeking to establish a consciously inclusive environment. Most of her work focuses on adjustment and transition issues, identity development and integration, sexuality, and LGBT specific issues. She is credited with several publications. Her website is www.drdbates.com, and she can be e-mailed at drddbates@gmail.com.
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