The quest to find one’s true self can be a lonely one. For many, it’s unfamiliar, uncharted territory that some feel they must travel alone.
But that’s not always true.
UCAN’s QUEST program provides self-identified LGBTQ+ youth with therapeutic support through education, counseling and art therapy. The goal is to assist youth in their process of self-development through an exploration of identity, teaching coping and communication skills, identification and development of healthy support systems, and as well as goal setting, planning and achievement.
“Every group is different, but the issue of gender is very big right now,” says Michele Grimes, clinical supervisor with UCAN’s Counseling and Youth Development Services and co-leader of QUEST. “UCAN’s large mentor programs are Project Invisible Man and Phenomenal Woman. This group is the middle ground for youth who aren’t quite sure where they fit.”
The original group, dubbed PROSY, was created by an intern via a fellowship with UCAN. Once the fellowship ended in 2015, QUEST emerged from PROSY. Each year since, youth have participated in 12-week group therapy course where together they explore and understand their identity in a safe space to be supported, learn and grow.
Each week encompasses a new theme and new activities, ranging from general subjects such as goals and empowerment in the LGBTQ+ identity and navigating challenges to tougher subjects like personal experiences associated with the LGBTQ+ identity and emotional safety and well-being.
“The beginning is a lot of creating a safe space and comfortable environment,” says Michele. “A space for them, designed by them, different from other groups. We do names and preferred pronouns. It gives them a space to experiment with what they want to be called, which is pretty cool. Some weeks are more conversational,” she says. “It gives them a chance to voice their grievances and frustrations.”
Sharing thoughts in an environment where youth feel supported and understood is key as it allows them to explore their thoughts and feelings, and open up in a different way than in previous therapy. The activities they participate in during the group aim to do the same thing.
“Last week we did a project where everybody had a piece of paper and (wrote) their name, then pass(ed) it around, and everyone wrote a strength about that person,” Michele explains. “Once you get yours back, it will be full of strengths of which you then have to pick one to write about. We will talk about those strengths next week and form coping mechanisms from them.”
A youth in QUEST, who prefers to remain anonymous, found that participating in the group helped “in accepting [his] identity.” Now, he has a vision for helping others experiencing similar challenges to gain self-acceptance and learn that “it really does get better.”
For more information about QUEST or to participate in the next session, please contact Michele Grimes at Michele.Grimes@ucanchicago.org or at (773) 279-3730.