Whitman-Walker Health: Offering diverse programs for a diverse community

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Whitman-Walker Health: Offering diverse programs for a diverse community

Have you just recently re-entered the world of dating after a long-term committed relationship? Are you struggling with sexual or gender identity? No matter what chapter you’ve recently started in your life, Whitman-Walker Health has created a safe place for people in the LGBT community.

For 40 years, Whitman-Walker Health has provided healthcare services to the Washington, D.C. community. What began as a predominantly male-oriented clinic in the early 1970s has since expanded to include diverse programs that offer a variety of services to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. Whitman-Walker Health currently offers three programs specifically designed for women: Starting Over for Women, Coming Out Group for Women, and the Coming Out of Marriage Group. These three groups are part of the peer based support services, which are free, confidential, and open to all.

Starting Over for Women

Starting Over for Women is a peer support program designed specifically for women coming out of a long-term relationship. For the past nine years, this group has helped women find unity, healing, and closure after ending a significant romantic relationship in their lives. Led by Carole Clem, Starting Over for Women helps women move through the grieving process and look through to a hopeful future.

“Carole has a great program that touches on all the different issues women face while ending and grieving a long-term relationship,” says Steve Geishecker, Director of Behavioral Health at Whitman-Walker. “She sets up a 10-week group with specific focus and tasks for each session.”

Free and confidential, this group meets three times per year.

Coming Out Group for Women

The Coming Out Group for Women is another peer support program offered to women who may be experiencing challenges regarding the coming out process. For ten weeks, women of all ages come together to discuss relevant issues regarding family, life, and coming out.

“It’s designed for women who are in their own stage of the coming out process, whether lesbian or bisexual, whatever they may be identifying. The range of issues that are discussed is everything from how to become comfortable with coming out to dealing with your own feelings and emotions,” explains Geishecker. “Some folks might be at the early stages while others might have come out to a small group of friends and family.” he adds.

Typically, the group consists of 8-10 women who meet weekly for approximately an hour. This group not only helps members process the range of emotions regarding the coming out process, but also offers tools and resources for navigating the community and developing relationships.

Coming Out of Marriage

The Coming Out of Marriage group is a peer support service program designed for women who have been married to a man, and who are contemplating coming out of marriage.

“Many women who are coming out of a traditional marriage are also coming out as lesbian or bisexual at the same time. There’s a whole other layer to the process that a woman may be facing,” explains Geishecker.

This peer support group offers the unique tools and support to help women who are facing the common issues of coming out of a traditional marriage, including family, relationships, and children, as well as the coming out process.

Typically this group meets just once per year; however, as with all peer support groups offered at Whitman-Walker, if interest peaks, the group will be offered more times throughout the year.

Trans Spectrum and Trans Lives

For the past 40 years, Whitman-Walker has established a remarkable reputation for HIV and STD care in the D.C. Metropolitan area.

“We’ve been so successful at that that it sometimes overshadows other things we do,” says Chip Lewis, Deputy Director of Communications, who emphasizes that many of the programs that Whitman-Walker offers to women have been in existence for over 13 years.

“We offer more than HIV services and care,” adds Meghan Davies, Director of Community Health, who describes Whitman-Walker Health as a “one stop shop for everybody.”

With a waiting room as diverse as the Metropolitan D.C. community itself, Whitman-Walker offers a wide variety of health screenings and primary care services, including specialized services for the transgender community.

“We know the importance of the right questions to ask. We don’t make assumptions here,” emphasizes Davies, whose primary concern is to ensure that all patients feel comfortable, respected, and secure while receiving health services. “Our providers are really focused on making people feel comfortable. We can say ‘he’ and provide a pap test. It’s important for our community that we provide quality, excellent, and culturally competent care.” Davies explains.

Whitman-Walker also currently provides psychotherapy, psychiatry, and psychotherapy groups for transgender groups and women. Trans Spectrum is an ongoing psychotherapy group that involves psychosocial education for gender queer individuals aged 18-25 who are experiencing some conflict or ambiguity around gender identity and sexual orientation.

“Basically, we help folks who are on the gender spectrum and don’t want to identify in a binary way as male and female,” says Geishecker.

Another group, Trans Lives, offers ongoing psychotherapy designed to provide a safe environment for transgender persons to explore bio/psycho/social issues. This is a process group for people who identify as transgender and seek support or help in coping with psychosocial issues they are facing as they go through their own transition process.

Additional Services

Since 1978, Whitman-Walker has also provided a confidential addiction treatment program. Open to men, women, or transgender patients, Whitman-Walker offers three different types of treatment: intensive, outpatient, and harm reduction services.

“The harm reduction program is for folks who aren’t ready to give it up all together, who want to see and understand and manage use in less harmful ways,” explains Geisheker.

These programs are offered exclusively at the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center. Perspective candidates can access the Whitman-Walker website to obtain specific contact information regarding each program.

Another community program includes PALS: People Advocating for LGBTQ Seniors. Partnering with The Mautner Project, this program offers companionship, help, health, and government services to LGTBQ seniors ages 55 and older.

“We train volunteers to have house visits, talk, play games, and be there to be someone to talk to,” explains Geisheker. PALS is currently accepting applications for volunteers, ages 18 or older.

With a mission to be the highest quality, culturally competent community health center serving greater Washington’s diverse urban community, Whitman-Walker Health has indeed created a safe, welcoming space for all.

If you are interested in learning more about these or any other of the services offered by Whitman-Walker Health, contact the peer support program at 202-797-3580. Prospective candidates can also email the peer support program at peersupport@whitman-walker.org.