Katie Leikam, LCSW: Transforming the Decatur LGBTQIA Community Through Affirming Therapy
by Cameron Williams Crawford
I met Katie for the first time when she and her husband hosted us at a housewarming party at their new home. They had recently moved into our neighborhood, and my husband, a realtor, had worked as their agent. “I think you’ll like the Leikams,” he told me on the ride over, “They’re good people, and it seems like you and Katie might have some of the same interests.” Turns out, he was right. We arrived at the party, where Katie graciously welcomed us at the front door. She then ushered us into the kitchen and told us to help ourselves to the taco buffet and the wine slushies. I knew in that moment that we would be friends. Apart from discovering we shared a mutual love of most things epicurean, I also learned that night that Katie, a licensed clinical social worker, was in the process of opening her own private practice in Decatur, where she would specialize in treating LGBTQIA, gender non-conforming, and transgender clients. She has since opened her practice, and it is thriving.
Katie mostly grew up in Griffin, Georgia, but because her father worked as a salesman, her family moved around quite a bit; for a time, she also lived in Florida and North Carolina. Eventually, she found her way to back to Georgia, where she would go on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Georgia State University and a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Georgia. It was during her time in grad school that she gained her first experience in social work. In 2005, Katie worked the Meals on Wheels program as part of her internship with the Athens Community Council on Aging. That same summer, she served as a parent aid for DFACS, supervising visitation with foster children and their biological parents. Katie considers her time with DFACS as both challenging and rewarding. In one particular experience she described to me, Katie remembered going into a home where she discovered some needles and dirty diapers. “I had to tell the kid that he couldn’t see his mom that day,” she told me, “and he was really upset and tried to punch me. That was a difficult experience.” One of her favorite memories, however, is when “a mom set up a manicure for her daughter” during a supervised visit at a library: “She brought nail polish and a foot spa, all sorts of stuff, and gave her daughter a manicure, and that’s what they did for their visit. It was really cool.” After she finished her Master’s, she was a program coordinator for foster kids; she monitored foster homes, made checklists, and made sure “the homes were in order and the kids were taken care of behaviorally.”
One of the reasons why Katie chose a career in social work was because, as she said to me, “when I was in high school, I was seeing a licensed clinical social worker. I absolutely loved him, and he made a really big difference in my life.” At first, Katie said, she wanted to be an English teacher, until she decided she would much rather “help people who were having issues and concerns.”
“I’ve had a lot of jobs as a social worker and therapist,” Katie told me. One of those jobs was providing in-home Medicaid work, where she visited people in their homes and offered them therapy. In that role, “you don’t really get to pick your cases,” she said, “so I got whatever I was assigned.” It was in this job that Katie was assigned to a teenager that was bisexual, her first exposure to giving therapy to the LGBTQ population. Katie explained to me that she has always been an LGBTQ ally—“I was probably more liberal than most people growing up in Griffin,” she laughed—however, her compassion for those in the community became even more personal when a close friend of hers transitioned in 2011. “I saw the joys and struggles of my friend through her transition,” said Katie. In 2014, she started going with her friend to a local, monthly Meetup group, where she met and befriended other trans women and learned more about the trans community. Katie stressed that this—a willingness to learn—is a crucial part of being an LGBTQ ally: “I think a lot of people are like ‘Oh, I’m an ally. I’m accepting.’ But, unless you really read up about it or hear real stories, it’s like this concept that you just accept. It wasn’t until I actually started really talking to people and hearing things that go on, discrimination and questions and choices they have to make, that I realized that there was a need for a therapist.” This is also a central part of her mission as a therapist. Katie continues to learn more about the community, to “get more real world stories . . . and just learn as much as I can and try to be as educated as I can.”
Katie’s practice specializes in “affirming therapy,” providing LGBTQIA and gender non-conforming clients with a positive space to explore their identity and work towards self-acceptance. She wants her clients to know that their gender identity “is not a problem to change.” Her approach to therapy instead teaches clients that “there is always a way” to address their issues and helps them discover coping strategies that work for them. Her therapy is solution-focused, which, in the most basic sense, offers solutions to her clients. She wants her clients to walk out of their session with some sort of thought or idea—“it could be something simple, like walk outside for ten minutes a day, just some sort of solution”—to carry into the next session. Katie tailors her process to meet each client’s individual needs, to get them “on track to leading a happier, more fulfilling life by equipping [them] with the tools . . . to more efficiently and confidently manage life’s challenges.”
Katie’s practice has grown significantly since she opened in March. When I spoke with her recently, she said she had seen over twenty clients in a single week. She credits a lot of that growth to her marketing efforts on social media. “I also made relationships with some doctors in town,” she said, “and started offering therapy groups, which got my name out.” Being featured on PrideBuzz, a website that supports the local LGBT community, and VoyageATL, another online platform that supports small, local businesses and organizations, has given Katie’s practice additional publicity. Her practice has evolved in other ways, too. She has started offering sessions to kids and teenagers. Katie sees clients as young as eleven, and for those clients, offers family counseling services, if needed. Katie has even had to expand her employee base: her husband has now officially joined the team at Katie Leikam, LCSW.
Attending conferences and maintaining professional memberships are other ways that Katie continues to grow her practice. She is a member of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, or WPATH, and has been working toward WPATH certification, which requires fifty hours of education on trans health. The last time I spoke with Katie, she had just returned from a conference in Ohio, where she completed the majority of her WPATH GEI training. Katie is also a member of the Georgia Society for Clinical Social Work, LGBTQ Therapist Resource, and the Secular Therapists Network.
You can find additional information about Katie’s practice at her website, katieleikam.com. There, you can read more about Katie, the kinds of services she offers, and what insurance she accepts. You’ll also find her blog, where she covers topics related to her practice. Some examples include what a good therapist should provide you before you make an appointment, such as a free phone consultation—Katie insists that “a good therapist should take the time to spend ten minutes on the phone with you and decide if you are at least a good enough fit to make a first appointment”—and how to grieve while transgender, where she describes the stages of grief as they may relates to one’s transition. It might seem unusual, but as Katie informed me, we experience grief in situations outside of death: “If you’re going through a divorce because somebody didn’t accept your transition, or if your children are refusing to talk to you, you are grieving at that moment.” Katie wanted to include the blog on her website not only because she likes to write, but because it builds community and, ultimately, is another means by which she can help her clients. And to Katie, helping her LGBTQ and gender non-conforming clients, showing them through affirming therapy that “it is never too late to change and start living the life [they’ve] always wanted,” is a top priority.
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