An exploration of religious privilege among lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning, and heterosexual counsellors in Northern Ireland

  • Ali Graham

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Aim: To explore religious privilege among lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning (LGBQQ), and heterosexual counsellors in Northern Ireland (NI).

Method: A qualitative study located within a transformative paradigm; the research intends to advance a social justice agenda in the counselling profession. The study had two consecutive phases of data collection. Phase one explored how people with a non-Christian background experienced Christian privilege in NI. 15 participants engaged in five mini focus groups and one individual interview. Data were used to create a descriptive account of Christian privilege which served as a stimulus for phase two participants. Phase two examined Christian privilege from the perspective of counsellors with a Christian background in NI. Six LGBQQ and nine heterosexual counsellors were recruited (n=15). Written reflective logs explored how counsellors related to Christian privilege. Interviews examined how they perceived Christian privilege to influence the counselling profession. Data from both phases were analysed using Braun and Clarke’s (2006, 2013) reflexive thematic analysis.

Findings: Analysis of phase one data created one overarching theme and five themes. Non-Christian participants experienced the normalisation of Christianity as the dominant worldview in NI as oppression; they felt they were treated as outsiders from the Christian majority. Analysis of phase two data created two overarching themes, each with six themes. Oppression shaped how counsellors viewed and experienced Christian privilege. Inequality resulted from a culture of ingrained Christianity in NI’s counselling profession.

Conclusions: Christian privilege is an issue of critical concern within counselling; if left unexamined systems of injustice will continue to be propagated, oppressing those who do not conform to Christian heterosexual norms. Within a profession ethically committed to equality, there is an urgent need for action to address the inequity that results from unexplored Christian privilege.
Date of AwardOct 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMaggie Long (Supervisor) & Anthea Irwin (Supervisor)


  • Christian privilege
  • Intersectionality
  • Counselling
  • Social justice
  • Religion

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