Gender Therapy: What It Is, Who It’s For, and How to Access It
Gender therapy fits into the umbrella of gender-affirming care, which includes medical and social interventions that help people align their gender identity with who they truly are.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
June 20, 2023
Table of Contents
Everyone deserves access to equitable physical and mental healthcare, and for people questioning their gender identity or seeking to transition to a different gender, that care may include gender therapy. Gender therapy, a phrase synonymous with gender-affirming therapy or transgender therapy, is not a specific therapeutic modality in and of itself. Instead, it is a form of mental health support that aims to help individuals explore, understand, and express their gender identity in a way that aligns with their authentic selves. Gender therapy fits into the umbrella of gender-affirming care, which includes medical and social interventions that help people align their gender identity with who they truly are, like hormone replacement therapy and using preferred pronouns.
Recent studies show that transgender and non-binary young people are disproportionately at risk for mental health emergencies related to suicide, making gender therapy a lifesaving intervention for many. Questioning your gender identity can be scary, but there is help.
What is a gender therapist?
A gender therapist is a mental health professional who specializes in working with people who are exploring or questioning their gender identity or experiencing gender dysphoria—the cognitive dissonance that occurs when someone doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. A gender therapist may also be referred to as a gender identity therapist or gender-affirming therapist. These therapists have expertise in understanding the unique challenges and concerns faced by transgender, non-binary, and gender-diverse individuals.
Who can benefit from gender therapy?
First and foremost, gender therapy can benefit a diverse range of individuals who are exploring their gender identity or experiencing gender dysphoria. This includes people who are questioning their gender, transgender people seeking support and guidance throughout their transition, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals, and anyone who is feeling upset or stressed because their gender identity doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth.
Family members and loved ones seeking a better understanding of gender identity can also benefit from gender therapy—either by joining sessions with their loved one and a gender therapist or going to a gender therapist for psychoeducation. Gender therapy provides a safe and affirming space for the family and loved ones of a gender-diverse person to explore feelings, address mental health concerns, develop coping strategies, and receive guidance on social, medical, and legal aspects of their loved one’s gender transition.
What does a gender therapist do?
The primary role of a gender therapist is to provide support, guidance, and counseling to individuals as they navigate their gender identity journey. They create a safe and non-judgmental space where clients can explore their feelings, thoughts, and experiences related to gender. Gender therapists assist in exploring gender identity, managing gender dysphoria, and developing coping strategies. They employ a variety of therapeutic approaches tailored to the specific needs of their clients. These can include talk therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and other evidence-based practices.
While gender-diverse individuals are usually the people seeking gender therapy, gender therapists often work with families and partners to help them understand and support their loved one’s gender identity, too. They assist in facilitating open and healthy communication, addressing concerns, and fostering acceptance and understanding within interpersonal relationships.
For people who choose to transition, gender therapists provide guidance and support throughout the process. For example, they may collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as endocrinologists or surgeons, to provide support for people pursuing gender-affirming medical care. Gender therapists may serve as advocates for their clients, helping them navigate societal systems and access appropriate resources and support networks. In addition to other healthcare referrals, they can help clients connect with support groups or organizations specializing in transgender issues.
Gender therapy is not conversion therapy
Gender therapy and conversion therapy are fundamentally different approaches with opposite intentions and ethical considerations. As discussed, gender therapy is a supportive and validating approach that helps people explore and embrace their gender identity. On the other hand, conversion therapy, which is widely discredited and seen as harmful, seeks to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It employs harmful and ineffective techniques with the false assumption that being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community is a mental disorder or something that needs to be altered. Conversion therapy violates human rights, lacks scientific validity, and can cause significant psychological harm. In contrast, gender therapy respects and affirms an individual’s gender identity, aiming to promote self-acceptance, well-being, and authentic expression.
If you ever experience shame, discomfort, or judgment during gender therapy sessions, it’s important to trust your instincts and discontinue contact with that therapist. Gender therapy should never look like conversion therapy. A gender-affirming therapist will never try to alter your gender identity, and counseling should not involve coercion. Gender therapy is a way to prioritize your well-being, and you deserve to work with mental health professionals who respect and validate your authentic self.
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How can gender therapy help?
Gender therapy can help individuals navigate their unique gender identity journey, promote self-acceptance, and improve overall well-being. Here are some ways that gender therapy can support transgender and non-binary people, as well as those questioning their gender identity:
Gender therapy provides a safe and supportive space for individuals to explore and understand their gender identity. It allows them to discuss their feelings, experiences, and questions related to gender, helping them gain a deeper understanding of themselves.
Validation and acceptance
Gender therapists validate and affirm the experiences and identities of their clients. They create an environment where individuals feel heard, understood, and accepted, which can be crucial in building self-confidence and self-acceptance.
Coping with gender dysphoria
For people experiencing gender dysphoria, gender therapy can be instrumental in developing coping strategies and addressing the distress associated with feeling like your sex assigned at birth does not match your gender identity.
Gender therapy can assist people in making informed decisions regarding their gender transition. Therapists can provide information about available options, such as hormone therapy or surgeries, and help clients evaluate the potential benefits and risks of different choices.
Gender therapy offers a safe space to process and express emotions related to gender identity. Therapists can help individuals navigate the challenges, discrimination, and stigma they may face and provide emotional support throughout their journey.
Family and relationship support
Gender therapy can involve family or relationship counseling, helping loved ones understand and support individuals exploring their gender identity. Therapists can facilitate communication, address concerns, and provide resources to create a more inclusive and supportive environment.
How to access gender therapy
Accessing gender therapy typically involves the following steps:
- Start by researching and identifying gender therapists in your area or those who offer remote/online sessions. Look for therapists who specialize in gender identity, transgender health, or LGBTQIA+ issues. Online directories, mental health organizations, or LGBTQIA+ support networks can be valuable resources in finding qualified professionals.
- If you have health insurance, review your policy to determine if it covers mental health services. Check for any specific requirements or network providers. Contact your insurance provider directly if you need clarification on coverage.
- Reach out to LGBTQIA+ community centers, local support groups, or online forums for recommendations on gender therapists. Peer recommendations can provide insights into therapists who are knowledgeable, supportive, and affirming.
- Reach out to potential gender therapists to schedule initial consultations. These consultations can help you assess the therapist’s expertise, approach, and compatibility. Use this opportunity to discuss your goals, ask questions, and gauge their understanding and support for your specific needs.
- Inquire about the therapist’s fees and payment options, including whether they accept insurance or offer sliding scale fees.
Gender therapy at Charlie Health
Charlie Health believes that everyone deserves access to mental health care. We are proud to serve gender-diverse clients and have mental health professionals who specialize in gender therapy.
Charlie Health’s virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) connects each client with a licensed therapist based on their individual needs, preferences, background, and experiences. We offer groups for LGBTQIA+ people, including gender-diverse people, to promote healing in a safe, supportive space. Get started today.