Therapy can be a valuable space for those questioning or exploring their gender identity.
It is often a challenge, however, to find a therapist who is truly trans-competent. Many therapists list “LGBTQ-friendly” on their website profiles without having any real knowledge or comfort in this area. Finding a trans-competent therapist can be a matter of trial-and-error, but here are three indicators that your therapist will be helpful rather than harmful in your process:
Your therapist uses gender-affirmative language
A trans-competent therapist will ask about your name, pronouns, and gender identity and use those consistently. Misgendering should be rare or non-existent, and they will not make you feel like your pronouns or identity are a burden to them or dismiss them as unimportant.
While it’s unrealistic to expect every therapist to be an expert on gender, a trans-competent therapist will have enough of a knowledge-base to hold a meaningful conversation with you about your identity. Having to educate your therapist about the difference between words like genderqueer and cis, two-spirit and gender-fluid can be taxing and time-consuming. Your therapist should have the competence to educate you about these terms and their various uses, rather than expecting you to educate them.
Your therapist gives you space and time to reach your own conclusions
A trans-competent therapist will acknowledge that gender identity development is a process of self-discovery that takes time, curiosity, and patience and is unique to each individual. You may need to revisit childhood trauma and explore how that influenced how you perceive your gender; you may need to weigh the pros and cons of taking hormones or pursuing a gender-related surgery.
You may want to try changing your clothes and name before coming out to your family, or consider how your religious identity and gender identity can peacefully coexist. Each person’s journey is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all prescription for attending to your gender dysphoria.
Be wary of therapists who subscribe to a single transition narrative that they may be imposing on you, as they are playing out their own agenda and are acting in violation of their ethical codes and the WPATH Standards of Care. Such therapists may encourage you to undergo (or avoid) medical transition or may encourage you to come out before you’re ready. A trans-competent therapist will give you the time, space, and compassion to make these important decisions on your own.
Your therapist should have explored their own gender identity and be able to articulate how it may impact your work together.
Therapists have differing beliefs about how much of their personal lives they should share in therapy; regardless, it is always okay to ask your therapist if they have also done the work that they are asking you to do.
Working with a cisgender therapist who has not explored their gender identity and privilege can place an undue burden on you and be a barrier to empathizing with your pain. It is no secret that living in this world as a man comes with all kinds of privileges – cis male therapists should be able to articulate this power differential in order to make space for your feelings.
Finding a good therapist who you feel comfortable with can take some trial-and-error on your part. If you are transgender or exploring your gender identity, these suggestions can serve as a guide to help you find a therapist who is truly trans-competent.
Gender Spectrum: https://www.genderspectrum.org/quick-links/understanding-gender/
About the Author
Remi Bean is an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor whose training and experience has focused on trauma-informed care for the LGBTQ population — particularly transgender and non-binary individuals of all ages.Learn More + Book an Appointment With Remi