Gender Therapists – how do you choose?

One of the things I’ve done right in my gender journey is to seek out a qualified therapist who has experience dealing with gender related issues. A qualified gender therapist can be a true oasis for you when you are first dealing with suspected gender issues. They can be an anonymous sounding board, provide guidance on what to do, help you evaluate options, help keep your marriage together if your married, and, help you get to the root of your gender issues (because maybe you aren’t transgendered, but it’s a symptom of another issue,perhaps abuse when you were younger).

One of the questions I often hear is “how do I find a qualified therapist”. This is an important point as most therapists do not have experience or education in dealing with transgender patients. If you end up choosing such a therapist, you may find you spend more time educating your therapist about what your dealing with rather than getting the help you need. That’s a bad deal (unless you are charging them $150 per hour, then you have a good gig going). There are two things you need (1) a list from a qualified source and (2) references from people where you live…

Both of these will drive you mad if you are in the closet – which is where all of us generally start, wondering what is going on inside us
while finding our lives spinning increasingly out of control. Let’s talk about these two points as they are the critical first step to getting your going forward – which is what you must do. Generally speaking for most trans-folk, sitting back is not the best option.

Let’s take point (2) first then point (1) second (confused yet?). If you can get a suggestion from a live person, that is best. But, you
might not be able to get a reference from another trans-woman or trans-man if your in the closet; you simply won’t know anyone to ask and you might not even know where to begin. That’s where some forums such as Pink Essence, chat lines and Yahoo groups can be invaluable since you can interact with real transgender men and women who’ve been there, done that and are in the midst of it. Generally speaking, a yahoo group that caters to transgender folks where you post a question are less intimidating than a chat line. Also, there are more transgender writers of blogs out there today and many of those authors are living, breathing people who more than likely will help you or give you some of their life’s knowledge if you ask them.

Now onto point (1) regarding a list of qualified sources. One of the best lists, perhaps the best, is done by Dr. Becky Allison, M.D.. Her list is sorted by state and country and is made up of referrals done to her by other trans-folk. You can reach it by clicking this link here. I started with her list when I had reached the literal end of my rope and knew that I had to start talking to someone. Another list that parallels Dr. Allison’s, though primarily targeted at New England, is Laura5′s resource site. You can reach her site at this link here.

What I did that may help you, is that I just randomly chose three – and then I prayed and hoped I’d find the right one who would take me seriously. It turned out I did not have to worry. My first call to my first therapist was met with someone who was heartfelt and made me feel like I was not insane. Those put me right at ease and opened a little door to my closet that had been pretty much closed and locked up to that point. I put things a bit backwards and actually found out later that other trans people I had met and become friends with used my therapist. That was a nice confirmation but likely would have been better had I found out up front.

And don’t be afraid to try out one or two or three till you find the right one. You are the consumer here. These are your dollars your spending and your health you are dealing with. I started with one who was outstanding for me, but, my spouse did not click with that therapist, so off to look for another. The second one was a good fit for us both.

Many insurance plans will cover your talking to a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker who specialized in gender issues, but, here’s the catch, you will likely have to ask your therapist to report it as depression. Frankly, such a diagnosis will not be very far from the truth anyway for many of us since depression is a symptom of Gender Identity Dysphoria (GID). And, it will more easily be covered by your insurance and, be less likely to cause someone to wonder what is going on with you as your medical bills are filed and paid for by you or your insurance.

Some additional resources that may be of help to you and well worth reading on this topic:

  • How to tell if your therapist sucks like a bilge pump? Click for this story here
  • Andrea James @ TS Roadmap with advice on therapy: Click for this story here
  • A Teen’s Guide to Choosing a Therapist:  Click for this story here.
  • Youth Resources Guide for Trans-Teens.  Click for their resource guide here.
  • TYRA Links for Trans-Youth Resources; please click here.
  • If you live in Massachusetts, MTPC has put together an excellent list of therapists and their contact information.  Some of this is duplicated in Dr. Becky Allison’s list but there is additional information that you may find helpful.  You may reach the MTPC list at their Wiki here.

12/23/2009 Update
Changed trans-youth guide to a new set of more helpful links for transgender youth under the TYRA umbrella

7/6/2009 Update
The link to “A Teen’s Guide to Choosing a Therapist” was blocked.  It has been replaced with a link to the Youth Resources Guide for Trans-Teens which also has the article, “A Teen’s Guide to Choosing a Therapist”.    We have also added the MTPC guide to therapists in Massachusetts.

4/14/2008 Update
Diane Ellaborn, LICSW, a well respected gender therapist in Massachusetts, wrote an excellent article to help teens choose a therapist.  We’ve included it above under “A Teen’s Guide to Choosing at Therapist”.

4/1/2007 Update
The site, Laura5, has been permanently disabled by the owner.

2 responses to “Gender Therapists – how do you choose?”

  1. Koan Bremner says :

    This is a really excellent post, Rebecca – and covers an area that is *so* important. Finding the right therapist can make a real difference in coping with, and eventually finiding a way to thrive with, your gender identity.

    Kudos to you for writing it – I’m sure it will help lots of people in the future.

  2. Becki says :

    Thank you for your comment Koan :) I remember when I first tried to find a therapist who specialized in gender issues here in the U.S., it was far more difficult than it should have been. Calls to local gender advocacy groups went unreturned, deepening my frustration. It took alot of effort to find one. I felt posting something about my experience *might* help others.

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