Does transgender therapy work?
In my last post I talked about how several years ago I came to the point where I knew I needed help. I was either headed down the road to depression and likely suicide, or I needed to find a way to ‘cure’ myself or get treatment for my transgender issues (I didn’t know it was ‘transgender issues’ at the time though.) I won’t rehash the story here, but I’ll repeat that finding a therapist who was familiar with these issues and working with him was one of the most transformational and healing things I’ve done in my life. After seeing this therapist for a few months, and the support of my girlfriend, I set out on my own knowing I could go back and have a professional to talk to at any time.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m in my early 30’s. My wife and I have come a long way in understanding both me and the transgender issue over the last few years (though it’s still a work in progress.) But although I think I have come to understand and accept myself much more openly, I still find that I’m struggling with my gender identity – that I haven’t really found a way to ‘live’ with it. In my last post I mentioned how I had decided to see a therapist again and discuss this anew.
So now that I’ve been to two therapists discussing my transgender issue, I thought I’d share how transgender therapy has worked in helping me.
First off, I know there’s a huge stigma attached with seeing a mental health professional. I used to be so afraid of it, that it prevented me from getting the help I needed for years. Now that I’ve seen two therapists, I realize how silly it is not to have a mental health doctor available to you. In the U.S. most people wouldn’t feel comfortable without having a relationship with a medical doctor for their physical issues, so why not have a mental health doctor for psychological issues. I’ve found that being able to openly discuss my psychological thoughts is at least as effective as any medical treatment I’ve ever had. What goes on in your mind has powerful impacts on every part of your body; physical and spiritual.
Therapy works because your doctor is absolutely confidential when it comes to your meeting with him or her. I was afraid to seek therapy over such simple fears as, “what if they see me in the grocery store and they say hello!?”. But once you get a therapist you realize that your privacy is one of their top concerns. Your therapist will not approach you in public, nor recognize you at all unless you initiate contact with them. Even then they won’t discuss your personal matters publicly unless you want to. A therapist won’t call on your phone and leave a message with personal information on it. They won’t talk about you to other people. They could lose their license if they do this.
Confidentiality is what allows you to feel confident in your discussions with your therapist. If you truly want to work to the bottom of an issue, you need someone that you can feel comfortable telling anything, so that the both of you can take an honest look at what is really going on, and what you really want. A perfect example of this is the fact that before I was seeking therapy I thought that my only option was to get a ‘sex change’ or kill myself to make me feel better. I now realize that I have more options than that. My internal dialog didn’t allow for other possibilities, but discussion did.
If it’s your very first session, and you are scared to death (like I was) you can do what I did. You can call the doctor from a pay phone, using an assumed name, and schedule the appointment and pay in cash. Once I met my therapist in person I told him my real name and just that I was very nervous about taking this step. I paid in cash the first few times, and asked him to keep any notes he took during our session private and anonymous. He honored that request (of course). After seeing him a couple times, I stated paying with normal check and felt much more comfortable. If you are paying with insurance, they will need to know your name and insurance provider in order for insurance to be billed. But even this is confidential – they do not have to talk to the insurance company about what you discuss.
Another issue that comes up is whether or not insurance will cover your sessions. You have to answer this by reviewing your coverage. But therapists can do things to help. For example, both of my therapists just used the billing code for “depression” (the most common diagnosis in the world) to bill our sessions.
Typically it’s good to see a therapist for 2 sessions to see if you connect with them. You can’t go to these initial sessions expecting that you’ll be cured, but you’re looking to see if you make a connection with them and feel comfortable enough to continue with them. Generally you should feel that you aren’t being judged by them, that they are a good listener, and that they help you feel as comfortable as possible. You should feel like they will protect your privacy, and that you can trust them.
Lastly, I expected initially to go into therapy and have the therapist prescribe things for me to do, or tell me what’s wrong with me. But this isn’t what happened at all. Instead, they asked questions and I discovered that the healing actually came in the process of conversation rather than them telling me what to do. Both of my therapists helped me work through issues not by forcing ideas on me, but by simply giving me a sounding board and intellectual space to work through thoughts and feelings, and give me feedback when I asked for it.
I’ll say again, that finding a therapist was probably the single most important thing I’ve done for myself in life. For any individual, or couple who is working through this issue I simply cannot recommend qualified therapy enough. It may be that you go to therapy and you realize that there are more options than you are seeing right now. Maybe you’ll discover it’s something you can live with, or that transgender issues actually improve your life. Maybe you’ll find that separation from your current relationship is the most healthy way forward, or as in my case, that it’s something that you and your partner can work with.
In any case, don’t let anything stop you from giving it a try – it can help you take steps forward and get out of the rut. Transgender therapy works, but you have to be willing to take the first step.
To my readers: Have you been to therapy to discuss transgender issues? What was your experience? If you’ve not been to see a therapist, what is holding you back?
Image Credit: FatMandy