Join Daran for a webinar on affirmative care with transgender and gender diverse youth on Friday, March 1, from 3:00-4:30pm EST. Hosted by the Queer and Trans Advocacy Network. Register here.
Family support is a vital protective factor for transgender and gender diverse (TGD) youth who are at high risk for mental health concerns, particularly suicidality. We also know that larger systems like schools and communities are important buffers for young people as they navigate a world that often does not understand or validate their experience. Young people do better when they are allowed to express their authentic selves. For TGD youth, it can be life-saving.
MFTs play an essential role in the lives of TGD youth. First, MFTs can help young people explore their gender identities and expressions. Gender affirmative therapy assumes that gender diverse expressions and experiences are normal, and therapists should validate, de-stigmatize and support this diversity.
Second, youth often require a letter of support from a therapist for a medical transition, making us gatekeepers in their transition. This means assessing levels of distress, exploring options around gender transition, supporting families, and advocating for the youth in school and community systems. It is important, therefore, for MFT’s to have a deeper understanding of gender identity development, the challenges that TGD youth face along the way, and to adopt an affirmative lens in therapy.
Finally, MFTs are in a unique position to work with families of TGD youth. Families come to therapy at various stages of acceptance and understanding of their child’s gender expressions. MFTs can assess and increase family members’ attunement to the young person’s identity and/or expression. Therapy is a place for families to process their own feelings and learn to accept, protect and support their child. Working with immediate and extended family members often becomes a central part of the therapeutic process.
By affirming gender identity and expression, advocating across multiple systems, and supporting family members, MFTs can help TGD youth live authentically.
Daran Shipman is a LMFT, a member of QTAN, and an expert in transgender mental health. Daran has a private practice in Syracuse, NY, where he specializes in working with transgender and gender diverse clients. He also teaches and supervises marriage and family therapy students at Syracuse University and delivers workshops nationally through PESI. Daran has published in peer reviewed journals on working with families of gender diverse youth. His most recent article on the special considerations for transgender therapists in clinical practice and supervision was published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.