How to Find a Gender Therapist?

How do you find a gender therapist? Now, more than ever, therapists are specializing in working with transgender and non-binary clients and they receive additional training for affirming and supporting their client’s gender transition.

Organizations like WPATH (The World Professional Organization of Transgender Health) and The National Institute for Transgender Equality are training clinicians on best practices for working with transgender and non-binary clients.

Finding a gender therapist can be daunting for members of the LGBTQ community because there is a lot of fear that the new therapist will not be well trained in working with transgender clients or they may try to persuade you not to transition or promote untrue statements about transitioning or even be considered a gatekeeper for transitioning. A gatekeeper is someone, particularly a therapist or doctor that creates unnecessary barriers for someone to begin a gender transition.

There are several places to search for a gender therapist online including Psychology Today and Therapy Den and Good Therapy which are directory listings of profiles of therapist that you can search via zip code.

In these directories, you can filter by categories such as transgender and nonbinary or LGBTQ affirming and the directories have areas where therapists can introduce themselves in paragraph form so you can get a sense of their therapeutic style and who they most enjoy working with and how they are trained to provide therapy.

If you use one of these directory profiles, I recommend filtering by the words transgender or LGBTQ and then taking the time to read each therapists profile to make sure they specifically mention working with transgender clients in their written statement. It’s important your potential therapist really has experience working with clients who are transgender and are not just checking off a list of specialties, which can happen.

Another way to find a gender therapist is to search the internet for search terms such as “gender therapist near me” or “LGBTQ affirming therapist near me”.

Like the directories, a therapist who could be considered a gender therapist or specialist should have a section of their website that is dedicated to or at least speaks about working with transgender and non-binary clients. You can look for words such as “affirming”, “competent”, “knowledgeable” and “experienced”.

A gender therapist should never try to change your mind about who you are as a person and what your identity is, so if you sense that your potential therapist will not be supportive, it’s best to look for another therapist. That is not to say that a gender therapist will not gently challenge you, but they should not actively be working against you either.

Part of finding a gender therapist is knowing that you are not just your gender identity. Among gender therapist, there’s a current conversation that gender therapists aren’t really gender therapists at all. They are therapists that work with a whole person and every intersection of identity that the person has, and your gender identity is one piece of the puzzle that is you as a whole person and not just your gender identity.

When looking for a gender therapist, look for someone that recognizes that you have many different identities and perhaps challenges that are working together to make up your identity and each of these intersections should be honored.

To find a gender therapist that is well trained in working with transgender clients, it would be best to ask about their continuing education experiences.

Because there are few, if any educational programs that are widely recognized as certifications for working with transgender clients, mental health clients further their learning with working with transgender clients through a day long and multiple day conferences.

Some of these conferences include The Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference and gender Odyssey as well as conferences by Fenway Health in Boston that are held each year. While it’s not required for a therapist to attend one of these conferences to be transgender affirming, attending a conference can show a level of dedication to stay up to date on best practices and research in working with transgender and non-binary clients.

Word of mouth from other people who are transgender is another good way to find an affirming therapist.

If you know someone in the LGBTQ or transgender community, asking them about their experiences with their therapists can be a good indicator of their therapist is affirming or knowledgeable. You can often ask for therapist recommendations in support groups or contact your local PFLAG group and ask for a list of local recommendations.

The Campaign for Southern Equality publishes a local guide for all the southern states called Trans in the South and the most recent guide was published in January of 2019. It can be found here.

This is a list of mental health therapists and practitioners in the southern states that includes whether or not they write letters for hormones and if they are affirming of a gender transition as well as if they can write prescriptions for medication or offer a reduced rate for sessions and take insurance.

There are other organizations throughout the United States that have resource guides for gender-affirming therapists.

The WPATH website has a member directory of members that includes mental health therapists that you can search for via state or country. To become a member of WPATH, there is an application process and therapists need to submit that they have had experience working with transgender clients.

Please keep in in mind that not all members of WPATH possess the same level of affirmation to transgender clients so it’s still best to have a conversation with a potential therapist.

When you do narrow down your list of a potential gender therapist, most therapists will offer a free brief phone or email consultation to see if you are a good fit with one another. This is a good time to ask questions of the therapist about their belief systems of working with transgender clients, including how long they would ask you to be in therapy before they write you a gender letter of affirmation if you need one to start hormones or have surgery.

WPATH no longer requires either ongoing gender therapy or a written letter to begin hormones, although some therapists still use past requirements. The consultation call is a time you can ask about these requirements if they exist with your new therapist.

You can also use this time to ask your new mental health therapist what theoretical modalities they use during therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectic behavioral therapy as well as many others. Often therapists use an eclectic array of therapeutic interventions, so they may be trained on one or more modalities.

Some other questions you could ask a potential gender therapist could include how often they work with transgender clients, what training they have had and if they follow current WPATH standards.

You can also ask them if they support informed consent, which is the level of consent that allows people to access care such as gender affirming hormones without having a letter from a therapist first. Not every area of the nation has informed consent clinics for hormones, but most areas are moving towards this model.

It’s good to know if your therapist supports this model. If you are looking for a letter from a therapist for gender-affirming surgery, it’s fine to ask your therapist if they have written letters for clients to have gender confirmation surgery before and if so what specific surgeries they have written letters for and if their letters follow WPATH Standards of Care version 7.

Anytime you are looking for ongoing therapy, finances may become an issue or concern and you may have questions if your therapist accepts your insurance or offers a sliding fee scale or reduced rate for sessions. A lot of therapists publish their rates for therapy sessions on their websites, which are generally 45-55 minutes in length.

The therapist’s directories previously mentioned in this article such as Psychology Today allow you to filter your search results by the insurance companies that the therapists accept, but more often therapists no longer accepting insurance and are instead offering a receipt for payments of sessions that you can submit for reimbursement from your insurance company.

By the time you meet for your first session with your new potential therapist, you should have an idea through their website or their directory listing whether or not they specialize in working with clients who are transgender and non-binary or if they are at least affirming of a gender transition.

Please don’t feel like you are required to continue therapy with the first or even third gender therapist you find. Finding a good fit with a gender therapist is an important step during your gender transition and therapy works best if you have support from your therapist and if you feel supported, listened to and heard by your therapist.

Therapy is an ongoing process and you need to have confidence in your gender therapist so you can succeed in your goals for therapy.

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Katie Leikam specializes in working with anxiety, relationship stress and helping people with their gender identity. She is also a speaker, educator, author and consultant for other therapists for their business goals.