No, It’s Not a Mental Illness
Helping Parents of Teens & kids Experiencing Gender Dysphoria
As therapists of adolescents and individuals in the LGBTQ+ community, we understand that parents have a lot of questions when it comes to supporting their teen experiencing gender dysphoria. Family members play a significant role in the health and wellness of their teens, especially for teens who may be experiencing gender dysphoria. Before we dive in, let’s get clear on what gender dysphoria is, what gender dysphoria is NOT, and clear up any confusion about the terminology.
Some things that Gender Dysphoria is:
- An incongruence between what gender a person identifies as and what they were assigned at, at birth.
- Under-addressed in developmental settings such as sex-ed, doctor’s offices and therapy, putting individuals experiencing dysphoria at a higher risk for anxiety, depression and suicidality.
What Gender Dysphoria
- A phase or a choice. It is a deeply rooted aspect of an individuals identity.
- Something to be passive about if your child/teen shares with you that they are experiencing gender dysphoria.
- A mental illness or something that needs to be ‘cured’. Therapy aims to help the individual develop skills to manage the challenging symptoms they may experience due to social stigma, confusion and relationship conflicts the dysphoria may cause. Therapy should never force, influence or coerce a person to “change genders”.
Dysphoria and Dysmorphia:
Not to Be Confused
Dysphoria refers to how a person identifies and creates a sense of belonging in the social world. Dysphoria is not a mental illness and does not present symptoms of distorted sense of self or distorted image of their body, features or other characteristics.
However, dysmorphia refers to how a person sees their physical selves, their bodies, and their traits. Dysmorphia refers to a morphed and distorted perception of how they look.
To summarize, gender dysphoria means someone feels the body they were born into doesn’t reflect their true self or who they are or identify with in terms of their gender. Body dysmorphia is a disorder that results in someone perceiving a major flaw or problem with their own body, even if that perception is not based in reality
the first steps....
Supporting a child with gender dysphoria requires a nurturing and understanding approach.
Here are some key steps you can take:
Create a safe space for open communication.Validate their experiences, demonstrating that you are there for them.
Seek Professional Help
Connect with mental health professionals experienced in gender dysphoria who can guide you and your teen & provide support and resources. We’re here to help!
Educate yourself & others
Take the initiative to educate yourself about gender diversity, transgender experiences, and the challenges faced by individuals with gender dysphoria. Share this knowledge with others to promote understanding and acceptance.
Respect Their Autonomy
Each individual’s journey with gender dysphoria is unique. Respect their decisions regarding their transition, medical interventions, or other forms of self-expression. Support their autonomy in choosing the path that feels right for them.
Affirm Their Identity
Validate and respect their identity. Use the correct pronouns and the correct name they prefer, and encourage others to do the same. This simple act of validation can have a profound impact on their well-being.
Our love language at MBD is social advocacy!
Stand up against discrimination and advocate for inclusive policies and environments. Help create a world where individuals with gender dysphoria can live authentically and without fear of stigma or prejudice.
What to Expect In Therapy for
Identity Support & Gender Dysphoria
When addressing gender dysphoria in adolescence, a multidisciplinary approach involving mental and medical providers is common, and typically the family or caregivers are involved in some point to help support the teen.
Here are some common aspects of treatment:
gender affirming therapy
It’s important that the therapist is competent in understanding the unique needs that will help the adolescent to explore and understand their gender identity in a safe space to discuss emotions, concerns, and aspirations.
For some individuals, hormone therapy may be an option to align their physical characteristics with their gender identity. This process typically involves ongoing medical supervision and often requires mental health care throughout the process and even afterwards to assist and support with adjusting to their congruent identity.
Individuals and families should be ready to receive a LOT of handouts! Gender-affirming therapists understand that individuals experiencing gender dysphoria are often misunderstood, especially by those closest to them. Education is an essential part of the therapeutic process.
Adolescents and adults are encouraged to build supportive networks, such as LGBTQ+ communities or local support groups. These connections can provide understanding, validation, and guidance throughout their journey.
Though this is just a snapshot of the complex needs and experiences of many individuals, these few steps will get you started towards becoming an excellent support for your loved one. This ongoing journey requires love, understanding, and acceptance. By educating ourselves, listening with empathy, and providing a nurturing environment, we can contribute to their overall well-being and happiness. Let’s embrace diversity, celebrate individual identities, and create a world where everyone can thrive authentically. Remember, seeking professional guidance from mental health experts experienced in gender dysphoria is crucial for personalized support and guidance.
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