Over the years, many terms have been used by medical professionals to describe some trans people’s experiences. These have included transsexualism, gender identity disorder and gender dysphoria. The term “gender dysphoria” is now being used. This term is intended to describe the distress some trans people experience with relation to their gender identity, particularly if they would like to transition but have not yet done so.
The diagnosis of gender dysphoria has been developed to more accurately reflect trans people’s experiences, yet still enable access to necessary health care. Professional consensus is that no-one’s identity is a disorder; the diagnosis is based on the distress related to gender dysphoria. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care (SOC) version 7 state that gender dysphoria is a specific distress that can be alleviated through medically necessary treatment. Guidelines for persons wanting to have hormone therapy or surgery as part of their medical transition are found in the standard. Psychotherapy used to be a requirement for medical transition. Now only an assessment and referral by a health care professional trained in trans health care is required for these medical interventions.
Finding the emotional and mental wellness support that you need is important. For some people this might be a peer support group. For others, individual counselling is a good option because it has the potential to be tailored to meet your unique needs.
If you decide to get counselling, take the time to find a counsellor you feel comfortable with. Some counsellors may have experience working with trans people or have had clients who are trans, some may have had neither. Ask potential counsellors if they have any experience with trans issues. The most important thing is to find a counsellor you feel is on your side. If the first one you visit doesn’t feel right, try someone else until you find a person who works for you.
Though not every trans person will experience emotional stress or feel the need to seek out counselling, there are some practical reasons why it might be useful to have mental health support. If you are socially or medically transitioning, or if you plan to, having a counsellor accessible to you may be helpful. Transition is a time when many changes often happen in life, such as coming out to family or friends, entering into a new relationship, beginning hormone replacement therapy, or planning for a surgery. It can be nice to have a counsellor there to remind you that your feelings are normal and to support you through your successes and challenges. Everybody goes through emotional ups and downs during the course of their life.
There are several reasons you might go to a counsellor:
- You might be exploring your gender, or having some difficult feelings related to your gender or transition.
- You might be feeling stressed about coming out to a loved one, or feeling sad, depressed or anxious about transitioning.
- You might be feeling suicidal.
- You might be searching for peace and balance.
All of these experiences are good reasons to seek out a counsellor. A counsellor can work with you on your goals, help you manage anxieties and help you explore healthy coping strategies.