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Brenda Ibutu, Kari A. O'Grady, Ph.D.

Counseling Transsexaul Women: Understanding Interventions and Implications from a Spiritual/Religious Perspective

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At one time or another, everyone has experienced the sadness and loneliness of not fitting in. Now, imagine that the way you don’t fit in is that you look like a man on the outside, but in your heart and soul, you know God made you a woman. That’s certainly enough to make you feel alone in the world, but then imagine that there are very few mental health professionals who can even begin to help you address how you feel. Maybe even worse is the knowledge that if you take steps to make the outside of your body match your soul, you will likely lose your spouse, possibly your job, your kids, and your friends.

Within the mental health profession, more and more counselors are realizing the importance of spirituality and religion in working with the client as a whole. As is true in the general population, some transsexual individuals view spirituality and/or religion as extremely important to their life experience. Counselors will be better prepared to walk with transsexual individuals by understanding some ways in which transgender women experience transition in their lives and bodies, exploring their spiritual/religious process, and learning how to help them adjust to their new experience of gender.

An emerging field in the study of transgender communities is the concept of resilience. Some transgender research has shown that connecting with a supportive community has been beneficial to the ongoing resilience of transsexual women. However, there continues to be a dirth of research, as seen in a database search of PsychInfo in which spiritual resilience garners 1,387 results and spiritual resilience and transgender comes back with zero. Results show that much more research is needed to help mental health professional’s better work with this population.

This poster focuses on background research and, most importantly, practical interventions from the participants relating to those aspects of the counseling relationship which they find most helpful. More than any other comment, participants report that they want a counselor to be honest about their level of experience with this population, and their willingness to work with and learn from them. Additionally, spirituality and/or religion, according to some participants, are important resources for many going through transition, one participant saying, “Do not assume that all religious experiences have been bad, some may have been very good”.

Counselor education implications are also explored, taking into account participant perspectives as well as expert research. It is vital for mental health professionals to be prepared when they encounter transsexual women, as well as others in transgender communities. Highlights of the research include having a basic understanding of the nuances of gender variance; Gender Dysphoria may not always be the diagnosis or presenting issue, be able to work with clients in a holistic manner, and to see the whole person and understand that the CLINET IS the expert on their own life.

This poster provides attendees practical information that will increase their knowledge of the skills necessary to effectively work with transsexual women.

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