The Gender Exploratory Therapy Association (GETA) exists because we see a great need arising from the current narrow framing of Gender and Gender Identity in the field of mental health and the culture more broadly:
Prospective clients who are exploring gender identity or struggling with their biological sex should have access to therapists who will provide thoughtful care and tend to legitimate mental health concerns, without pushing an ideological or political agenda.
We are pleased that the emerging cultural conversation opens the door for individuals to discuss and explore their sense of identity in ways that might have been discouraged or disallowed in the past. We believe that identity exploration is normal and necessary, especially for young people. At the same time, we see that certain restrictive norms have emerged which limit free and healthy exploration, making it harder for both clients and therapists to work together meaningfully on questions of gender identity.
It has become extremely difficult for clients to find mental health professionals who will facilitate identity exploration while also enabling them to confront important psychological issues that may be tempting to avoid. Instead, by using a one-size-fits all approach many therapists misunderstand identity “affirmation” and inadvertently push ideological or political agendas onto their gender-questioning clients. Sadly, this can happen on “both sides” of the gender issue:
Some therapists operate on underlying assumptions that gender identity distress is always a sign that a client is trans, and that a client’s current understanding of their gender identity will remain permanently fixed. Such assumptions may lead the therapists to neglect the work of psychological exploration, and instead, act as a facilitator for acquiring hormonal and surgical interventions (which come with a heavy medical burden and potentially negative consequences).
Other therapists operate on the underlying assumption that identifying as trans is categorically wrong. Such therapists may challenge a client’s stated gender identity using political arguments or ideological frameworks, imposing their own agenda of getting the client to renounce or change their gender identity.
Between these two extremes lies an approach that treats identity development as a complex, gradual process that can be influenced by a variety of factors and mental health issues.
It has become difficult for therapists who take a depth or exploratory orientation towards gender identity to find spaces which encourage open dialogue about these issues. The fear of being labelled “transphobic” has, in many circles, shut down conversation and prevented genuine exchange, learning, and training.
Our goal, therefore, is to develop a network of “Gender Exploratory” therapists: mental health professionals who practice ethical and developmentally appropriate therapy with clients who are experiencing distress regarding gender or biological sex. We provide a place for such therapists to network, dialogue, and learn from one another. And we provide resources, information, and therapy referrals for clients and their families.
GETA Membership Statement
This Association is open to practitioners, trainees, educators, and researchers in the therapy professions who are in agreement with the values of the Association as outlined below.
- We believe people who are experiencing distress regarding gender or biological sex deserve a safe place to receive therapeutic support. We support the practice of ethical, developmentally appropriate psychotherapy with these clients.
- We reject therapies that use coercive techniques to achieve a specific outcome regarding sexual orientation or gender identity. We reject treatments based on the assumption that a change in sexual orientation or gender identity should occur.
- We respect client autonomy, and therefore also respect the right of clients to use therapy to explore the factors that underlie their various identities. We do not impose our own beliefs, values, opinions, ideology, religion, or goals on clients.
- We do not prioritize any one school of thought or approach to therapy. Being “Gender Exploratory” means that we position ourselves within a framework of well-established therapeutic practice :
- We recognize that behavior, feelings, and beliefs—including those surrounding gender identity— are influenced by factors of which we are not fully conscious. Thus there is value in exploring these unconscious motivations.
- To explore unconscious factors is not inherently to pathologize or be suspicious of the behaviors/feelings/beliefs that are affected, though pathological factors may be present. Increased self-understanding is valuable in and of itself.
- We reject the conflation of exploration of gender identity with “conversion therapy.” We support clients who wish to explore all aspects of their identity without presupposing any outcomes.
- We reject the characterization of Gender Exploratory Therapy as fringe, bigoted, or transphobic. Therapists who provide support to clients who wish to deepen their own self-understanding should not feel the need to hide this fact. We are simply applying longstanding, evidence-based, ethical principles of therapy to a specific issue (gender identity) that has become politicized.
- We prioritize psychological exploration and treatment for gender dysphoria. We believe that prematurely concretizing an identity through a narrow affirmation can lead to unnecessary and potentially disruptive social and medical intervention. Given the lack of long-term, peer reviewed, longitudinal evidence and the risk of regret, we believe that medical interventions for gender dysphoria in children, teens, and young adults are experimental and ought to be considered a last resort.
- We reject a shallow understanding of the “Affirmative” model for therapy with clients who are gender questioning or experiencing gender dysphoria. Affirmation is necessary for good therapy in the sense that therapists must not impose upon clients a view of their gender identity as inherently pathological. However, affirmation is not sufficient for good therapy insofar as a robustly “affirmative” model must also acknowledge:
- Gender and sexuality are complex, develop over time, and are influenced by many factors (biological, psychological, social, etc.).
- There are risks and unknowns that come with medicalization of gender identity (e.g., treatment with puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgery).
- A sense of personal identity is not static, especially among young people. Identity exploration is a normal part of adolescent development.
- Because young people are in a process of development and growth with regard to self-understanding and gender identity, it is important to be cautious about treating anything as permanent, making irreversible changes, or recommending treatments that carry significant risks or unknowns.
- Because young people lack the faculties to fully comprehend the long-term impact of their decisions, their preferred outcome for treatment is important to consider, but cannot be treated as paramount.
- Like many other aspects of human experience, gender identity is influenced by a complex array of factors, including biological, psychological, and social ones.
- The consolidation of a same-sex sexual orientation is a process that often takes years. Youth going through such a process are often gender nonconforming and may experience distress as they come to terms with their sexual orientation. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth may need help and support to accept themselves as they are.
- Clients are entitled to a realistic discussion about biology. Clients are also entitled to an exploration of the psychological, medical, and emotional risks and benefits of medicalized transition.
The aim of this network is to create a supportive forum for members to network, learn, communicate, and collaborate about these issues. The network will also function as a resource for those who are gender questioning or experiencing gender dysphoria and their families to learn and to find support from thoughtful therapists.