'They' Necessity More From Us

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Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 10:58 PM

I recently presented the case of an 18-year-old undergraduate student, who I'll call "Sam." Sam self-identified as gender non-binary and preferred the gender pronouns "they" and "them." While reading through the demographic information, I was stopped by one of the supervising clinicians, a psychologist.

'They' Necessity More From Us

At the college counseling middle where I'm a graduate social work intern, our weekly staff meetings where we present new cases serve as a professional check-in for all of the practicing clinicians. I recently presented the case of an 18-year-old undergraduate student, who I'll call "Sam." Sam self-identified as gender non-binary and preferred the gender pronouns "they" and "them."

While reading through the demographic information, I was stopped by one of the supervising clinicians, a psychologist. She looked at me incredulously and asked, "Wait... gender non-binary? Does that imply they don't wish to choose one?" Ultimately, Sam'south pronouns -- rather than their long mental health history including suicide attempts and self harm -- became the focus of the conversation.

As mental health professionals, it's our work to be ahead of the curve when it comes to evolving cultural norms and respecting our clients' rights to determine who they're without pathologizing them. The social work code of ethics defines our mission as meeting "the basic human needs of all people, with specific attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty." But we're not only first responders for individuals who experience trauma, discrimination and hardship, it's also our responsibility to be allies and advocates for the assailable and silenced communities with whom we work.

The mental health community hasn't always been the best ally to assailable populations. Our profession has a shadowy history of getting it dangerously incorrect when it comes to understanding and accepting those who don't fit into a narrow, white, heteronormative box. Get for example the mental disorder once known as Drapetomania, "the sickness causing negroes to running far [from their masters]." Or consider the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which included homosexuality among its diagnoses until one thousand nine hundred seventy-three. It was only in two thousand-fourteenth that NJ passed a law prohibiting "conversion therapy," or the practice of attempting to modify someone'south sexual orientation, as an intervention for homosexual clients; many states still authorize this practice. And it wasn't until two thousand twelve, with its most recent iteration, that the DSM-5 removed Gender Identity Disorder from its list of recognized diagnoses.

As a nation, the trans community is gaining more visibility in mainstream culture with shows love Transparent and I'm Cait, and the growing visibility of stars love Laverne Cox and Chaz Bono. But as with any cultural shift, there is resistance, backlash and awkward transition. The NY Times, which has a long-standing editorial regulation that prohibits the utilize of the singular "they," is struggling to figure out how to write about people who utilize gender neutral pronouns, while the WA Post has updated their bylaws to comprise it as permissible when referring to gender non-conforming subjects. But pronoun usage is only one component of a much deeper and more risky societal resistance to accepting the trans community.

Both SD and NC have passed bills barring transgender students from using bathrooms in schools that don't correspond to their gender assigned at birth, citing unfounded stereotypes of trans people as sexual predators. These are only a few of the many targeted pieces of legislation that marginalize and discriminate against the trans community.

The consequences of this discrimination aren't benign. According to Human Rights Campaign, nearly half of all people identifying as transgender will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. The same report showed that ninety % of transgender people have experienced harassment in the workplace, and twenty-six % have lost a work because they were trans or gender non-conforming. The LGBTQ community, and those identifying as trans or gender non-conforming in particular, have some of the highest suicide rates in the nation.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, forty-one % of trans and gender non-conforming adults have attempted suicide, compared with only 4.6 % of the common population. These individuals are also significantly more likely to experience homelessness, depression, harassment, sexual abuse and a whole host of other traumatic events. This is a pop that needs improved access to supportive and affirming mental health services.

But this isn't only a structural issue. The skill to respect and realize a client'south identity is a vital clinical skill that facilitates engagement and fosters a positive therapeutic alliance. When I first sat down with Sam, they were so nervous that they were afraid they might vomit. After asking them what pronouns they use, there was a palpable shift in their demeanor: one of relief. They then told me to utilize their preferred title of Sam, which they hadn't shared because they "never know how people will react."

This is why it's necessary to check in as professionals to examine our own biases and how they're playing out in the room with our clients. As mental health practitioners, it's fundamental to our practice that we recognize and affirm all identities, as well as challenge our own assumptions and biases. Our clients, and our practice, depend on it.

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