Hypnotherapy for gender identity issues
What is gender dysphoria?
Gender dysphoria (or gender identity disorder) is the name given to the feeling of discomfort that a person may experience living as the gender that the person was assigned at birth. If a person feels that they do not fully identify with their ‘assigned’ gender, they may experience a wide range of psychological symptoms, such as stress, depression and isolation. Such people are most commonly known as ‘transgender’ or being on the ‘trans’ spectrum.
Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness, however people who experience gender dysphoria often suffer poor mental health as a result of hiding their identity. Talking about it and getting support is the first step to alleviating the symptoms.
Young children may perceive themselves as being the opposite sex and the changes that teenagers undergo during puberty may be particularly distressing. Stress and depression may sometimes manifest as the desire to self-harm.
Getting professional help
It is important that children and teenagers should be referred by their GP to a specialist child and adolescent Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) to get a diagnosis and create a treatment plan.
People in the United Kingdom can engage with an adult GIC once they are 17 years old, although there are sometimes protracted waiting times in some areas. After an initial consultation, patients will work with their doctors to agree an action plan. In addition to psychological treatments, hormone/physical therapy options are available for some patients.
How can hypnotherapy help with gender dysphoria?
Hypnotherapists use techniques that bring about deep relaxation or 'trance' - a natural and everyday state similar to daydreaming – during which the client is very responsive to suggestions beneficial to their health and well-being. Hypnotherapy can be used in association with other techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy and relaxation to help with a wide range of issues.
For the client affected by gender dysphoria, hypnotherapy can be used to complement treatment plans agreed with a GIC (or whilst awaiting their first appointment). It is helpful to both the person affected and also their friends and family in the following ways:
- Support for the parents of a transgender child – helping them to deal with the anxiety, stress and depression which are commonly associated with gender dysphoria.
- Coping with discrimination and oppression by building resilience.
- Working directly with sufferers with a range of issues including anxiety, stress, depression, loss of identity, sexuality, relationship issues, confidence, performance anxiety, insomnia and other health issues.
- Empowering the client by teaching them techniques such as mindfulness, relaxation and self-hypnosis to enable them to help themselves between sessions and achieve long term well-being once therapy has ended.
- Enabling them to fully accept themselves and the integration of both parts of their gender.
- Support during the ‘social gender role transition’ period (they are typically required to first live in their preferred gender identity full time for at least one year prior to having permanent gender-confirmation surgery).
- Hypnotic suggestions for ‘feminisation’ or ‘masculinisation’ behaviours.
- Support dealing with the challenges of ‘coming out’ as transgender to family, friends and colleagues – finding the courage, self-confidence and resilience.
The next steps
The first step is to speak to a professional, whether this is their GP, or a specialist support and advice service. Once a decision is made that they want further help, professional support is essential. A therapist experienced in gender dysphoria and trans people will have an understanding of what they are going through, and the best ways to help. They can offer valuable additional support, both before and during a treatment plan process agreed with a GIC specialist.
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About Harry Holbrook
Harry Holbrook is a fully qualified clinical hypnotherapist, senior practitioner and acknowledged supervisor, registered with the General Hypnotherapy Register. He specialises in helping clients with gender identity issues, using hypnotherapy, CBT and relaxation techniques during face-to-face sessions at his Perthshire practice or online via SKYPE.