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Counselling – what is it all about and what should you expect? For the first-timer, coming to counselling can be a daunting experience. Perhaps a life changing issue or recent event has led someone to seek out counselling – the reasons are many and varied and of course they might include seeking out support in relation to one's own gender. Once the decision is made to come to counselling it can be hard to know what to expect from your therapist.
As a bare minimum, a client can expect to be met by a professional who demonstrates empathy, compassion and the willingness to support you in reaching your goals in counselling. These goals, of course, can be negotiated in the early stages, and reassessed later down the track. A common theme of specialised gender therapy is for the therapist to help clients to integrate their transgender in the widest possible sense and to find their own identity at the same time. This process can involve being supported to accept yourself as you are.
In my experience, transpeople become much more comfortable in their lives when they stop focusing on 'passing', realising that even passing convincingly is no guarantee for qualifying as a man or a woman. They may still have to deal with endless confrontations about why they are not 'genuinely' male or female – for example 'because they cannot have children'. There are a great variety of transgender people who in some stereotypical view may not 'pass', but who feel so thoroughly at ease within themselves that nobody is going to argue. They may not 'pass' but they do 'convince'! The issue is not primarily one of being male, female or neither but of being considered, respected and treated as whatever one experiences oneself to be. That is in my opinion what gender therapy is all about!
Zandvliet, T (2000) "Transgender Issues in Therapy" in "Issues in Therapy with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Clients". Open University Press, page 182.
That is not to say "passing", and a preoccupation with this, will be a theme in counselling for all people. At the Gender Centre counselling is non-formulaic and in that sense, the journey of therapy for a client is very much self-determined. It is your right as a client to decide what you wish to work on and your therapists job to support you in doing so. Thus, while gender might be the main reason a person comes to the Gender Centre for counselling and support, gender is not, in and of itself, completely separate from other factors in a person's life that might come up in counselling.
As an example, an individual might come to counselling seeking to be more self-accepting of her/his gender and with a desire to express it more fully in the world.
As therapist and client work on this, it could involve exploring deep and enduring patterns that have prevented someone from a consistent sense of contentment with their gender and its expression. We might come across the realisation that the very first relationships in life with mum and dad were not only unsupportive of gender expression, there was a strict template (spoken or unspoken) that you were expected to fit within, with regard to gender expression, and anything outside this template would not be tolerated. The message being received by anyone who did not fit in this template is potentially devastating: "it is not ok to be who you truly are". Part of the work between therapist and client then, might involve undoing this message if it has been carried into adulthood so that one can more fully integrate his/her gender into her/himself and express it more freely. This type of counselling is longer term and involves a development of trust between therapist and client, which is different from shorter-term therapy that seeks to target a particular issue only with short-term goals.
Counselling at the Gender Centre
The Gender Centre counselling service provides a high quality professional psychological service to the transgender and gender questioning community. The values underpinning our work include: integrity, compassion, respect, vitality, resourcefulness, professionalism and perseverance, and is guided by the following core values.
- We are committed to assisting clients reach their full personal potential through the provision of psychological counselling services and programs.
- We are committed to achieving this with fairness and integrity.
- We aim to provide a high quality counselling service which acknowledges human rights and ensures respect, dignity and confidentiality. It is of a particular concern to remove barriers to clients' achievements resulting from their gender, age, cultural and national background, socio-economic background or disability.
- We will ensure that our service operates within the bounds of ethical guidelines, and the relevant codes of behaviour for psychologists, counsellors and social workers, including the maintenance of client confidentiality.
- We will ensure access and equity issues are met for all.
The Gender Centre's counselling service is available to all clients including residential clients, community clients, partners, family members and friends of people with gender issues at no cost. The counselling service also provides support and education to school counsellors as well as counsellors in rural areas. The Gender Centre's counselling service provides:
- Counselling to all clients of the Gender Centre;
- Counselling to partners and families of clients of the Gender Centre;
- Confidentiality contract (see below);
- M.T.F. and F.T.M., transgender parents, over 55s and transgender youth support groups;
- Referrals to psychiatrists, endocrinologists and other specialists;
- Supervision to counsellors who have a transgender client; and
- Placement opportunities to student counsellors.
The issues covered in counselling may include (but are not limited to):
- alcohol & other drugs;
- sexual health;
- accommodation; and
- surgery options.
The counsellor has qualifications in counselling, education, workplace training and assessing and is a member of CAPA. The counselling supervisor is a member of the following professional associations:
- Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (H.B.I.G.D.A.);
- Clinical Member of the Counsellors and Psychotherapists Association of N.S.W. (CAPA);
- Registered member of the Psychotherapists and Counsellors Federation of Australia (P.A.C.F.A.); and
- Australian Society of Sexuality Educators, Researchers and Therapists (ASSERT)
The Gender Centre Inc. Counselling Contract
Terms and Conditions
Confidentiality: The counsellor keeps all notes under lock and key in the filing cabinet in the counselling room.
The counsellor may seek supervision on your situation in keeping with the "Psychotherapists and Counsellors Federation of Australia (P.A.C.F.A.) Ethical Guidelines", thus:
Counsellors and supervisors are responsible for protecting the client's rights of confidentiality in the supervisory context by ensuring that shared information is disguised appropriately.
Supervision is a professional requirement for a counsellor to be registered in N.S.W.
The counsellor will ensure that details of your case are kept strictly confidential except for situations where there is impending risk of harm to self or others and where mandatory reporting conditions (outlined below) apply.
"Counsellors and Psychotherapists Association of N.S.W. Inc. Code of Ethics and Good Practice" states:
Circumstances may arise where a counsellor believes that a client is at risk of imminent self-harm or imminent harm to others. Such situations may give rise to exceptions to confidentiality.
Mandatory Reporting Requirements: "Counsellors and Psychotherapists Association of N.S.W. Inc. "Code of Ethics and Good Practice" states:
Legislation now in force within the state of New South Wales makes it mandatory for all counsellors to report to the relevant authority, any concerns they have where a child is at risk of harm. The relevant authority is the N.S.W. Department of Human Services, Community Services.
Residents of the Gender Centre: Confidentiality as above holds except where information relevant to housing is deemed necessary for the residential service and case management.
The Gender Centre is committed to developing and providing services and activities, which enhance the ability of people with gender issues to make informed choices. We offer a wide range of services to people with gender issues, their partners, family members and friends in New South Wales. We are an accommodation service and also act as an education, support, training and referral resource centre to other organisations and service providers. The Gender Centre is committed to educating the public and service providers about the needs of people with gender issues. We specifically aim to provide a high quality service, which acknowledges human rights and ensures respect and confidentiality.