Your gender identity is not a mental illness. But if you’re someone who identifies as transgender or gender non-conforming, how society treats you can impact your mental health. Part of your self-care may include working through any stress and trauma with a gender-affirming therapist.
This may lead you to ask yourself: how can I find this person?
For therapist Winley K, PsyD, it made a big difference to work with someone with shared identities. Winley, who lives in Durham, North Carolina, and doesn’t use pronouns, doesn’t say a white, cisgender male therapist wouldn’t support someone who is black, genderqueer, and comes out as masculine.
“But I say that because of the oppressive and discriminatory experiences I have had with people whose identities differ from mine, it was important for me to heal in a space where I felt safe,” says Winley. .
Here are some steps you can take to find a transgender-friendly therapist.
Use online resources
Winley is the founder of WaterYourFire Collective and a contract therapist for Queer People of Color. Winley says it’s good to create an image of who you think will best understand your experience. Then search for exactly what you want.
“I often hear people say, ‘I want a black therapist, or I might want a trans-mask (uline) therapist.’ But can I ask that specifically?” Winley said. “My answer is, why not?
You might find what you’re looking for with a quick search. But there are a number of directories aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. Some that can help you find a transgender-friendly psychologist, counselor, social worker, or other mental health specialist include:
You can also try Psychology Today’ s national directory. It can be “random for some people,” Winley says. But you can customize your search in many ways, including:
- gender identity
- sexual orientation
- LGBTQ+ Affirmation
- Problems or types of therapy
What if you found a trans-friendly therapist in your state but not in your city? Ask about telehealth or virtual visits. This expands your access to mental health providers. And it gives you the chance to talk to someone from the comfort of your own home.
You may be able to schedule a telehealth or virtual visit with an unlicensed psychologist in your state. But it’s something you need to ask the supplier.
Get referrals from the LGBTQ+ community
General directories are a good start. But they are not perfect. That’s why many LGBTQ+ people end up finding mental health professionals “by word of mouth,” says Christy Olezeski, PhD, a psychologist at Yale Medicine who works with transgender and gender-wide people.
In graduate school, Winley sought help from a professor who identified as LGBTQ+. She came back with the name of a therapist who ticked all of Winley’s boxes. “It was the best therapy experience I’ve had to date.”
You probably already know how to ask your queer or trans friends who they see. But here are other ways to access your local network:
- Search “queer exchange” and your city on Facebook.
- Go to a meeting for transgender people.
- Join an LGBTQ+ support group in person or online.
Your local LGBTQ+ community center is another good source. Visit the CenterLink LBGT Community Center Membership Directory to find a location in your area. You can find more information at lgbtcenters.org.
To ask questions
You can learn a lot about a therapist from their online biography. But there is not much information you can find in directories or professional websites. What else can you do? “I would call them,” Olezeski said.
Chances are you can chat with a therapist for 15 minutes free of charge. You can ask questions such as:
- How long have you worked with transgender people?
- Do you have special training for working with a diverse community?
- What is your approach to treatment?
- I read X, Y, Z on your profile. Can you tell me more about what this means?
- What are your identities?
There is some debate about how much personal information a therapist should reveal. But there are mental health professionals who think sharing some of their basic information can be a good thing. “If I ask clients these invasive questions, I should be prepared to tell them something about myself,” Winley says.
Stick to your search
Make a list of therapists you think might work well with you. Have a consultation with everyone. If they don’t suit you, move on to the next one. Keep searching until you click with someone.
“I know it can be a really daunting, exhausting and disheartening experience,” Winley says. “But I think the support is there.”
Not every therapist will be right for you. And it’s OK to leave anytime. But keep in mind that therapy can be hard work. You may feel uncomfortable even with someone who is aware and affirming of transgender issues.
“There’s a difference between a bad fit and someone who challenges you in ways you’re not yet ready to explore,” Winley says.
What about the cost?
By law, most health care providers must cover mental health services the same as other types of health care. Call your insurance provider for details on your specific plan. Here are some questions to ask:
- Who are the therapists in your network?
- How high are your co-payments and deductibles?
- Is there a threshold for reimbursable expenses?
- Do you have a visit limit?
- Do you need prior authorization?
What if using health insurance is not an option? “Do the free consultation,” says Winley. “Have a conversation and see if there are ways the psychologist can work with you.”
If you want to see a therapist you can’t afford, ask them if they:
- Charge fees on a sliding scale
- Offer therapy scholarships
- Know the mental health funds you can apply for
How to get help now
There are safe spaces to find immediate support. Use the following resources to connect with a crisis counselor 24/7: