A letter from a therapist is often (though not always) required for trans* people to undergo HRT and gender-confirming surgeries. A lot of people have questions about this therapy, what is generally required for it, and how to find a therapist.
How do I find a therapist? Does the person I go to need to be listed specifically as a “gender therapist”?
There are many different ways to find a therapist. If you know of any other trans* people in your area, you can ask them for recommendations, or you can ask around on sites like fuckyeahftms. Sometimes school counselors, general practitioners, and other professionals can also recommend you someone. Laura’s Playground also has an excellent list of therapists who specialize in gender issues (both in the US and worldwide). However, the therapist you see does not necessarily need to specialize in gender issues or have a lot of experience with trans* patients (although that does sometimes help them provide better support and counseling). There isn’t any special degree or certification that makes someone a “gender therapist,” and so if you are already seeing a licensed counselor or therapist (for other reasons, maybe), they can write your letter for you if they are willing.
What is gender therapy like? How many sessions will I need to attend?
This is different for everyone and really depends on your specific concerns and your therapist. Most therapists in general will spend the first session going over your personal history and getting to know you. They may even have you write a short autobiography as “homework.” Your therapist may talk to you about other problems you may have in your life (like depression, anxiety, or anger issues) and try to help you sort things out. They may have a set amount of highly structured sessions that you are required to attend before they will write your letter, or things might be more open-ended and flexible. On average, though, most therapists appear to require around 3 months worth of sessions (one per week, so around 12 sessions). Sometimes you might have “homework,” like reading a certain book, talking to someone about your feelings, thinking about something specific, etc. Generally it is pretty painless and just there to help you figure things out, make sure you are able to make the decision to transition, and give you support you may need during such a potentially tumultuous time in your life.
How do I explain to my parents that I need gender therapy?
In general, it is our policy to advocate honesty. Of course, coming out is not always an option, and you may feel you need therapy in order to figure out how to come out to or deal with your parents. If you feel you cannot be open with your parents and explain to them your reasoning for wanting therapy, than telling them something generic, like “there are some issues I need work out that I think require therapy” or “I think I would really benefit from counseling” might work. However, many parents would not be satisfied with this reason and often (but not always) honesty is the best option in these situations. Often, it can be helpful after you come out to take your parents with you to a session or two if they are willing to go.
How can I tell if a therapist is good or right for me? What if I become uncomfortable with my therapist or don’t like them?
A good way to tell if a therapist is good/right for you is if they set you at ease and make you feel comfortable. You should feel safe, comfortable, and accepted in therapy, not bullied, prodded, or cross-examined. A little awkwardness or discomfort, particularly at first, is to be expected, but other than that you should feel pretty good about the person you’re seeing. If after a couple of sessions you don’t feel listened to or are having any other problems, remember that you (or your health insurance) are paying this person for a service and you have every right to take your business elsewhere. It can be awkward to change therapists, but it is important to do so if things just don’t feel right.
How much will this cost? Will insurance cover it?
Whether or not your insurance will cover your therapy absolutely depends on your insurance and the way in which your therapist deals with insurance. This is something to call your insurance company about and/or to talk to your therapist about during your consultation or even beforehand. Your health insurance may completely cover your visits, partially cover them, or may not cover them at all. Again, it depends on a lot of different factors. Without insurance, most therapists charge between 60-200 dollars per visit.