Much of my work at Live Oak focuses on working with those who experience gender dysphoria, or those who identify as part of the Trans* community. This experience can take many shapes, including feeling at odds between one’s mental experience and physical body, feeling uncomfortable with the expectations related to gender, or feeling outside of the binary gender system present in our culture. The focus of my work is to help people live their best possible life, to come to terms with their struggles with gender, and to come to a place of understanding and comfort. Sometimes this requires a mental shift, sometimes this requires seeking medical help for a physical shift, and sometimes it requires both.
I am fond of using metaphors in my work with clients. Metaphors allow us room to view situations from the outside, giving us new ways to think and understand our lives. It engages visual, emotional, and verbal aspects of our brains, rooted in the story-telling used by generations of ancestors around the world. A metaphor for the way some of my clients experience gender dysphoria is that of having a white noise machine on in the background. When life is busy, hectic, or “loud” it can be hard to hear. It can be drowned out by other noises, although it is still an ever-present undercurrent. When life settles down, or in those quiet or alone moments, the white noise is almost impossible to ignore or not hear. The volume may never have been turned up, but it is no longer drowned out by the other sounds of life. Gender dysphoria is that constant humming that rears up most when things seem to be “good” or, at the very least, calm.
Of course, for some, the experience of gender dysphoria is all-consuming. It eats up every moment and every thought until treatment occurs in the shape of counseling or affirming physical alteration. For others, however, the experience is that of “white noise.” Either way, therapy can help to develop a positive and congruent sense of self. It can be excellent for those wanting to start a medical transition, those currently in the process of transition, or those just wanting to understand their own gender experience on a deeper level. Through therapy we are able to turn down the white noise by answering questions, affirming the self, and finding a path towards an individual’s best life.
By Kelly George, LCPC