Treatment for gender dysphoria aims to help individuals live in their preferred gender identity. The goal is not to change their mind or to try and cure them of this disorder. If the patient becomes happier and has more self-confidence through therapy, the patient may decide they want to be the gender they were born with or seek a medical procedure to change their physical gender. Again, neither result is the goal of treatment, as pushing someone toward an unwanted procedure or to think they were mistaken in their belief could cause even more underlying mental problems.
Gender dysphoria varies from person to person and can affect children, adolescents and adults differently. Treatment may be different depending on the age of the person because treatment focuses on their specific needs. Treatment for gender dysphoria typically begins after puberty, though sometimes parents, children and professionals may determine that earlier treatment is appropriate. Still, treatments may also begin later in life.
As the understanding and acceptance of gender dysphoria has grown, the range of treatments has grown as well. Individuals may now pursue treatment at an earlier age. Feelings of depression, anxiety and seclusion, which come with this diagnosis, should not go untreated before a therapist can make a diagnosis.
Therapy Options for Gender Dysphoria
The goal of treatment is to deal with the distress that may come with the gender dysphoria rather than trying to alter the individual’s desires to be different. Meeting with a psychologist or psychiatrist is the first step in any treatment for gender dysphoria.
Most treatment approaches offered in early stages are psychological rather than medical or surgical. This is because the condition does not continue into adulthood for most children with suspected gender dysphoria. Psychological support can offer individuals and their families an opportunity to discuss their thoughts on the child’s behavior and mental struggles. The families can give support to their loved while he or she one copes with the emotional toll of the condition without needing to rush into extreme treatments.
The goal of treatment is self-acceptance, happiness and fulfillment. Talking with a therapist and choosing lifestyle possibilities, such as cross-gender dressing, can be sufficient. Other times, patients may desire permanent medical intervention. Depending on the results of an initial verbal assessment with a therapist or psychologist, the treatment options for individuals with gender dysphoria can include:
- Family therapy
- Parental support groups or counseling
- Hormone therapy and treatment
Family therapy can be beneficial to individuals struggling with gender dysphoria. This can be positive for the patient to obtain support from their family, friends and loved ones. When an individual does not feel comfortable in their own skin, they need to know other people accept their desires to be whoever they want. Receiving this support will help ease some of the stress as the person lives with their disorder and decides which treatment option to use.
Parental Support Groups or Counseling
Parents of patients with gender dysphoria may also need support. It is not easy to have a child who is not happy with who they are or their body. For many parents, it may be depressing to know their girl wants to be a boy, or the opposite desire. Parent support groups can provide education of the disorder in a group of other parents who are experiencing the same struggles. Parents should not be ashamed of struggling to understand or accept their child’s discomfort in their gender, and support groups can help parents grow as guardians and provide more support for their struggling child.
Adolescents can use hormone therapy to slow down the body’s development toward puberty and slow the onset of hormonal changes that cause either menstruation or increase of testosterone production. With this option, the individual may avoid experiencing the original gender’s side effects of puberty. Hormone therapy releases hormones for the individual by stopping the assault of the body’s naturally occurring hormones.
Later in life, if the individual chooses, hormones can be used to help achieve the look and feel of the gender they desire to be and diminish their current sex characteristics. During hormone therapy, biological men who wish to be women take estrogen, and biological women who wish to be men take testosterone. These hormones may create feelings of self-comfort for the patient.
Gender reassignment surgery is another outlet an individual with gender dysphoria may look to as a treatment to their discomfort. Family and friends might need some time to adjust to an individual’s gender reassignment surgery if this is their choice for treatment. Gender reassignment can seem far-reaching to some and a desperately needed solution to others.
For an individual living with gender issues, social interaction can be a challenging experience. Many of these patients are misunderstood, isolated, discriminated and abused by their peers due to their gender confusion. Mostly, they want to experience peace in the gender they desire without emotionally and physically painful experiences. Even without these difficult situations, the underlying depression and anxiety that comes with not feeling comfortable in one’s body can cause many other problems in an individual’s life.
Psychotherapy can help an individual find the cause for how they feel. Therapy assists the patient in developing coping strategies for managing their depression and other harmful feelings. Psychotherapy and family therapy can be very beneficial in supporting the individual’s needs and helping them determine the best lifestyle for them.
Effective counseling can assist an individual in considering the consequences of gender change while neither encouraging nor discouraging them from making a life-changing decision. The therapist and patient should discuss the requirements, drawbacks, challenges and decisions the patient is likely to face in the gender-transition process.
For an individual already undergoing a gender-reassignment transition, the need for socialization is important. Support groups and therapy are helpful resources in leading one to improve social skills and becoming comfortable in their new gender. Before deciding on a medical procedure, psychotherapy may help by exploring realistic alternatives to gender-reassignment surgery.
Treating Gender Dysphoria with Co-Occurring Substance Abuse
Gender dysphoria may not be a prompt for substance abuse, though the stress related to the diagnosis can contribute to a variety of addictive and risky behaviors. Depression often leads to the desire to self-medicate and improve one’s mood and self-confidence through short-term tactics, which is why alcohol and drug use is high among people with depression. Gender dysphoria patients may suffer from depression and search for acceptance and a way to fit in.
People with gender dysphoria are likely to be tempted by substance use as a quick solution to experience the feelings they desire. The use of drugs or alcohol may give them temporary feelings of comfort and normalcy due to the effects of the substance. When the individual realizes this is the only time they are not concerned about their gender discomforts, the person might become psychologically dependent on the substance and the volume and frequency of substance abuse may increase.
Therapy after a detox process is the main component of treatment for a co-occurring disorder that includes substance abuse. Behavioral therapies are often the most useful to allow the individual to understand how their current behaviors are hindering treatment, creating worse symptoms and blocking coping abilities.
Treatment usually involves developing strategies to avoid substance use, making positive lifestyle changes, finding new hobbies, relying on the support of loved ones and developing action plans to avoid recurrence of use.
If you or a loved one needs help or assistance in substance use treatment, The Recovery Village can help. Individuals who have gender dysphoria and have started abusing drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism should seek medical assistance to treat for their addiction.