Affirmative Therapy is an approach to working with gender diverse clients which affirms and supports individual gender identity, expression as well as how that intersects with other areas of lived experience. Affirmative therapy is an intentional positioning of gender diversity as an inherent part of the vibrant diversity of being human. My approach incorporates education and support for transgender and gender diverse clients in developing positive identity and self esteem while addressing the impact of minority stress, discrimination, heterosexism and homo, lesbian, bi and trans phobias. Affirmative Therapy empowers gender diverse clients and family systems to address conflicts of that can arise as a family system adjusts to a new way of experiencing, perceiving and relating to one another in a broader understanding of gender diversity. Generational, cultural, or value based differences are areas of conflict and affirmative therapy aims to support family adjustment and health while developing active coping skills in dealing with transition stressors and adjustments; which improve the quality of relationships and outcomes.
It is my belief and observation that each of us has experienced the impact of the gender binary and its role in mysogyny, homophobia, rape culture, and gender based violence. By re-examining and de-constructing the strictures of binary roles and strictures surrounding them; we are all a little more free. Concepts that are important in affirmative therapy include:
All therapies share a common value of unconditional positive regard. This means that the therapist who is empathic, can reflect the clients experience in a way that they feel heard, understood, and accepted. This is the cornerstone of humanistic therapy.
Cultural sensitivity in therapeutic practice is the intentional and respectful understanding of differences in ethnicity, culture, religion, gender, etc., so that barriers to health and wellness are removed. Services are delivered in way that diversity is acknowledged and welcomed, rather than ignored or pathologized.
When we have moved through our lives without having to deal with a particular social issue such as, being the victim of racial discrmination, we have privilege. This impacts our understanding and comprehension of discrimination, and can impair our ability to fully appreciate the lived experience of a client who occupies a different social location than we do. A common pitfall that is made in addressing privilege is denial of privilege. “I don’t see color” is a common phrase used by well meaning people who want to practice inclusion. However, denial of differences is not a helpful approach. Instead, we need to get comfortable with the fact that differences are real and we each have our own viewpoint which is valid and real for us.
What about gender/sexual minorities?
Awareness of the lived experience of sexual and gender minorities is a growing area of focus in clinical practice. We cannot separate the revolutions and tensions around gender, race, religion, and economics, from the theoretical assumptions that underly our theories of psychological development, relationships and familes, as well as identities. All of these are steeped in perspectives that are also part of the systemic oppression of sexual and gender minorities; namely homophobia, mysogyny, sexism, heterosexism, bi-phobia, and trans-phobia.