Good afternoon everyone,
I hope you are doing well. My name is Sarah Parker and I am a student at Mount Royal University in Calgary Alberta. I am currently in my second year of the Child and Youth Care Counselling Diploma.
I am doing my practicum at a middle school and working with children in grades 5-8. I am enjoying my experience at this school and feel I have a knowledgeable, experienced mentor. She has allowed me the freedom to talk with the students and build relationships with many of the children.
Although she has guided me through many of the interactions with the students and has answered many of my questions, there is one particular case that I am unsure about. There is a young woman in grade 7 who is struggling with her gender identity. Since grade 2 she has viewed herself as a boy. She wanted to change her name, she is attracted to other girls and seriously struggles with the fact that she is physically a female. She comes from a family that doesn't understand nor support her emotional needs. They keep telling her that this is a phase and she will grow up one day and face reality. This student has started cutting herself on her upper thigh (she is not showing these off or seeking attention through her cutting). I am worried that this individual will develop an extremely negative self concept and her behaviours will become even more harmful.
I was told by my mentor that we are not allowed to discuss her gender confusion with her because of her age and the lack of support of her family.
I can see this child is struggling and I am well aware that we can refer her to other supports but I want to know what I can do in order to ease her thoughts, feelings and behaviours. This whole issue seems to be skirted around and swept under the rug. What can I personally do to help while still respecting the policies of the school? Any ideas?
Support the child who is experiencing this gender/body dysphoria and selfdestructive behaviour. Refer to him as a boy with he/him pronouns, even if it's just in private between him and yourself, and the new name he has chosen. Sex is not the same as gender, and gender is not just black and white. You can find further info from local lgbtqia support groups (emphasizing the T for transgender). There are many online resources for queer teens, including but not limited to infographics, forums, blogs, etcetera, that could really shed some light on this confusing and scary and lonely situation. As for school policies, nothing can be changed if it's not brought to anyones attention. Get in touch with the counsellors and school officials (only with his permission though; it's never ok to "out" someone as queer without explicit consent), as the counsellors can offer a listening ear and those in charge can see about changing his name and gender on paper. This can all be a very tricky, ongoing process but it is worth it when the student is feels more at home in their own body. Remind him that he is not alone. His parents are not on his side right now, but in due time he'll be able to leave home and make his own decisions. Being transgender is scary and not everyone is open to the idea, but it will get better. If he doesnt get the support he needs now, there's a very good chance he never will, and won't reach out for help himself. Don't let him become another queer suicide statistic. Stay on his side, and be understanding. This is a very upsetting and delicate situation.
First of all, it is important to follow the guidance of your supervisor and organisational policies, they are there for a reason.
Based on the information you provide, it is critical that this young person works with a therapist – in whatever modality is appropriate. I do not think avoiding the gender confusion will be helpful to her in any way. She is in pain, emotional and physically, as a result of the conflict she experiences. Our responsibility as practitioners is to respond to her pain, and not avoid it.
It is possible that she needs to see a therapist and deal with the issue separate from her interactions with you, but what are you to do is she wants to talk about it? Surely we cannot say to a young person “Sorry, but the topic of your gender issues are off limits”….. Your supervisor needs to provide clear guidance of what is expected from you in this situation.
Some ideas…. Perhaps you may not raise the issue of discuss it, but if your young client raises the issue, surely you are allowed to listen with compassion? So my suggestion is that you provide her with the unconditional safe space to be with you, and talk about whatever she feels comfortable at the time. You don’t need to advise her, you just provide a contained space emotionally, and unconditional acceptance. Often that is the therapy they need the most, so do not underestimate the value of your interactions with her. I doubt if such a response will contravene the policies of the organisation.
Werner van der Westhuizen
I think you need to start with the parents. Explain to them what their daughter is going through, making them understand the importance of their support to this child and convince them to accept whatever outcome of their child's status. I believe if the perception changes at home and a child receives a supportive not judgmental environment she will accept what is happening.
Doesn't sound like she's confused, so I would drop that phrasing when discussing it with others. Then I would direct her to a LGBT support group in her area. The policies in your placement prevent you from speaking with her/counseling her but there's no reason she can't seek a group outside of school on her own time, whether its online or local.
I have done some writing about this issue for parents in my church (I write a monthly “Parenting column”). Since you are not permitted to have discussions, what would the response be to giving the young person something to read about gender issues from a “neutral” but informed (CYC with a Ph.D) source? I’m leaving town (for Canada actually) on Wednesday so we may have to wait until mid-October if you get permission but you can let me know what you learn.