Gender dysphoria (Gender Identity Disorder) is used to describe individuals who are dissatisfied with the sex they were born with or with the roles associated with that sex. Individuals who feel that their body does not reflect the gender they were born with can cause severe anxiety, depression or distress. The symptoms can be intense and can interfere with their daily functioning.
I once saw an adolescent girl who came to me for symptoms of depression. She and her mother reported that she felt depressed for over a year. She would isolate herself from friends and family and withdrew from any activities or interactions. She would find comfort drawing and talking only to social media friends. She did not like to talk to others face to face, but preferred to talk to people on-line; people she never met in person. She did not feel comfortable introducing herself and felt awkward being herself in front of others. She was on medication for her depression prescribed by her psychiatrist but felt that her depression kept lingering on. She had suicidal thoughts and felt that her parents never understood how she felt. It wasn’t until a year later when she disclosed in therapy that she was not happy being a female and felt that she is a male stuck inside a female body. She reported that she felt like this since high school but was afraid and did not know how to tell her parents what she felt. Instead, she told them lies about what could be causing her depression. She was afraid to tell them the actual reason for feeling depressed in fear that they will not understand her. Eventually, she told her mother who told her that she will support her and wants her to be happy. My client came to see me a couple of times before I referred her to see a specialist. During those visits, her dress appearance changed and wanted me and her parents to call her by a different name. I referred my client to a therapist that specializes in gender dysphoria since I did not specialize in it and did not know how to offer the proper treatment to help my client find answers or progress with treatment. If she didn’t disclose what she did in therapy, perhaps she would have been depressed and would have continued to lie to her parents or even to herself about how she feels inside and who she wants to be. It is important for individuals with gender dysphoria to find support, open up to some one and talk about how they feel and who they feel they are. Keeping these feelings locked up, like my client did, can cause years of depression and isolation which also caused a disconnect with her physical appearance and how she felt inside. Once she was able to open up to me and to her mother, she felt a sense of relief knowing that she could now be who she feels inside and know that she has the support to help her along the way.
In order to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, the individual has to have symptoms that last 6 months. The symptoms can include:
1) Rejecting clothes or toys typical for boys or girls
2) Disgust with their genitals
3) Strong desire to get rid of their genitals
4) Dress like the opposite sex; cross-dress
5) Believe they will grow up to be the opposite sex
6) Feel alone
7) Withdraw from social interactions
The goal is not to change how the person feels about his or her gender. Individual, family or even couples therapy is part of the treatment. Addressing the health issues that this condition can cause is important in treatment. Many people with gender dysphoria may take some steps to bring a connection to the physical appearance and how they feel inside. Some may change the way they dress, change their name, do hormonal therapy or even undergo surgery. It is important for family members or even loved ones to get an understanding of gender dysphoria, be supportive, and allow the person to be who he or she wants to be.