Your gender identity isn’t a mental illness. But if you’re a person who identifies as transgender or gender nonconforming, the way society treats you can take a toll on your mental health. Part of your self-care may be to work through any stress and trauma with a gender-affirming therapist.
That may leave you wondering: How do I find that person?
For therapist Winley K, PsyD, it made a big difference to work with someone with shared identities. Winley, who lives in Durham, NC, and doesn’t use pronouns, isn’t saying that a white, cisgender male therapist wouldn’t be supportive of a person who is Black, genderqueer, and presents as masculine.
“But I am saying that due to the oppressive and discriminatory experiences I’ve had with folks whose identities differ from mine, it was important for me to heal in a space that felt safe,” Winley says.
Here are some steps you can take to find a transgender-friendly therapist.
Use Online Resources
Winley is the founder of WaterYourFire Collective and a contract therapist for Queer People of Color. Winley says it’s good to create an image of who you think will best understand your experience. Then search for exactly what you want.
“I often hear people saying, ‘I want a Black therapist, or I might want a trans-masc(uline) therapist.’ But can I ask for that specifically?” Winley says. “My response to them is: Why not?”
You might find what you’re looking for with a quick search. But there are a number of directories geared toward the LGBTQ+ community. Some that may help you find a transgender-friendly psychologist, counselor, social worker, or other mental health specialist include:
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH)
- GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality
You can also try Psychology Today’ s national directory. It can be “hit or miss for some folks,” Winley says. But you can tailor your search in lots of ways, including:
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- LGBTQ+ affirming
- Issues or types of therapy
What if you find a trans-friendly therapist in your state but not your town? Ask about telehealth or virtual visits. This expands your access to mental health providers. And it gives you the chance to talk to someone from the comfort of your own home.
You may be able to schedule a telehealth or virtual visit with a psychologist not licensed in your state. But that’s something you’d need to ask the provider about.
Get Referrals From the LGBTQ+ Community
General directories are a good start. But they’re not perfect. That’s why lots of LGBTQ+ folks end up finding mental health professionals “through word of mouth,” says Christy Olezeski, PhD, a Yale Medicine psychologist who works with people who are transgender and gender expansive.
In graduate school, Winley asked a professor who identified as LGBTQ+ for help. She came back with the name of a therapist who checked all of Winley’s boxes. “It’s been the best therapy experience I’ve had to date.”
You probably already know to ask your queer or trans friends who they see. But here are some other ways to tap into your local network:
- Search “queer exchange” and your city on Facebook.
- Go to a meetup for transgender people.
- Join an LGBTQ+ support group in person or online.
Your local LGBTQ+ community center is another good source. Visit the CenterLink LBGT Community Center Member Directory to find a location in your area. You’ll find more information at lgbtcenters.org.
You can learn a lot about a therapist through their online bio. But there’s only so much info you can find through directories or professional websites. What else can you do? “I’d call them,” Olezeski says.
There’s a good chance you can chat with a therapist for 15 minutes at no cost. You can ask questions such as:
- How long have you worked with transgender people?
- Do you have special training to work with a gender-diverse community?
- What is your approach to treatment?
- I read X, Y, Z on your profile. Can you tell me more about what that means?
- What are your identities?
There’s debate about how much personal info a therapist should reveal. But there are mental health professionals who think sharing some of their background info can be a good thing. “If I’m asking clients these invasive questions, I should be willing to tell them something about me,” Winley says.
Stick With Your Search
Make a list of therapists you think might work well with you. Have a consultation with each one. If they don’t seem right for you, go to the next one. Keep searching until you click with someone.
“I know it can be a really daunting and exhausting and discouraging experience,” Winley says. “But I think the support is there.”
Every therapist won’t be right for you. And it’s OK to leave anytime. But keep in mind that therapy can be hard work. You may feel uneasy even with someone who’s aware and affirming of transgender issues.
“There’s a difference between a bad fit and someone who challenges you in ways that you’re not yet ready to explore,” Winley says.
What About Cost?
By law, most health providers have to cover mental health services the same way as other kinds of health care. Call your insurance provider for details about your specific plan. Here are some questions to ask:
- What therapists are in your network?
- How much are your copayments and deductibles?
- Is there a cutoff for out-of-pocket costs?
- Do you have a limit on visits?
- Do you need prior authorization?
What if using health insurance isn’t an option? “Do the free consultation,” Winley says. “Have a conversation and see if there are ways that psychologist might be able to work with you.”
If you want to see a therapist you can’t afford, ask if they:
- Charge a fee based on a sliding scale
- Provide therapy scholarships
- Know of any mental health funds you can apply for
How to Get Help Right Now
There are safe spaces to find immediate support. Use the following resources to connect with a crisis counselor day or night:
- Trans L ifeline: 877-565-8860
- Trevor Project: 866-488-7386 or chat at TrevorProject.org
- LG BT National Hotline: 888-843-4564
- BlackLine: 800-604-5841
- DeQH, an LGBTQ+ Helpline for the South Asian community: 908-367-3374
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741