Research Paper: Gender Identity Disorder Gender Role Conflict

Pages: 6 (1852 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Women's Issues - Sexuality  ·  Buy This Paper

Gender Identity Disorder and Gender Role Conflict in Transgender Clients

Considering the powerful socialization of gender-appropriate thoughts and behaviors in society, gender identity disorder and gender role conflict are a common problem in transgender clients. Gender role conflict in its most basic sense refers to the occurrence of negative consequences as a result of conflicts between expected gender roles and the individual psychological state (Good, Dell, & Mintz, 1989). Most transgender clients display behaviors indicating these "disorders" at a very early age. Psychologists seeking to treat these clients have, for the most part, evolved beyond the "fix what's broken" approach and have instead come to work towards helping these clients find self-acceptance and resolve feelings of shame and guilt.

According to Sharpe & Heppner (1991) psychological well-being in males is highly dependent on reconciling societal expectations of "maleness" with internal feelings and perceptions. The authors conducted a study in an attempt to measure how gender roles and gender role conflict were influenced by perceptions of masculinity and femininity. Employing seven different valid and established psychological instruments to test 190 male undergraduates, Sharpe & Heppner determined that any type of gender role conflict was disruptive to psychological well-being. Gender role conflict was often associated with depression, anxiety and intimacy issues.

The connection between gender identity and psychological well-being in non-disordered males provides an impetus to explore this correlation in clients with gender identity disorder, in particular those who are classified as transgender. It is only natural to speculate that if so-called 'normal' men experience these issues, that transgender clients will experience them on an even deeper level. Sanchez and Vilain (2009) recognize the diversity of the transgender community, but also acknowledge that certain experiences such as discrimination and harassment are psychologically detrimental to all transgender individuals. They posit that the negative psychological consequences of gender identity disorder (e.g. low self-esteem, depression, anxiety) are not necessarily a matter of sexual orientation or confusion, but instead are rooted in the fear of discrimination and violence. Focusing solely on male-to-female (MTF) transsexuals due to space limitations, the researchers conducted a survey designed to explore the correlation between psychological distress in transgender individuals, and fears about the community.

Not surprisingly, they found a positive correlation between fear of societal repercussions and psychological distress. What was somewhat surprising, however, was the impact that "collective self-esteem" on the coping process. Collective self-esteem is based on the notion that individuals who feel like outcasts from the whole of society, but share the same exceptionality, will bond and build each others' feelings of self-worth through that shared connection. The researchers found that collective self-esteem had a significant positive impact on the personal sense of worth of transgender individuals. As such they provide the following suggestions for therapists:

"Given that discrimination is a real concern for the transgender community, counseling psychologists can also help develop coping strategies to buffer the negative experience of discrimination. For example, helping the client enhance her ability to use internal sources of validation (e.g., positive self-talk) and to utilize social support networks may lessen psychological distress related to discriminatory events. The client may also benefit from engaging with others struggling with their gender identity through group therapy" (p. 297).

Most theories of psychological distress focus on the disruption of cognitive processes due to experiences such as discrimination, rejection or abuse. Thus the primary objective of cognitive-behavioral therapy is to guide the client toward disintegrating falsely negative assumptions about the self that have developed from these negative experiences. It is not enough, however to simply rid the client of these negative assumptions, but also to replace them with more positive, realistic views of the self and the surrounding world. Unfortunately, according to Wester, et al. (2010) because transgender clients are rarely encountered by most therapists, they are not well-versed in the most appropriate and effective methods of counseling for this unique population. The authors suggest using gender role conflict theory (GRC) as a framework for counseling transgender clients. They assert that there are numerous benefits to applying GRC theory, which include addressing "the gender role messages learned from society, how these messages can be used to understand the client's experiences, and how the client can move beyond that societal teaching to live life on his or her own terms" (p. 214).

Clearly, a substantial part of emotional and mental development is forming a self-image or self-identity. Accordingly, the way men and women are socialized into society can have a profound effect on a person's feelings of worth, stability and happiness. Wester, et al. (2010) have developed a model designed to help counselors redirect the negative consequences of these socializations in transgender clients by applying GRC theory to each of the progressive stages of transgender acceptance previously defined by Lev (2004).

The first stage is awareness. This is when the individual first begins to realize that their physical gender and their 'authentic' gender do not match. Wester et al. (2010) advice counselors to be careful in this diagnostic stage to make sure that the client does indeed meet the criteria of gender identity disorder. This can be at least partially determined by exploring what type of help the client is seeking. In other words, he is seeking counseling to be "cured" of these feelings, or is he looking for acceptance?

The researchers connect the second stage, seeking information, with the GRC model by encouraging counselors to make the client aware of the possible consequences of their transition. They assert that transgender clients in the early stages of awareness sometimes tend to get over-excited about the possibility of finally being able to be true to themselves, without taking into account some of the practical considerations. Therefore, it is the counselor's responsibility to provide information about the consequences the client may be facing that he or she may not have thought about (Wester et al., 2010).

Stage 3 of the model is exploration. During this stage, the transgender client will begin to imagine what life will be like once he fully accepts his transgenderism and reveals his 'true self' to other people. It is during this stage that the counselor can help guide the client through exploring the potential options that exist, including the possibility of gender reassignment surgery. It is important for the counselor to be well educated in the different avenues of expressing transgenderism and is able to help the client understand that surgery is not the only option (Wester et al., 2010).

The counselor's role become increasingly important as the transgender client moves through each of these stages. The counselor must be especially supportive during the fourth stage of disclosure. This is when the client begins to reveal his transgenderism to his friends and family, and eventually, the rest of the world. There may be times when group therapy sessions with the family and other loved ones becomes a necessary part of the process (Wester et al., 2010).

During the final stage, integration, the counselor's role becomes that of a 'sounding board'. The client has at this point come to accept his transgenderism and has revealed himself to others. He now needs to use the counselor as someone to listen to his feelings and reactions about these experiences, as he considers his options for the future (Wester et al., 2010).

Much of what the authors discussed here recommend can be equated to the tenets of social learning theory. At the core of this theory is the notion that boys and girls are rewarded for what is considered to be gender-appropriate behavior and are admonished for what is considered to be gender-inappropriate behavior. They therefore learn that behaving as expected results in rewards and this encourages them to choose behaviors and actions that will result in positive affirmations. By the same token, they learn that choices that are considered inappropriate for their gender result in punishment, and therefore they strive to avoid behaviors and actions that deviate from what is expected (Yawkey & Johnson, 1988).

These expectations are present in all of society, but they initially come from the parents. As Yawkey & Johnson (1988) clarify,

"Although the evidence regarding the differential treatment of boys and girls is inconclusive, we know that parents have sex-typed expectations regarding the socialization of boys and girls. Such differential socialization seems to begin at birth. For instance, fathers describe their newborn girls as being smaller, softer, and more delicate than do fathers of newborn boys. Fathers of newborn boys, meanwhile, describe them as being larger and more active than do fathers of newborn girls...Parents, furthermore, dress boys and girls differently and provide them with different toys" (p. 9).

Clearly it is impossible to deny that there are biological differences between men and women. However there is also no denying that the socialization process is a key ingredient in gender stereotypes and gender-related behavioral differences. One way this can be seen is by comparing different cultures. For example, it has been proposed by Cross and Madson (1997) that self-concepts differ not only… [END OF PREVIEW]

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