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May-June 2017

March Membership Meeting Write-Up by Ariel Cohen, LMFT

Affirmative Therapy with Transgender Clients
with James Guay, LMFT
Sponsored by The Bella Vita

Another incredible meeting on the books. The tables were adorned with beautiful lavender-colored gift bags, including an assortment of informational materials and a lavender-scented candle, compliments of our gracious sponsor this month: The Bella Vita. With treatment centers offering support to women, men, adolescents, and adults of all ethnicities who have struggled with Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and disordered eating, the treatment team at The Bella Vita wants their clients to know: "You are not alone." To learn more and connect with them, check out their website here: http://www.thebellavita.com/.

True to our warm and inviting SFV-CAMFT Community, President Barbara Calvi gently encouraged attendees, in deep conversation with one another, to return to their seats for what was truly an amazing presentation. James Guay, LMFT, joined us to speak on the topic of "Affirmative Therapy for Transgender Clients," and boy did he deliver. James himself has a breath-taking résumé: other than being an accomplished and well-respect Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice, James has taught several weekend workshops on LGBTQ related topics at Esalen Institute and JFK University; he is Co-Chair of the National Center for Lesbian Rights' #BornPerfect Campaign Advisory Committee, worked with transgender youth for seven years at an agency and health clinic in San Francisco, and has been involved in transgender advocacy for several years. He has served on the State Board of Directors for the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT), and is also a part-time social justice activist with a mission to help others enjoy their sexuality in a shame-free, fun and positive way. To advance this cause, he's testified against conversion therapy at California's State Capital, appeared on Lisa Ling's Our America show, appeared on various documentaries including VICE, and has been interviewed and/or written articles for Time, New York Times, LA Times, Huffington Post, Rage Magazine and the Advocate. James co-hosts a radio/podcast/YouTube show aptly titled Getting It On, with the purpose of helping dispel myths about sex/sexuality and putting out positive and entertaining information on sexual health/pleasure: www.thejamesandheathershow.com.

As you can clearly see, James is BUSY! So we at SFV-CAMFT were blessed to have him join us and share about his expertise at this meeting. The presentation itself marked almost two years since, we, as a chapter, discussed the transgender community and our ethical duty to serve their needs. James brought back some essential resources (for example, the Genderbread Person infographic, to remind us how we can inform ourselves when working with transgender clients and also illuminated our minds with thought-provoking YouTube videos throughout his presentation; covering a variety of transgender-related topics. Most moving for me, personally, was the video titled "If Trans People Said the Stuff Cisgender People Say" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yu-2i8CJXY4). For our readers here who missed this presentation, "Cisgender" is the term used to describe a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.

All throughout, James emphasized how we, as therapists, can and must strive for cultural competency. He encouraged practicing an affirmative therapy approach for transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) clients; one which respects and creates a safe space for each individual's unique journey. James' affirmative therapy approach held very specific principals:

  1. Provide Unconditional Positive Regard, Not Neutrality
  2. Don't Assume Gender Identity, Sex, or Sexual Orientation
  3. Respect & Reflect Client's Language
  4. Presenting Problems Are Not Intrinsic to Being Trans
  5. Internalized Transphobia as a Sign of Societal Disease
  6. Be Prepared to Advocate for Your Clients

With these essential considerations in mind, we were then guided in understanding the various minority stressors faced by the transgender community, as well as encouraged to distinguish and identify multiple systems of oppression affecting the TGNC community, sometimes beginning at the family system-level and at times moving all the way up toward governmental policy (for example; how difficult it can be to obtain a name change on identification materials).

All these experiences and more were brought to the forefront of James' presentation, and the meaningful dialogue that followed during table discussions was inspiring. I felt proud to listen to my fellow SFV-CAMFT members reflect on how this presentation moved them, and I know it will help inspire us all to "better serve our community," as the SFV-CAMFT mantra states. All in all, this was time well-spent. On behalf of the SFV-CAMFT Community, I want to extend a huge thank you to James, for your time, knowledge, and shared expertise.

Now let's all put it into practice!
Ariel Cohen, LMFT

Ariel maintains a full-time practice as part of the incredible treatment team at Teen Therapy Center in Woodland Hills, CA. He specializes in child and adolescent therapy, with an emphasis on working with children and families with special needs. When he's not in the office, you might find Ariel out hiking the local trails, catching one of his many favorite bands in concert, or spending time with family and friends. Want to get in touch? Call him anytime at 818.674.9834 or get in touch via email at ariel@teentherapycenter.com.

San Fernando Valley Chapter – California Marriage and Family Therapists