Gender Affirming Therapy by Laura Scarrone Bonhomme
Sex and gender

Valuing the humanity, diversity and uniqueness

Dr Rob Agnew reviews 'Gender Affirming Therapy: A guide to what transgender and non-binary clients can teach us', by Laura Scarrone Bonhomme, Skye Davies and Dr Michael Beattie.

07 November 2023

Providing practical, sensitive guidance on clinical work with gender diverse (GD) people is a challenging task. Here, the authors provide an earthy mixture of frank clinical experience, representative voices from the GD communities and good quality empirical evidence. However substantial the content, in tone the authors strike a personal, readable, inviting balance of warmth, wisdom and simplicity.

Chapter by chapter the reader feels their knowledge and understanding developing across an impressively wide array of areas. Great care has been taken to extend into the areas of therapy and life that are of import to GD individuals (and any book that has a chapter on God deserves a round of applause). The only subject conspicuously not tackled is gender dysphoria approaches with children and youth.

This is entirely forgivable as it is a huge and controversial area of practice, but I hope that a book like this does emerge for our trans and non-binary children and teens. However, the great value of this book is that it is not dependent on one model of psychotherapy for its insights, as texts on childhood gender diversity often tend to be, and intellectually it will reach clinicians from varied theoretical and practice backgrounds.

The dense peppering of vignettes, anecdotes, and accounts from lived experience firmly ground the content in the real world and prevent it from becoming an indulgent model-based formulation exercise, or a circular philosophical essay. So too the liberal references to core psychological models and theories create a land-bridge between the shared aspects of personhood between cisgendered people and gender diverse individuals. The authors rightly and respectfully steer away from othering ‘explanatory’ models, but their use of mainstream psychological ideas and concepts proves clearly the main message of the book; that all clinicians can and should develop their skills in working with GD populations.

The text invites moments for reflection, and challenges readers to reposition their assumptions and beliefs. But it is an empowering read for the clinician and for GD individuals. In a world of negative media portrayals and incompetent pseudo-academic ranting, knowing that there are texts which value the humanity, the diversity and the uniqueness of these communities is powerfully corrective.

Reviewed by Dr Rob Agnew, Clinical Psychologist and Chair of the Section of the Psychology of Sexualities.

We meet the author in this issue, and you can also read an extract of the book.