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Psychological Interventions for Transgender Persons: A Scoping Review

Article  in  International Journal of Sexual Health · July 2017

DOI: 10.1080/19317611.2017.1360432


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Ramiro Catelan Angelo Brandelli Costa

Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul


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International Journal of Sexual Health

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Psychological Interventions for Transgender

Persons: A Scoping Review

Ramiro Figueiredo Catelan , Angelo Brandelli Costa & Carolina Saraiva de

Macedo Lisboa

To cite this article: Ramiro Figueiredo Catelan , Angelo Brandelli Costa & Carolina Saraiva de
Macedo Lisboa (2017): Psychological Interventions for Transgender Persons: A Scoping Review,
International Journal of Sexual Health, DOI: 10.1080/19317611.2017.1360432

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Psychological Interventions for Transgender Persons: A Scoping Review

a b
Ramiro Figueiredo Catelan , Angelo Brandelli Costa , and Carolina Saraiva de Macedo Lisboab
Department of Social Psychology, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil; bDepartment of Psychology, Pontifıcia
Universidade Catolica do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil


This study aimed to investigate psychological interventions for transgender persons, aiming to Received 8 August 2016
highlight their goals, theoretical background and methods. A scoping review was conducted in four Revised 28 June 2017
databases, ranging from 1980 to 2015. Selection led to a final sample of 36 articles. The goals of Accepted 22 July 2017
psychological interventions are unclearly described in many studies. Different background theories KEYWORDS
were identified and in some studies, these were not clearly explained and presented no
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Psychological studies;
epistemological considerations. The publishing of more empirical studies, with an affirmative psychotherapy; transgender;
standpoint toward gender identity and stricter scientific rigor, is needed to support and strengthen gender dysphoria; gender
interventions. identity

Transgender is a concept that refers to persons who do public policies regarding transgender persons that
not identify with the sex assigned to them at birth, as deprives them of basic human rights.
opposed to cisgender individuals, who identify with Rights violations directed toward this population
the sex assigned to them (Ansara & Hegarty, 2012; can occur in subtle ways, including harmful systematic
Lev, 2004). Because of minority stressors such as microaggressions (Nadal et al., 2014). Daily experien-
stigma and discrimination, transgender persons are ces of helplessness, violence, and discrimination affect
vulnerable to numerous violations. Social exclusion the quality of life of transgender persons, whose lives,
and prejudice are common events in their lives, fre- in most countries, are controlled by the state and by
quently accompanied by experiences of violence, labor social morality. This situation entails a variety of diffi-
discrimination, suicide and homicide, among other culties, including mental health complications
issues (Borden, 2015; Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., throughout life, precarious access to health services,
2014a; Nadal, Davidoff, Davis, & Wong, 2014). internalized stigma, lack of support, unemployment,
Although violence against cisgender gay men and and high rates of depressive symptoms and suicide
lesbian women is more visible (e.g., because of wide- (American Psychological Association [APA], 2015;
spread knowledge of homophobia at the expense of Bockting, Miner, Swinburne Romine, Hamilton, &
transphobia), violence toward transgender persons is Coleman, 2013; Clements-Nolle, Marx, & Katz, 2006;
proportionally different and is often magnified Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., 2014a, 2014b; Lev, 2004).
(Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., 2014a, 2014b). In a 1-year For example, there is evidence of a significant number
period (2012–2013), homicides of transgender persons of suicide attempts and deaths by suicide among
have been registered in 26 countries, with the most transgender persons in the United States (Haas,
cases occurring in Brazil (95), Mexico (40), the United Rodgers, & Herman, 2014). Another study in the
States (16), and Venezuela (15), followed by Honduras United States found alarming rates of self-aggressive
(12), Colombia (12), and El Salvador (5). From 2008 behavior in transgender persons (41.9% of the sur-
to 2013, 1.074 murders of transgender people were veyed sample; Dickey, Reisner, & Juntunen, 2015).
registered in Central America and South America, In the clinical arena, cissexism, or the ideology
with 539 records in Brazil alone (Transgender Europe, that disregards the self-designation of transgender
2013). These alarming numbers suggest a disregard of persons, may impair therapeutic relationships.

CONTACT Ramiro Figueiredo Catelan Department of Social Psychology, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Rua
Ramiro Barcelos, 2777, 90035-003, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil.
© 2017 Taylor & Francis

Psychotherapeutic practices can often be driven by and a positive impact on the quality of life of these per-
cissexist perspectives. These perspectives affect the sons can be observed (Ross, Doctor, Dimito, Kuehl, &
processes of psychotherapy and the therapeutic Armstrong, 2008). It is important to develop psychologi-
relationship, and may lead to inappropriate ques- cal strategies and interventions that can provide aid
tions and interventions, with relevant ethical and while considering the specificities of work and care with
clinical implications (Blumer, Ansara, & Watson, this population (Vanderburgh, 2009). The development
2013). of psychological interventions focused on the demands
Cissexist assumptions often guide scientific of transgender persons may generate benefits that can
research on transgender persons that treats transgen- protect them from daily confrontation with violence and
der identity, per se, as a mental disorder (Ansara & discrimination (APA, 2009, 2015; Borden, 2015; Nadal
Hegarty, 2012; Blumer et al., 2013; Tate, Youssef, & et al., 2014). Although some countries have a history of
Bettergarcia, 2014). The DSM-IV established a gender respecting human rights and validating transgender
identity disorder diagnosis to describe persons who do identity and expression, the degree of basic rights viola-
not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, tions that this population encounters in most parts of
thereby facilitating access to gender affirmation proce- the world is striking (Transgender Europe, 2013), which
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dures but pathologizing transgender identity and justifies the need for the development and evaluation of
fomenting mental health diagnostic stigma (American psychological intervention for transgender persons in
Psychiatric Association, 2000). The DSM-5 (American affirmative perspective, to help them stand for their
Psychiatric Association, 2013) changed the criteria to rights and to improve their quality of life.
gender dysphoria, highlighting the discomfort with an An extensive systematic review of studies on psycho-
incongruent body and the social stigma associated therapy and counseling for the LGBT population has
with transgenderism. Thus, it is considered a transi- been published (King, Semlyen, Killapsy, Nazareth, &
tory condition (in terms of diagnosis) that can be Osborn, 2007). However, although the LGBT acronym
resolved with gender affirmation procedures and is generic and broad, the review did not focus on
social changes. specific concerns related to transgender persons.
APA guidelines stress the importance of avoiding It seems necessary to conduct an analysis of psy-
sexual orientation and gender identity biases when chological interventions focusing solely on transgen-
conducting scientific research to respect the rights of der persons, due to their specific demands across
participants and prevent distorted results (APA, lifespan. In this review, we considered psychological
2015). Without consideration of this recommenda- interventions as those that aim to establish psycho-
tion, scientific studies often adopt cissexist assump- therapeutic or counselling process on gender identity
tions that may significantly impact their findings matters; other psychological technics that could be
(Blumer et al., 2013). read as interventions such as psychological evaluations
Psychological interventions are defined as use of psy- were not taken into account.
chological techniques to solve mental health demands
(such as psychotherapy for gender affirmation, e.g.); psy- Objectives
chological interventions that aim to promote positive
This study aims to conduct a scoping review of psy-
outcomes should be driven by evidence-based practices
chological interventions for transgender persons in
and should consider structured competencies such as
the scientific literature, since there is a gap of litera-
assessment, diagnostic judgment, treatment planning,
ture reviews concerning this matter. It focuses on
treatment implementation and monitoring of the pro-
identifying the objectives, methods, and theories that
cess (APA, 2006). Evidence indicates that psychological
support these interventions. It also aims to offer a
interventions may be effective to minimize and eliminate
criticism on the methodological care of the selected
the harmful effects of situations involving violence or
other rights violations (Iverson et al., 2011; Melo, Silva,
Donat, & Kristensen, 2013). Research on psychological
interventions and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-
genderer (LGBT) population has shown that depressive This study is conducted through a scoping review,
symptoms resulting from social stigma may be reduced which aims to map and assess a wide range of

literature. It differs from systematic or narrative litera- The search was conducted on October 8, 2015, by
ture reviews, because it aims to assess the breadth of two independent investigators, who analyzed the
what has been written about the content of included material independently to ensure the internal validity
studies (Levac, Colquhoun, & O’Brien, 2010). The of the scoping review, using an iterative team
option not to make a classical and more rigorous sys- approach to selecting studies (Levac et al., 2010). Ini-
tematic review was taken due to the scarce literature tially, 502 articles were found: 157 in PsycINFO, 126
available on the trend and the qualitative and descrip- in Pubmed, 170 in Web of Science, and 49 in Lilacs.
tive nature of the selected studies, which makes diffi- After applying the language filter and excluding
cult to conduct a review following the typical abstracts, 72 articles remained: 35 from PsycINFO, 19
guidelines of a systematic review, that include robust from Pubmed, nine from Web of Science, and nine
statistical analysis and meta-analysis procedures (Ako- from Lilacs. From this point, whenever abstracts were
beng, 2005). Scoping studies may be especially rele- insufficient to determine the inclusion or exclusion of
vant to trends with emerging evidence and lack of an article, the full text was read.
empirical literature, such as psychological interven- In the following stage, theoretical studies with clini-
tions for transgender persons. cal case examples and psychotherapy sessions were
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The search was conducted in Pubmed, Lilacs (Latin included. This decision was taken due to the scarce
American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences literature on the trend and considering that the
Information), PsycINFO, and Web of Science databases, methodologies applied in the selected studies were not
chosen for their relevance to the field. Peer-reviewed strong and did not use standardized measures to eval-
articles published between 1980 and 2015 were con- uate outcomes. The decision of including theoretical
sulted. Time period decision considered actual and past articles with clinical case examples also goes in the
frameworks on psychological interventions and psycho- direction of offering a criticism on the methodological
therapy for transgender persons. Keywords for the approach used in the studies, because there is a gap of
search were (transgender OR gender identity disorder clinical trials and more robust research designs on the
OR gender dysphoria OR transsexualism) AND (psy- literature concerning psychological interventions for
chological intervention OR psychotherapy OR psycho- transgender persons. The subject number was small—
logical counseling). Although the authors agree with the mostly case studies—and therefore difficult to quan-
notion that non-conforming (including nonbinary) tify, given their heterogeneity. Quantitative methods
gender identities are a variation of normality, the terms were not used for interjudge reliability on the quality
gender dysphoria, gender identity disorder, and transsex- and selection of the studies. When there was no agree-
ualism were included in this review to maximize results. ment, consensus was sought through the analysis of
In previous scientific research, transgenderism is often the disagreements in both the quality and the selection
considered a mental disorder. Thus, the inclusion of the of the studies.
psychiatric nosology became mandatory (Ansara & Thus, nine articles were excluded after the full
Hegarty, 2012; APA, 2009, 2015; Budge, 2015; Ehrensaft, texts were read because they were not empirical or
2012). If these terms were not included in the search, the theoretical articles describing cases of psychological
results would tend to show only publications that respect interventions. Among the 67 articles, 27 were
the notion of gender identity. duplicates and were therefore excluded. There were
The inclusion criteria were as follows (a) scientific unsuccessful attempts to contact by email the
papers published in indexed journals; (b) published authors of the studies that were not available
between January 1980 and September 2015; (c) written full-text. The final sample comprised 36 articles,
in English; (d) published in peer-reviewed journals; which were analyzed in accordance with the objec-
and (e) empirical articles describing, reporting, or tives of this study. Figure 1 illustrates the steps of
analyzing psychological interventions for transgender the search and article selection.
persons. The exclusion criteria were (a) articles with
no abstract; (b) articles not available in full text;
(c) purely theoretical or narrative/scoping/systematic
reviews; and (d) articles without transgender persons This study identified few recently published papers
as participants. about psychological interventions for transgender

PubMed PubMed
n=126 n=19

PsycINFO PsycINFO Duplicates

n=157 n=35 n=27
Papers after filters
Web of Science Web of Science New filter
n=170 n=19 n=9

Lilacs Lilacs
n=49 n=9
Final sample

Inclusion criteria: indexed and peer-reviewed journals,

published between 1980 and 2015, empirical, written in

Exclusion criteria: no abstract, full text not available,

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theoretical articles, studies without transgender participants

Figure 1. Summary of the data collection process.

persons. From 2010 to 2015, nine articles were pub- database (Lilacs), no studies from Latin American,
lished (Bernal & Coolhart, 2012; Budge, 2013, 2015; African, or Oceanian countries were found, which
Ehrensaft, 2012; Hakeem, 2010; Heck, Croot, & suggests a low number of studies on this topic or the
Robohm, 2015; King, 2012; Neufeld, 2014; Winograd, noninternationalization of the findings. One factor
2014). From 2000 to 2009, 10 articles were published that might explain this absence is the lack of official
(Embaye, 2006; Fraser, 2009a, 2009b; Grajfoner, 2009; recognition of non-normative gender identity, which
Hakeem, 2008; Parfitt, 2007; Quinodoz, 2002; Swann in turn leads to a deficit in the understanding of gen-
& Herbert, 2000; Y€ uksel, Kulaksizoglu, T€urksoy, der identity within an affirmative framework and to a
& Şahin, 2000; Winston, Acharya, Chaudhuri, & reduced number of studies worldwide. A summary of
Fellowes, 2004). From 1990 to 1999, eight articles the findings can be seen on Table 2.
were published (Babinski & Reyes, 1994; Coates, Most studies (61%) comprised a sample of only one
Friedman, & Wolfe, 1991; Cohen-Kettenis & van Goo- participant; 27% studies included two to five partici-
zen, 1998; Haber, 1991; Loeb, 1992; Lothstein, 1993; pants; and only 6% included more than five partici-
Marks & Mataix-Cols, 1997; Meyenburg, 1999). From pants. Furthermore, 6% of the studies did not specify
1980 to 1989, nine articles were published (Khanna, sample size, indicating methodological imprecision
Desai, & Channabasavanna, 1987; Kronberg, Tyano, and a lack of objectivity in reporting the results. It is
Apter, & Wijsenbeek, 1981; Lim & Bottomley, 1983; not possible to conduct generalizations or inferences
Loeb & Shane, 1982; Lothstein & Levine, 1981; Price, regarding the studies identified in this search that had
1985; Pruett & Dahl, 1982; Wise & Lucas, 1981; Wrate small samples or only one participant.
& Gulens, 1986). Table 1 presents the characteristics In most articles, there is little precision concerning
of the included studies. the theoretical approach of psychological interven-
Forty-eight percent of the studies were published tions. The determination of what psychological theo-
between 1980 and 1999, which indicates that almost ries were used in the study was made through the
half of the scientific literature on the subject is rela- analysis of keywords, methods and authors addressed.
tively old. Regarding the origin of the studies, most Psychoanalytic theories underlie 25% of the findings.
were conducted in the United States (58%). The list In some cases, the findings are nonobjective and con-
also included England (21%), Canada (3%), Scotland flate reports of analysis sessions and psychoanalytic
(3%), the Netherlands (3%), India (3%) Israel (3%), treatments. A new reading of the texts was required to
Switzerland (3%), and Turkey (3%). understand the theoretical foundation of some inter-
Although we conducted a search on international ventions given the lack of clarity and poor textual
databases, including a Latin American and Caribbean presentation (Coates et al., 1991; Haber, 1991;

Table 1. Characteristics of Included Studies. and ontology regarding non-normative gender identi-
Characteristics n % ties still seem to exist in current psychoanalytical liter-
Publication year ature (Parfitt, 2007; Winograd, 2014).
2010–2015 9 25% Systemic theories are also referenced (Bernal &
2000–2009 10 27%
1990–1999 8 23% Coolhart, 2012; Wrate & Gulens, 1986), as are
1980–1989 9 25% behavioral therapies (Lim & Bottomley, 1983; Marks
Country of origin
United States 21 58% & Mataix-Cols, 1997), affirmative therapy (Embaye,
England 8 21% 2006), supportive therapy (Swann & Herbert, 2000),
Canada 1 3%
Scotland 1 3% psychological coaching (Grajfoner, 2009), psychoana-
Netherlands 1 3%
India 1 3%
lytically oriented true gender self child therapy
Israel 1 3% (Ehrensaft, 2012), interpersonal therapy (Budge,
Switzerland 1 3%
Turkey 1 3% 2013), and integrated approaches (Budge, 2015;
Theoretical approach Fraser, 2009a; Hakeem, 2010; Heck et al., 2015;
Psychoanalytic orientation 9 25%
Nonspecified approaches 12 33% Kronberg et al., 1981). A considerable number of
Integrated approaches 5 13% articles do not specify the theoretical approach used,
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Behavioral therapy 2 5%
Systemic therapy 2 5% entailing methodological and epistemological con-
Affirmative therapy 1 2% cerns (Babinski & Reyes, 1994; Cohen-Kettenis & van
True gender self child therapy 1 2%
Supportive therapy 1 2% Goozen, 1998; Fraser, 2009b; Lothstein, 1993;
Interpersonal therapy 1 2%
Psychological coaching 1 2%
Meyenburg, 1999; Neufeld, 2014; Price, 1985; Pruett &
Sample size Dahl, 1982; Y€ uksel et al., 2000; Winston et al., 2004;
1 person 22 61%
2–5 persons 10 27% Wise & Lucas, 1981).
More than 5 persons 2 6% Considering the participants’ age groups, 47% of
Nonspecified sample 2 6%
Participants’ group age the studies described interventions with children/ado-
Children/adolescents 17 47% lescents, whereas 53% of the studies had adults as par-
Adults 19 53%
Study type ticipants. Qualitative research methods were used in
Single-case and multiple case studies 24 66% 85% of the studies; 3% used quantitative methods; 6%
Theoretical studies with case examples 9 25%
Other 3 9% used mixed/combined methods; and 6% were impre-
Research methods
Qualitative 31 85%
cise regarding methodology, even after a thorough
Quantitative 1 3% analysis of the studies. The study that used quantita-
Mixed 2 6%
Imprecise 2 6% tive methods was a description of a psychotherapy
Intervention bias and gatekeeping process (Budge, 2015). We found no
Conversion, reparative, negative 28 78%
Positive, affirmative 8 22% clinical trials or quasi-experimental designs or other
robust outlining, and the qualitative methods were
almost all singular clinical case descriptions.
Kronberg et al., 1981; Loeb, 1992; Loeb & Shane, 1982; Negative interventions, as well as conversation and
Lothstein & Levine, 1981; Quinodoz, 2002). The reparative bias were found in 78% of the studies,
aforementioned articles include confuse and scattered whereas only 22% had a more positive or affirmative
theoretical views, moral attributions with little scien- intervention approach. For the purposes of this
tific criteria, and the presence of judgments and review, all studies that used self-determined gender,
interpretations that contribute to the perpetuation of gender affirmations and similar criteria were included
stigma, labels, and stereotypes about transgender per- as positive, according to transgender healthcare and
sons. Some recent psychoanalytic orientation models psychological guidelines (APA, 2015; Borden, 2015;
seek to break away from the heterosexism, binarism Coleman et al., 2011). Interventions were considered
and essentialism historically instigated by psychoanal- to be negative, reparative, or conversion-oriented
ysis and seem open to thinking about trans-affirmative when using diagnostic criteria without discussing their
propositions (McBee, 2013). Some of the most recent implications with patients, attempting to reverse
articles in this search appear to confirm this orienta- person’s gender self-identification, addressing trans-
tion (Hakeem, 2008; King, 2012), although indicators gender phenomena associated with psychopathology,
of psychopathological and stigmatizing terminology or containing invalidating and stereotyped statements

Table 2. Summary of the Findings.

Author Year Sample (n) Design Theoretical approach

Kronberg et al. 1981 1 Single-case study Integrated approaches

Lothstein & Levine 1981 4 Theoretical article with case examples Not reported
Wise & Lucas 1981 1 Single-case study Not reported
Loeb & Shane 1982 1 Single-case study Psychoanalysis
Pruett & Dahl 1982 3 Case studies Not reported
Lim & Bottomley 1983 1 Single-case study Behavioral therapy
Price 1985 1 Single-case study Not reported
Wrate & Gulens 1986 1 Single-case study Systemic therapy
Khanna et al. 1987 1 Single-case study Behavioral therapy
Coates et al. 1991 1 Single-case study Psychoanalysis
Haber 1991 1 Single-case study Psychoanalysis
Loeb 1992 1 Single-case study Psychoanalysis
Lothstein 1993 5 Theoretical article with case examples Not reported
Babinski & Reyes 1994 1 Single-case study Not reported
Marks & Mataix-Cols 1997 1 Single-case study Behavioral therapy
Cohen-Kettenis & van Goozen 1998 1 Single-case study Not reported
Meyenburg 1999 4 Theoretical article with case examples Not reported
Swann & Herbert 2000 3 Theoretical article with case examples Supportive therapy
uksel et al. 2000 4 Descriptive cases report Not reported
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Quinodoz 2002 1 Single-case study Psychoanalysis

Winston et al. 2004 2 Case studies Not reported
Embaye 2006 4 Theoretical article with case examples Affirmative psychotherapy
Parfitt 2007 1 Single-case study case Psychoanalysis
Hakeem 2008 4 Case studies Psychoanalysis
Fraser 2009a Not specified Theoretical article with case examples Integrated approaches
Fraser 2009b 1 Theoretical article with case examples Not reported
Grajfoner 2009 6 Case studies Psychological coaching
Hakeem 2010 1 Theoretically informed clinical study Integrated approaches
Bernal & Coolhart 2012 3 Case study Systemic therapy
Ehrensaft 2012 Not specified Theoretical article with case examples True gender self child therapy
King 2012 1 Single-case study Psychoanalysis
Budge 2013 1 Single-case study Interpersonal psychotherapy
Neufeld 2014 1 Theoretical article with case example Not reported
Winograd 2014 1 Single-case study Psychoanalysis
Budge 2015 1 Single-case study Integrated approaches
Heck et al. 2015 10 Descriptive case report Integrated approaches

in clinical accounts. Two researchers conducted these and the lack of objectivity in writing. Case studies
analysis; when there was no consensus a debate was constituted 66% of the findings, whereas 25% were
held until a better conclusion was reached. theoretical studies with clinical case examples. Few
By means of a chronological analysis, older articles empirical articles with more accurate methodology
published between 1980 and 2000 were rated as more were found. These studies described investigative
inclined to strongly reproduce psychopathological procedures and methodological and ethical criteria
treatment logic. More recent papers were guided by (Budge, 2015; Heck et al., 2015).
an affirmative logic (Budge, 2013, 2015; Ehrensaft,
2012; Embaye, 2006; Fraser, 2009a, 2009b; Heck et al.,
2015; Neufeld, 2014).
Many of the analyzed studies had precarious The diagnosis and psychopathology logic is notably
research designs, and a lack of more robust quanti- hegemonic in the reviewed studies. Transgender per-
tative designs was noted. To better assess some sons are not considered individuals with a gender
phenomena regarding transgender issues, such as identity that is divergent from established cisgender
depressive and anxiety symptoms, suicidality, and norms, but rather bearers of a mental disorder that is
drug abuse, it would be preferable to apply clinical variously named as gender identity disorder,
trials in quasi-experimental designs. In many stud- cross-gender disorder, gender dysphoria, or gender
ies, objectives are not described accurately, methods role disorder. Nevertheless, in a few papers, cultural,
are not easily found, and the sample size and institutional, and normative notions regarding gender
underlying theories are not clearly presented, norms are discussed, which indicates the adoption of
highlighting the precarious elaboration of results a binary and essentialist conception of gender that

emerges from a social norm built upon stereotypes information or detail about the nature of such
and gender prescriptions (Butler, 1990). interventions.
The depathologization of transgender identities is a Budge (2015) aimed to highlight the importance of
recent political commitment (APA, 2009) not the gatekeeping process for transgender persons who
completely present in the framework used by the undergo genital reassignment surgeries. A case study
revised studies. It is partly present in the study by was presented for one patient with whom 24 individ-
Budge (2015) when the author states that she made it ual psychotherapy sessions were conducted, as well as
clear to her patient, a transgender woman, that she three additional sessions with the mother of the
did not agree with the inclusion of a gender dyspho- patient. Finally, assessment of the process was con-
ria/gender identity disorder diagnosis in the psycho- ducted through instruments and scales. This design is
logical assessment report but stressed that that was a presumably not the most appropriate for the purposes
standard requirement of health insurance policies and of the study because the sample size is small and there-
medical protocols to finance genital reassignment sur- fore does not provide solid evidence to support its
geries. The patient was included in the process of main objective: to introduce an evidence-based model
revising and presenting the report and her opinion of a psychological intervention.
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was considered, which demonstrates an important Heck et al. (2015) conducted three psychotherapy
ethical concern. groups for transgender clients utilizing a processual/
The lack of criticism regarding gender is also experiential model with interventions of integrated
highlighted. A significant number of papers introduce approaches. Group facilitators are described as biolog-
prescriptions and descriptions of what is to be ical women and men, as opposed to the participants,
expected of women and men, with no mention or crit- who are described as male-to-female (MtF) and
icism of the naturalization of these behaviors and the female-to-male (FtM), terminology that is criticized
possible harmful effects of such gender role imposi- by social movements that advocate gender depatho-
tions, especially for people who do not adjust them- logization and contested by the literature. The impli-
selves to gender expectations imposed by cultural cations of having previous group members in the two
norms (Butler, 1990). Such practices are currently following groups were not discussed, nor were the
reproduced in routine psychological interventions. implications entailed by the fact that the facilitators
This is concerning because psychology has a historic were cisgender persons. Cissexist ideology is recurrent
tendency to disseminate cissexism and discrimination in psychological practice and may be expressed in sub-
against gender identities that deviate from the cisgen- tle ways (Ansara & Hegarty, 2012; Blumer et al., 2013).
der norm (Ansara & Hegarty, 2012; APA, 2009, 2015). Lim and Bottomley (1983) and Wrate and Gulens
A lack of conceptualization and epistemological (1986) described psychological treatments based,
discussion is noticeable in some articles. Fraser respectively, on behavioral therapy and systematic
(2009a) presented a theoretical article with a clinical therapy to eliminate effeminate behavior in boys that
case example of a psychotherapeutic intervention use changes in environmental contingencies and that
model that seeks to integrate contributions from engage families in indoctrination processes based on
Jungian theory along with a psychoanalytical psychoanalytic theories and moral foundations. These
approach and post-structuralist gender theories. studies demonstrate theoretical and methodological
Epistemological purism is not advocated in this confusion and serious ethical inadequacies. Both stud-
review; however, at no point are the marked differen- ies state that the interventions were successful but did
ces between these three theoretical points of view dis- not present formal measures; the results are also not
cussed in the paper, and few connections are made described clearly. This type of approach is humiliating
between these theories and gender identity. The same to transgender persons because it disrespects their
lack of precision appears when Budge (2015) identities and enforces moral conceptions about
described the approach of the used intervention as gender behavior and sexual orientation. In Lim and
interpersonal and psychodynamic. Heck et al. (2015) Bottomley’s study (1983), the gender of the therapists
stated that their psychotherapeutic groups used inter- is used as a behavioral adaptation instrument for a
ventions that were feminist, interpersonal, based on boy with effeminate behavior. At no point is the rele-
emotions and cognitive-behavioral, with no further vance of this approach criticized, which demonstrates

conformity with a view that makes a rule of gender psychoanalysis or psychotherapy sessions or even
stereotypes and seeks the subjection of persons to a describe sections of specific techniques and interven-
social norm based on sex-gender-desire coherence tions without covering the entire treatment. Budge
(Butler, 1990). (2015) and Heck et al. (2015), for instance, seek to
In line with the studies described above, Khanna et analyze the process and the relevance of psychological
al. (1987) reported that the goal of the therapy was to interventions; however, they present inconsistencies
use psychological methods of treatment to reverse the related to generalizations on insufficient sample sizes
gender identity of a transgender woman in an attempt or to the absence of adequate research methods and
to resolve gender dysphoria. A behavioral psychother- design. Studies with conversion bias that attempted to
apy protocol was administered to the patient, who was reverse the gender identity or behaviors that deviated
subject to aversive therapy via electric shock with no from gender patterns established as natural and
consideration of the ethical and technical implications expected did not achieve their objectives or presented
of this approach. Although the article was written results in a synthetic, superficial, and inaccurate way.
before the 1990s, a method that aims to change the Interventions in these studies may have generated psy-
gender identity of a person raises consternation and chological distress and sequelae that were not assessed
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strengthens the argument that many psychological or described (Haber, 1991; Khanna et al., 1987; Lim &
practices were not guided by appropriate ethical and Bottomley, 1983; Loeb, 1992; Loeb & Shane, 1982;
scientific criteria but by personal beliefs, moral Marks & Mataix-Cols, 1997; Meyenburg, 1999; Price,
assumptions and superficial common sense (Ansara & 1985; Pruett & Dahl, 1982; Quinodoz, 2002; Winston
Hegarty, 2012; APA, 2009). et al., 2004; Wrate & Gulens, 1986).
It is important to achieve a more thorough and pro- It is also noticed that there is a lack of available
found understanding of the topic of psychological standardized, reliable, and valid clinical measures
interventions through qualitative studies. However, specific to assessing treatment objectives among
relevant issues such as the reduction of depression transgender individuals, which can be demonstrated
and anxiety symptoms (Bockting et al., 2013), suici- in the large number of studies involving single
dality (Haas et al., 2014), and self-mutilation (Dickey patient cases and the lack of studies discussing the
et al., 2015) might be more effectively addressed process and evaluation of the effectiveness of the
through quantitative designs, such as clinical trials or, interventions. Lack of rigor and methodological
at least, case-control studies that can measure the precision may compromise the quality of studies.
effectiveness of psychological interventions for these Studies on psychological interventions for transgen-
phenomena. der persons must address challenges that come
It is striking that most of the empirical studies along with research with transgender population:
chose a cross-sectional research design. Some studies relatively small population (and subsequent hard to
mention intervention follow-ups, but the lack of get large sample), outcome measures, as well as the
methodological precision and the poor quality of the context of social, economic, and physical vulnera-
article presentation hinder further analyses, even in bility to which transgender people are subjected in
quantitative terms. The lack of clinical trials and longi- many countries.
tudinal studies may be explained in part by the diffi- It is critical to provide empirically supported inter-
culty of accessing transgender persons and conducting ventions to address mental health issues; however,
scientific investigations given the degree of basic rights these interventions must be culturally adapted to
violations that this population encounters in most ensure a clinical work that responds to minority popu-
parts of the world. The large amounts of prejudice suf- lations (Cardemil, 2010). Recent research suggests that
fered by this population may be another possible trans-affirmative psychotherapeutic work should con-
explanation that would justify a lack of interest from sider specific minority stressors (e.g., victimization,
the scientific community in research on this topic discrimination, microaggressions) by working with
(APA, 2009). these persons, understanding the harm effect of trans-
A small amount of studies investigated whether phobic discrimination on mental health, and consider-
interventions were effective. Many of the revised ing theoretical framework such as minority stress,
articles provide strictly theoretical interpretations of which provides explanation on increased risk for

negative outcomes and maladaptive behaviors among Studies must consider not only the issue of gender
transgender persons (Austin & Craig, 2015). Consid- identity but also variables and markers such as race,
ering that transgender persons are exposed to higher class, sexuality, and nationality. Investigations that
levels of gender-related victimization and discrimina- disregard these aspects may tend to reduce and indi-
tion, it is critical to address on psychological interven- vidualize analyses, as demonstrated in many articles
tions’ frameworks the unique and adverse experiences found in this scoping review that seem to attempt to
that are related to transgender and gender non-con- classify participants into strict theoretical models with
forming persons, resulting expectations for future vic- no critical discussion about the research process and
timization or rejection, and internalized transphobia underlying theories.
(Hendricks & Testa, 2012). The perspective of studies on psychological inter-
Although some recent research focus on positive ventions for transgender persons has seemingly
and gender affirming interventions, old frameworks evolved from the 1980s and 1990s until now, with a
seemed to pathologize, stigmatize, and try to reverse more positive and affirmative connotation starting in
gender identity, so it is important to consider and the 2000s. It is important to stress that since Harry
evaluate psychological interventions that follow both Benjamin’s, but especially after the emergence of
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perspectives to point future direction while avoiding social and political movements toward depathologiza-
past ‘mistakes’. tion, aversive and reversal interventions have been
considered inefficacious and sources of psychological
distress. More positive and affirmative interventions
Final considerations
tend to be more effective, which suggests that more
It is important to consider the limitations and biases research should be conducted in this area.
of this study. Only indexed databases available online Psychological interventions should be developed
were consulted, which narrows the results. The meth- respecting the dignity of transgender persons and
odological decision was made to search only for scien- encompassing the depathologization of transgender
tific articles and to exclude monographs, dissertations, identities. The psychopathological perspective perpetu-
and theses. This is another potential search bias that ates rights violations and reifies discrimination, vio-
may have limited the scope of the research. The focus lence and stigma (APA, 2009). In addition, it is
of the study was on identifying the objectives, meth- essential for future studies to go beyond descriptions of
ods, and theories that support these interventions in psychological interventions by seeking to evaluate their
the field of psychology. In this sense, the nonuse of effectiveness through appropriate methods and design
“gender identity” keyword represents another bias. supported by scientific rigor and concern with the ethi-
The establishment of a specific period of publication cal, theoretical, and technical issues of investigations.
(1980–2015) also represents a study limitation. It seems necessary to invest in training for psycholo-
It is crucial to develop studies with clearer language, gists to work with transgender persons. Professionals
terminological precision and well-defined methodo- with no familiarity with issues related to dissident and
logical and theoretical criteria because most of the nonnormative gender identities might cause harm
studies show poor presentation and lack clarity and when conducting therapy with transgender persons
objectivity in reporting the results. Empirical studies (Mikalson, Pardo, & Green, 2012). Thus, the formation
and larger samples are needed to enable generalization of human resources that can provide interventions and
and to clarify the importance of psychological inter- treatments that respect gender identity and achieve
ventions to promote mental health for transgender therapeutic efficacy may be very important to reduce
persons, which may support public health policies stigma and psychological distress, thereby contributing
directed toward this population. In addition, it is sug- to a higher quality of life, well-being, and physical and
gested that future studies should adopt a more positive mental health (APA, 2015; Rachlin, 2002).
and affirmative standpoint toward gender identity, fol- Recent research points that psychotherapy can be
lowing the path of articles such as Budge (2015) and aversive and fearful for transgender persons (Apple-
Heck et al. (2015) by increasing sample sizes and test- garth & Nuttall, 2016). Findings demonstrate that psy-
ing the intervention’s effectiveness on various trans- chological interventions might overemphasize,
gender issues. underemphasize, or stigmatize transgender and gender

nonconforming identities in psychotherapy sessions DC: Author. Retrieved from

(Mizock & Lundquist, 2016). Psychological interven- resources/policy/gender-identity-report.pdf
tions must go on the contrary direction, bringing accep- American Psychological Association. (2015). Guidelines for
psychological practice with transgender and gender non-
tance of self and hope, and constructing a therapeutic
conforming people. American Psychologist, 70(9), 832–864.
setting that can help the patient to face the adversities
arising from an often hostile and disabling environmen- Ansara, G. Y., & Hegarty, P. (2012). Cisgenderism in psychol-
tal context and alleviate mental health concerns not ogy: Pathologising and misgendering children from 1999 to
related to gender identity matters when it is the case. 2008. Psychology and Sexuality, 3(2), 137-
Clinicians and researchers should focus on the 160.10.1080/19419899.2011.576696
Applegarth, G., & Nuttall, J. (2016). The lived experience of
development of psychological interventions focusing
transgender people of talking therapies. International Jour-
on integrating gender identity or tailoring current nal of Transgenderism, 17(2), 66–72.
ones for them to be more trans-inclusive. For future 10.1080/15532739.2016.1149540
studies, it is recommended that researchers address Austin, A., & Craig, S. L. (2015). Transgender affirmative cog-
changes in cultural, linguistic, psychiatric, medical, nitive behavioral therapy: Clinical considerations and appli-
and social milieu in the last decades, to provide a con- cations. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 46
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textual and timeline analysis of the interventions.
Babinski, S., & Reyes, A. (1994). Identity formation in adoles-
These interventions should consider psychological cence: Case study of gender identity disorder and treatment
and biosociocultural factors such as health status, fam- through an intermediate-care day hospital. Psychiatric
ily support, social support, occupational status, quality Quarterly, 65(2), 121–133.
of life, and race/ethnicity, to have greater contextual BF02354323
and ecological validity and respond in a more objec- Bernal, A. T., & Coolhart, D. (2012). Treatment and ethical
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Declaration of interest genderism in family therapy: How everyday clinical practi-
ces can delegitimize people’s gender self-designations.
The authors report no conflicts of interest. The authors alone Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 24(4), 267–285. https://
are responsible for the content and writing of the paper.
Bockting, W. O., Miner, M. H., Swinburne Romine, R. E.,
ORCID Hamilton, A., & Coleman, E. (2013). Stigma, mental
Ramiro Figueiredo Catelan health, and resilience in an online sample of the US
8402-0812 transgender population. American Journal of Public
Angelo Brandelli Costa Health, 103(5), 943–951.
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