Gender dysphoria is a condition where your gender identity, the way you see yourself, doesn’t match up with your physical body. People who experience gender dysphoria can feel very uncomfortable in their skin or feel that they have the wrong body parts.
The effects of gender dysphoria appear differently from one person to the next. For some people, these inner feelings can affect their self-image or the way they view themselves. For others, these feelings can come out through behavior.
If you feel that you’re struggling with transgender or gender dysphoria issues, read on. This article aims to help you better understand gender dysphoria, signs and symptoms, as well as how online therapy could help you.
Understanding Gender Dysphoria
Biological sex and gender identity are two separate concepts. Although they often align with many people, this isn’t always the case. The difference between the two can also be defined as gender incongruence.
While it’s technically not recognized as a medical condition, gender dysphoria can grow distressing over the years if left unaddressed and cause people to experience discomfort that ultimately affects their social and personal lives in a negative way.
Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and increased stress or feelings of isolation may develop for those who experience gender dysphoria. According to the DSM-5, about 0.005% to 0.014% of people assigned male at birth and 0.002% to 0.003% of people assigned female at birth are diagnosable with gender dysphoria. Working with an online therapist or counselor can support individuals coping with these and other concerns.
The term “dysphoria” is considered to more precisely represent challenges faced concerning a gender identity inconsistent with that assigned at birth. Thus, it may help reduce stigma and barriers to treatment for trans people.
Not everyone who has gender dysphoria identifies as transgender, but many people diagnosed with gender dysphoria identify as transgender, gender fluid, or gender non-conforming.
Changes to Gender Dysphoria in the DSM V
Gender dysphoria is included in the most current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a change of gender identity disorder. This change was made to help trans individuals seeking treatment options such as counseling, hormone treatments, gender confirmation surgery, and a legal name and gender change.
Many of these transition options are only available to those who have been diagnosed. Some people believe that including a diagnosis correlated to gender identity in the DSM falsely perpetuates the belief that the diagnosis indicates a mental health condition. However, despite this belief, the American Psychiatric Association chose to allow entry to provide individuals continued access to care.
Gender dysphoria doesn’t’t always indicate or cause mental health concerns, in the same way being transgender does not. However, those who have dysphoria may be more likely to experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other emotional and mental challenges.
These challenges often result from social judgment, stigma, stereotypes, and labels. Anyone can experience dysphoria regardless of gender identity, as non-binary or gender-nonconforming individuals are equally as likely to experience body dysphoria.
Symptoms of Gender Dysphoria
There are various feelings and behaviors associated with gender dysphoria that can start during your childhood or appear in adulthood. The discomforting feelings tend to linger for a significant amount of time. And while they impact some people more significantly, others may hardly recognize them.
Symptoms that begin in children may include:
- A preference to play with children of the opposite sex
- Wearing clothes that are typically worn by the opposite sex
- Hopes that genitalia will change
- Feelings distressed throughout puberty
- Refraining from participating in activities that typically associate with biological sex (playhouse for girls, action figures for boys, etc.)
- If you’re a teen or an adult that are experienced symptoms of gender dysphoria as a child, you probably have a clearer sense of your gender identity. However, it does take time to develop in the years leading up to puberty. You may even feel that you’re still adjusting and coming to terms with these feelings. If you haven’t experienced symptoms as a child, you may start to experience symptoms as an adult.
Symptoms in teenagers and adults may include:
- A dislike or strong desire to change biological genitals
- Finding comfort when you’re in your preferred gender role or identity
- Feeling confident in knowing your gender identity is different than your biological sex
- A strong desire to cover up or get rid of physical signs of your biological sex
- A strong need to have the typical feelings and responses of the other gender
Getting a Diagnosis
Early treatment for gender dysphoria decreases the risk of experiencing other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Some people may develop mental health concerns due to distress experienced with gender dysphoria. Still, this incongruence itself is not a mental health condition, just as being transgender is not a mental health condition.
The good news is, there are mental health professionals that specialize in LGBT and gender-related issues. They can help you better understand yourself while providing a safe, nonjudgmental space for you to work through them.
What’s the Process of Getting a Diagnosis Like?
Gender specialists-whether it’s your healthcare provider or therapist, will likely give you an assessment to better understand your needs.
The assessments usually look at:
- The mismatch of gender identity and biological sex
- Your history and evolution of gender dysphoric feelings
- How the stigma attached to gender nonconformity has influenced your mental health
- How you’re coping with stress and other challenges
- What your support system looks like
This process may include a few sessions and can potentially take a few months to complete. Also, the specialist may ask to speak with family members, friends, or peers, depending on your situation.
Gender Dysphoria vs. Body Dysmorphia
Although the two aren’t directly correlated, gender dysphoria is frequently associated with body dysmorphia- and anxiety conditions associated with body image. Those diagnosed with body dysmorphia often view their appearance negatively and may hyperfocus on their perceived imperfections.
People diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder typically experience persistent, negative thoughts about what they feel are imperfections in their appearance. Still, these thoughts typically cause significant distress, often to the point of not functioning normally in daily life.
Individuals diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder may seek cosmetic surgery in an attempt to correct defects. However, cosmetic surgery is ineffective in treating the disorder.
What Causes Gender Dysphoria?
Many people first experience gender nonconformity in childhood, often at an early age. Although limited research on this specific issue exists, some studies have shown that when these children are supported and encouraged to live as their actual gender, they may be less likely to experience anxiety and depression. They are also more likely to experience greater emotional and mental well-being overall than those who are not supported.
Many people seek professional help from a therapist when they first recognize these feelings, but several barriers hold some people back. If a person isn’t in a position with accessible care and treatment, this may worsen or intensify feelings of dysphoria and can significantly impact mental and emotional well-being.
There are several reasons why a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity occurs.
Some other common causes include:
- Disruption in hormone functioning in the mother’s womb (AIS)
- Higher levels of male hormones in a female fetus (CAH)
Treatment Options for Gender Dysphoria
Expressing your actual gender helps address the sense of gender incongruence and can decrease distressing emotions. While there isn’t a specific treatment to address gender dysphoria, there are proactive steps one can take to address them.
While some may live as their true gender without physical changes, there are a few Medical treatment options for gender dysphoria.
These might include:
- Hormone therapy, such as feminizing or masculinizing hormone therapy
- Surgery, such as feminizing or masculinizing surgery to better align with your aspired physical characteristics
Treatment is based on your goals, as well as the presence of any other conditions. Many people also find that working with a mental health professional alongside getting medical treatment helps cope with associated stressors.
A mental health provider can help you understand your gender-related concerns and address other issues that may be impacting your daily life. Some individuals with gender dysphoria may be referred to a psychiatrist for medication to treat their symptoms, while others may receive psychotherapy alone or in combination with medical treatment.
The goal of psychotherapy isn’t meant to alter your gender identity, but rather:
- Help you overcome emotional distress
- Accept yourself
- Feel comfortable with your gender identity expression
- Build successful relationships and support network
- Make decisions about your medical treatment options
- Improve your overall well being and quality of life
It’s important to remember that even if a person transitions, they may still experience gender dysphoria. Working through any negative or distressing feelings with someone specializing in treating gender dysphoria may benefit many.
Unfortunately, many people who experience gender dysphoria don’t always have access to proper treatment. With greater awareness of transgender and non-binary identities, people who are intersex and the issues presented are likely to be a significant step towards more access to compassionate medical and mental health care.
Other Treatment Options
There are a variety of treatments available for gender dysphoria. Depending on the severity, treatment can include:
- Speech therapy to improve vocal characteristics to match your felt or expressed gender
- Hair removal or transplantation
- Social gender role transitioning
- Peer support groups
- Legal services
Why Online Therapy is a Good Option This Year
Your therapist will work with you to tailor sessions to fit your needs. Gender therapists are here to listen and guide you through the process of reaching your goals. Anyone who resonates with gender dysphoria could greatly benefit from speaking to an online gender therapist regardless of any physical treatments you’re undergoing.
And if you feel nervous or anxious about starting therapy in person, you may feel more comfortable working with a therapist online. Research has shown that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy. Not only that, but it may also be cheaper, as you have more availability in your schedule and can do it from the comfort of your own home.
The Bottom Line
You have the right to be yourself, and your therapist will provide you with a safe environment and space to understand who you are and how gender plays a role in your life.
And while coping with gender dysphoria can be stressful, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Many individuals have discovered ways to thrive socially and biologically to their perceived gender and live healthy, happy lives. When deciding if talking to an online gender dysphoria therapist is right for you, consider getting in touch with a few therapists you’re considering and asking them a couple of questions to see who would be the most suitable fit for you and your unique needs.