Counselling for non-binary clients
Non-binary people are a group that are particularly vulnerable to having negative experiences of counselling. Non-binary people commonly have negative experiences of seeking help from services and may not assume that it is safe for them to be open and honest about their gender with their counsellor. It can be a very harmful experience to be misunderstood or rejected by a counsellor.
Non-binary people as a group experience high rates of mental health diagnosis, sexual abuse, poverty, discrimination and substance abuse; so are more likely to have a higher need for counselling.
For counsellors, if you are open to working with or already working with non-binary people, here is a list of reflective questions that can help make your practice more accessible and to minimise the risk of harm to your clients.
For non-binary clients, you may find it helpful to ask current or prospective counsellors some of these questions to see if they can meet your needs or to improve the service you receive from them.
- Do you take responsibility for informing yourself on the language and culture of those identifying outside the gender binary?
- Does your paperwork include options for non-binary titles, genders and pronouns?
- Have you reflected on your reasons for asking for a client’s gender?
- Do your counselling rooms have gender neutral toilet facilities?
- Is your counselling service in an area safe for gender non-conforming clients to access?
- Do you assume your client’s gender or pronoun based on appearance?
- Do you hold views that many non-binary people view as offensive (e.g. that being trans or gender non-conforming is dysfunctional, a trend, antifeminist, or that it is a symptom of immature development? That trans people should not have access to single gender spaces such as bathrooms or refuges?)
- Do you have non-binary people in your personal life? If not, what might be the reasons for this? How does only seeing non-binary people professionally affect your client work?
- How would you feel about dating a non-binary person, or having a non-binary person as a family member? Would you have a preference for them to be cisgender?
- What work have you done to explore your own transphobia?
- What have you done to explore your own gender identity?
- Are there any aspects of your own identity that break gender norms? How do you feel about these parts of yourself? How may this affect your client work?
- Are you aware of cross cultural and intersectional issues that may affect your clients identity?
- Are you informed about structural discrimination against non-binary people? How might this be reflected in the power dynamics of your counselling relationships? What are you doing to remedy this?
About the author
Steve Jasmine Tomkinson is a person centred counsellor with a PgDip in counselling and psychotherapy. They work with clients of all genders in their home town of Manchester and over Skype.
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