As a second-year practicum student in clinical psychology in San Francisco, California, I was honored to encounter people from diverse backgrounds. The location greatly enriched my experiences in multicultural counseling—but it only went so far. I very quickly became aware of the lack of onsite training and the failure of the English language in providing appropriate services to the transgender population in our clinic.
One particular incident with a client opened my eyes to the bias that not only exists in popular culture but also in the therapeutic world. During my last two months at the practicum, I received a referral for psychological assessment from a therapist who was working with a person who identified as genderqueer.
In our first session, the client told me that they prefer the neutral gender pronoun. The client told me that they don’t like to be referred to as “he” or ”she.” After our initial interview, I went to see my supervisor to ask her for guidance regarding creating a proper battery of assessments and writing a report with gender-neutral pronouns. My supervisor looked at me with surprise and told me she needed to consult with her mentor.
I was surprised that this lack of clear guidelines related to language had not come up before in her experience with clients. I consulted further by talking with an assessment professor who informed me that she, too, had never experienced a client who preferred gender neutral pronouns. This made me feel lost and in a very ambiguous, uncomfortable situation.
I deeply believe that clients are the masters of their experience. I realized that the field of psychology has largely ignored the needs of gender-variant and gender-nonconforming clients, and that, like homosexuality, the biases that exist in pop culture dominate our clinical work.
“The biases that exist in pop culture dominate our clinical work.”
With the help of my clinical supervisor and with my client’s generous offer to connect me with available resources on gender nonconformity, I was able to write my first psychological assessment, fully using the they, them, their pronouns as a singular neutral pronoun.
During my last session with the client, I gave the client their report. As part of my training in therapeutic assessment, I wrote the report using a format that non-clinicians and clinicians could understand. I saw tears on the face of the client as they read the report. They told me that it was the first time they had felt understood and respected regarding their gender identity by a clinician.
To this date, I remain very grateful for the client’s kind words, and for the wonderful insight I was given into the power of language, through the gift of they.
Editor’s Note: Khashayar Farhadi-Langroudi is a student at the American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University – San Francisco Bay Area. Khashayar is also a member of the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.