Treatment guidelines for Gender Identity Disorder in development
July 5th, 2012
10:32 AM ET

Treatment guidelines for Gender Identity Disorder in development

In recent years, stories about transgender people have been front page news. The transformation of Chaz Bono, son of singers Sonny and Cher, from female to male is perhaps the most well known.

"In puberty, I felt like my body was betraying me," Bono said in an interview.  Now the nation’s top psychiatrists are beginning to talk about developing treatment guidelines for transgender people.

Mental health experts say Bono and people like him have Gender Identity Disorder (GID). “People with GID are distressed with the sense that they were born in the wrong body”, says Dr. William Byne, chair of the American Psychiatric Association Task Force that recommended forming the guidelines.

As children, for example, people with GID may insist they are a boy when they are biologically female.  Experts say it becomes a problem if they become anxious because of their gender and it interferes with their relationships and work.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many people have GID. Ken Zucker, Psychologist-in-Chief at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, estimates 1 in 1,000 children have the disorder, but many grow out of it. Only about 1 in 30,000 adult males and 1 in 100,000 adult females seek sex-reassignment surgery.

The Task Force believes that the guidelines will help psychiatrists improve the quality of care for transgender people.

“For all age groups, we hope that having guidelines will increase the number of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who are trained to provide care in this area,” Byne said.

Among the issues the task force says should be considered:

  • That the patient knows all treatment options
  • That the mental health needs of transgender people are addressed
  • And that ethical issues surrounding treatment are discussed

The biggest concern is how to treat children. Experts say when it comes to treatment, one size doesn’t fit all.  Byne hopes the guidelines will help parents make informed decisions about what’s best for their child: Should they wait and watch, discourage the cross-gender actions, or just encourage cross-gender identity?

The Task Force report was published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

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