May 25, 2023

An advocate and therapist shares why seeing someone for who they are can be a powerful form of therapy. Plus, the health and rights of LGBTQ+ people and gender minorities.

This week on “I Live This: Transforming Mental Health through Personal Connection,” we speak with a practicing therapist and advocate about the rights and sexual and reproductive health of LGBTQ+ people and gender minorities. A short primer featuring important definitions is also available for this episode, if you feel you may need a bit more background to fully understand the topics discussed.

Liz Boskey is co-founder and leader of the New England Gender Care Consortium. We’ll discuss her personal experience, advocacy, and work in this conversation.

Initially, Liz was very interested in reproductive health and sexual health as a research scientist. When she decided she wanted to work more with people, she got her masters in social work.

“I was studying in a certification program for sexual health educators, [counselors, and therapists] and I was really disappointed and disturbed by how much the field of sexual health was really dominated by straight women and gay men. And that the only focus on sexual health was basically heterosexual couples and gay men.”

As a queer woman, Liz didn’t feel well represented in this space and quickly realized that others were also not well represented. And most importantly, that the lack of representation in this space made it difficult for some individuals to receive quality care.

“On my own dime and on my own time, I sought out a lot of supervision and consultation on working with trans youth and really became deeply, deeply engaged and passionate about advocating for improvements in care for specifically gender minorities," she said.

Being an effective ally and advocate

Liz encourages individuals to do some thinking about their own gender – how that affects way they exist and move through the world. That, paired with educating yourself, is a strong foundation to being an effective ally (and an effective therapist).

“One of the things that we see in the research is that far too often LGBT – and again, specifically most often transgender patients – are asked to explain and justify aspects of their life in ways that aren’t relevant to the care that they’re getting.”
Liz Boskey

Respecting people’s names and pronouns is also important. She says to treat others the way you would want to be treated.

Another hard truth Liz shares: you will make mistakes. It will be uncomfortable. Those things are okay, provided you provide a genuine apology and try your hardest to do better.

“It can be really tempting to be defensive and make it about you," Liz said. "And the important thing is to do everything you can to not do that.”

Being part of the queer community has been helpful for Liz. She acknowledges her privilege as a cisgender, white woman and also the ongoing work she does to be a good advocate and ally. Elevating the work of transgender people and transgender expertise is an important part of that work, she explains.

“I don’t want trans people to have to explain what gender dysphoria is for the thousandth time,” Liz said about why she does so much teaching on these topics as a cis-woman. “If that is something that they want to be involved in – if they want to be giving the seminar – I want them to give the seminar and I want to raise people up and give them the opportunities that they may not have had access to because they may have less privilege along one or more axes of identity.”

Strengths and weaknesses

Liz points out that there isn’t much instruction about therapy modalities in social work school, which she describes as both a strength and weakness. She’s trained in EMDR, motivational interviewing, CBT, and more modalities, all of which training she sought out on her own.

“Because they throw us in with both feet the second we start school, we do have a lot of opportunity to practice, but the quality of that practice is deeply dependent on where we’re training,” she said.

But Liz says that, for her, sometimes the most important thing is to just to remember that people are the experts in their own lives, and to see them.

“I often talk about how powerful an intervention it is to see someone. And just to sit with someone and see them for who they are.”

Listen to our full conversation to hear more about Liz’s advocacy work, why self disclosure can play a role in a successful therapeutic relationship, and resources for transgender and LGBTQ+ advocacy and care (also listed online).

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