‘Just sort of accept me for who I am as a person’: an investigation of UK-based transgender clients' experiences of counselling, an IPA study

Sophie Preston, Mhairi Thurston

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


    A qualitative enquiry into transgender clients’ experiences, assessing if, and if so how, their gender identity interacted with their counselling experiences.

    An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis methodology (IPA) underpinned this study. A purposeful sample was recruited via online transgender networks. Semi-structured in-depth
    interviews were conducted with three UK-based transgender-identified individuals who had received generic counselling within the previous five years. An IPA methodology was used to
    develop key experiential themes from the participants’ narratives.

    Superordinate themes:
    1) The clients themselves: participants’ gender identities were understood as both unique to them and also routine.
    2) Experiences of seeking counselling: They sought counselling for pragmatic reasons, largely unrelated to counsellor expertise. Therapists’ gender identities were important.
    3) Experiences of receiving counselling: counselling was helpful in relation to gender identity, and all experienced a change toward greater self-acceptance. Counsellor acceptance,
    awareness, understanding and an active approach were helpful.
    4) Interaction with other people / agencies: a history of being pathologised affected two participants’ counselling experiences.

    Research Limitations:
    The small sample size limited generalisability, and there were participant differences in age and gender identity. Participants’ self-reporting incurred the possibility of distorted memories, and perceptions of their therapists could not be verified. Analytical subjectivity was inevitably present, although steps were taken to counteract this.

    This importance of therapists’ preparedness to counsel trans clients was evident, as participants chose counselling on a pragmatic basis, but used counselling to discuss their gender. Basic concepts such as non-judgement were important, but manifested in relation to gender e.g. through the importance of pronoun usage, suggesting the importance of trans awareness. The potentially negative legacy of other healthcare provision and the prevalence of fear and anxiety points to the importance of counsellors understanding transgender in a social context and an appreciation of the concept and functioning of minority stress. These findings are broadly in keeping with existing research, though more nuance was possible as a result of the in-depth nature of these interviews.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2017
    Event23rd Annual BACP Research Conference: Research and reflective practice for the counselling profession - The Crowne Plaza, Chester, United Kingdom
    Duration: 19 May 201720 May 2017
    Conference number: 23


    Conference23rd Annual BACP Research Conference
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


    • Transgender
    • Generic counselling
    • Lived-experience
    • Gender-identity
    • Interpretative phenomenological analysis


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