CAPS creates transgender support group



For years, clinical psychologist Brad Stepp has been interested in working with the transgender and genderqueer community.

This work has taken several forms in his career, from participating in a study evaluating the quality of mental health care for trans patients in Chicago to beginning a consultation group within IU’s Counseling and Psychological Services dedicated to education about transgender issues and assessing resources for transgender students.

However, recently, his desire to serve the genderqueer community spawned the idea to create a support group for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals on campus.

“I think it’s helpful for students to be able to be a part of a group where they feel like people understand where they’re coming from, who may understand similar experiences or struggles such as coming out or what it’s like to transition, if that’s something they ultimately decide to do,” Stepp said.

Stepp, in conjunction with other staff members at CAPS, decided to start a transgender support group after seeing more and more patients dealing with gender identity issues come to the health center. The support group also came out of conversations within the transgender consultation group on how to best serve this group of students.

The group does not yet meet, but Stepp said he hopes it will begin meeting no later than next semester.

Clinical psychologist Benjamin Neale, who works with Stepp on the transgender consultation group and helped create the support group, said members will gather once a week at a cost of $15 per session once the group starts.

The group will provide a place for people exploring their gender identity to feel understood and seek advice from peers going through similar experiences.

After the initial idea to start the group, Stepp reached out to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Student Support Services to gauge interest in the support group. GLBTSSS Director Doug Bauder talked to students about the group, and Stepp said the response was positive, encouraging his team to go through with creating the group.

“We keep our ears attuned to what students are needing at any given time, and right now trans issues are more prominent than they have been in the early years of this office’s establishment,” Bauder said. “We’re very pleased CAPS is doing this.”

Neale said the rate of mental illness is much higher within the transgender community compared to the general population, but transgender and genderqueer individuals might not seek out services for a variety of reasons.

“We are hoping to buck that trend and to create more of an inclusive service not only at CAPS but as the IU community as a whole,” Neale said.

Because this certain group deals with discrimination in healthcare settings, Neale said he is seeking a meeting location outside the health center.

“We felt that it would be important for us to create an inclusive environment from the start, and if there was any real or perceived barriers to that, we knew that would not lend itself to creating and maintaining the group that we wanted,” Neale said. “So to avoid that, we decided to emphasize a location outside of the health center for this particular support group.”

The issues transgender and genderqueer people face are different than the challenges faced by gay, lesbian, bisexual or otherwise sexually queer people, Bauder said. Transgender or gender nonconforming people receive less acceptance from society, but also deal with everyday problems such as finding suitable bathrooms and having their preferred names and pronouns used.

“I think society could be a very stressful place for all of us to live, depending on what background we come from or what difficulties we might experience ourselves, so people are not always as accepting and as understanding as maybe we would like for them to be,” Stepp said. “So, I think having a group to get support and process those kinds of things could, hopefully, be very helpful for students at IU who may be dealing with their own gender identities and exploring that component of their identity.”

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