PAU Student Developing Workbook for Exploring Gender

A post written by Ph.D. Clinical Psychology doctoral candidate, Jayme Peta, visiting faculty Dr. Ry Testa, and Dr. Deb Coolhart on developing a Gender Quest Workbook for gender exploration guidance. Jayme also recently authored an article about transgender youth in the Huffington Post.

What is The Gender Quest Workbook? 

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The Gender Quest Workbook is a book designed for teens and young adults who want to explore their gender identity.  This might include people who think they might be transgender or people who want to understand their gender better.  Parents, therapists and others who work with transgender or "gender-expansive" young people may find it helpful to look through this book as well.  It goes beyond just giving information.  There are experiental exercises designed to actually explore gender, not just think about it.  Plus, we cover how to deal with family, friends, school and work and how to cope with the emotions - good and hard - that may arise during this exploration.  These exercises are based on the way we might approach exploring identity with a client.

Who are the collaborators and what are their roles?

The first author, Dr. Ry Testa, was visiting faculty here at Palo Alto University and Program Coordinator of the Gender and Youth Program. He is now moving to an Assistant Professor position at Rhodes College.  The second author is Dr. Deb Coolhart, Assistant Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at Syracuse University.  I’m in a doctoral candidate in clinical psych in PAU’s Ph.D. program. We all have extensive experience and expertise working with transgender and gender-expansive youth.  The three of us all contributed by writing chapters and talking over key concepts and approaches.  We also collaborated with Dr. Peter Goldblum here at PAU.  He's the director of CLEAR, which is the department "home" for the workbook. Dr. Testa approached me and Dr. Coolhart to ask if we wished to write some chapters.  At the time, we were not sure if we were really producing simply an online resource or if we would be publishing it but we all felt that the resource was important enough to work on.  I feel fortunate to working with three other psychologists who have expertise in this very new area of counseling and psychology.

Why did you decide to create this? When did you see a need for this resource? 

Drs. Goldblum and Testa saw that their research on transgender and gender expansive young people highlighted a need for mental health resources related to identity development, coping with minority stress, and building resilience. Because they were aware that many of these youth and young adults would not have access to culturally competent service providers, they wanted to make a workbook that could serve as either a self-help resource or a tool to be used in therapy. Dr. Testa drafted some initial concepts and exercises and then assembled the team of authors to write the workbook. He presented some content from an early draft at the APA conference in 2013 when discussing mental health resources for this population. New Harbinger Press saw this presentation and asked about the possibility of publishing the workbook. 

What do you hope that this workbook provides to the community?

I truly hope that this workbook opens multiple doors for youth who previously saw none.  One of the unique things about this workbook is that it really does honor a number of paths. Definitely there is a need for this type of resource for youth.  The books that exist for youth mostly are aimed for young people who already know that they are transgender.  However, the process of figuring this out has been relatively untouched.  We wanted to approach this project from the stance that youth who are exploring gender identity may not all come to be transgender.  They may have any number of identities, which are all equally good and which can have their own challenges and promises as well.  The focus in the media recently has been on people who are "transgender" in the traditional sense, that is, starting out as men or women, realizing that the "opposite" gender is true for them, and then transitioning to the "right" gender.  But, the fact is that many youth identify with a third gender, with a more androgynous identity, or one of many nuances.  The classic experience of "being born in the wrong body" is true for many youth, but not all.  We felt it was important for youth to truly be supported in taking the time to explore these identities in safe, healthy and fun ways.  If a young person finds themselves more able to take the time to really get to know themselves and respect their unique gender identity - whatever that turns out to be - I think this workbook will be a success.  

In addition, this workbook will ideally help young people who are navigating new territory around gender to feel empowered and be resilient in facing the challenges that may come with asserting and embodying who they are in the contexts of school, family, friendships, and relationships.

The Gender Quest Workbook will be published by New Harbinger Press in Spring 2016- pre-order the book today

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