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Trans youth in Michigan can get free therapy through this grant

Transgender youth in Michigan can now apply for financial help for therapy, and be connected with therapists who specialize in treating members of the LGBTQ community.

That’s thanks to a program launched this week through Stand with Trans, a Michigan-based nonprofit that offers resources and support groups for transgender kids, young adults, and their families.

“This is for trans youth, aged 13 to 24, who do not have access to mental health services because they don't have insurance, they can't afford the copay, whatever the reason might be, but they're financially limited and cannot access mental health counseling,” said Roz Gould Keith, the executive director of Stand with Trans.

It’s funded by a $10,000 grant, so spaces are limited.

“We don't have an endless bucket of funds,” Keith said. “So we can't say to someone, ‘You can access this from now until whenever you're done with therapy.’ So it might be six sessions, it might be ten sessions. It really depends on the big picture need, and how many people we have applying. But the application process is open.”

The program also connects clients with a pre-approved list of mental health providers in Michigan who have expertise in caring for the LGBTQ community. Susan Radzilowski, a licensed clinical social worker, is one of them.

When her own child came out as trans some 18 years ago, resources were nearly impossible to find, she said, and the experience was isolating.

“So over the years, as I learned and grew as a parent, I just felt the desire to be supportive of other youth and families to help ease the path for them a little bit … which really led me … to working with specific youth who face the risk factors that trans youth face. Which is an increase in anxiety, an increase in depression, an increase of being isolated at school or even feeling unsafe at school, and sometimes, unfortunately, feeling unsafe at home.”

Transgender adolescents face higher risks for mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and self-harm than their peers, because they’re more likely to encounter social stigma, discrimination and rejection from family. Research shows receiving gender-affirming medical care can significantly lower those risks. But psychological support is crucial too, Radzilowski said, and can still be hard to get.

“Not only is cost a barrier to care, but it's sometimes just accessing therapists who understand the principles of gender-affirming care, which is to elevate the child's voice, to hear the child's voice, to offer exploration in a supportive environment, to listen and to understand what's helpful versus what's harmful,” she said.

Qualified therapists can also help the parents and family members of trans youth and young adults. “My personal belief is, when a child comes out, the whole family comes out,” Radzilowski said. But family members may not know how to best support their child.

“There is very little attention for parents on how to respond to a child who has gender diversity, or who's transgender or gender questioning,” Radzilowski said. “And so I can certainly understand how parents might be concerned or taken off guard. It’s important not to stand in judgment of any parent's response, but simply to reach out to them with empathy and information and to build that supportive relationship.

“And so it's really my goal when I ever do work with parents is to prevent a breakdown in family relationships with their child from occurring. But if it has occurred, then I look at are there opportunities to do repair or to rebuild the relationship? And usually there are.”

And an experienced therapist can also help the families of transgender youth work with their school to develop a support plan for their child, she said.

“A youth in secondary school will have different concerns than maybe a youth in elementary school,” Radzilowski said. “A youth in athletics might have different needs or concerns than a youth in, let's say, orchestra, who's doing a lot of traveling and needs support in a traveling situation. But it's really important… to open that conversation and to guide those conversations.”

An earlier pilot version of the therapy assistance program ran for about two years, and served about 10-12 individuals, according to Stand with Trans.

Copyright 2023 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist and co-host of the Michigan Radio and NPR podcast Believed. The series was widely ranked among the best of the year, drawing millions of downloads and numerous awards. She and co-host Lindsey Smith received the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists. Judges described their work as "a haunting and multifaceted account of U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s belated arrest and an intimate look at how an army of women – a detective, a prosecutor and survivors – brought down the serial sex offender."