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Shawn Rubin on Gender Diversity Issues

On the future of mental health

Eric Maisel
Source: Eric Maisel

The following interview is part of a “future of mental health” interview series that will be running for 100+ days. This series presents different points of view about what helps a person in distress. I’ve aimed to be ecumenical and included many points of view different from my own. I hope you enjoy it. As with every service and resource in the mental health field, please do your due diligence. If you’d like to learn more about these philosophies, services, and organizations mentioned, follow the links provided.


Interview with Shawn Rubin

EM: You have a special interest in sexual orientation and gender diversity issues. If someone with issues in this area, or if the loved one of someone with issues in this area, came to you for help, what would you suggest that he or she do or try?

SR: The research on transgender adolescents and their families confirms that non-acceptance by parents is the strongest predictor of emotional disturbance, and promotes the astronomically high rates of homelessness, suicide attempts and completions in the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual) communities.

My clinical approach in working with transgender and gender diverse children, adolescents and adults is to engage the parents and children of my patients in family therapy. In this systemic approach to family relationships I provide a space for exploring each person’s psychological transition in working towards a sense of understanding, acceptance and empathy for their transgender loved one. I would urge the loved ones of LBGTQIA individuals to do everything they can to grapple with their concerns and prejudices and transform any initial rejection of their loved one into a transitioning process of growing acceptance. Indeed, it is a matter of life and death.

EM: Is a question about becoming active with LGBTQIA social justice issues perhaps beyond the boundaries of psychology and psychotherapy?

SR: In my academic and clinical roles, I urge my graduate students, colleagues in the mental health communities as well as the loved ones of LGBTQIA patients to become allies in supporting human rights groups, social justice activities and work to ensure the rights and safety of their LGBTQIA family members, friends and neighbors.

Professional Psychology in the mainstream is making important strides in advocating for multi-culturally-competent practices, illuminating social justice issues and their impact, and becoming vocal advocates for political action where the health, well-being, and dignity of individuals and communities is being assaulted. Many of my colleagues and I are moving beyond the consulting room and providing community-based services, advocacy and training.

EM: Are there some top resources for members of the LBGT community in distress?

SR: I often refer inquiries to the resources of the LGBTQ Division of the American Psychological Association for outstanding guidance, information and current research.

Seeking peer support through Gay-Straight Alliances in high school is another critical and sometimes life-saving resource for adolescents. There are other tremendous organizations that provide free support and social groups throughout the country, such as PFLAG, formerly known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, which is the United States' largest organization for parents, families, friends, and allies of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, and queer communities.

Finally, the National Center for Transgender Equality is another important organization to support and consult. In the Washington, DC area we are very fortunate to have incredible resources such as Whitman-Walker Health that provides complete medical care for LGBTQIA patients, Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center and Homeless Shelter.

EM: You have a background in many “modalities,” among them the psychoanalytic and existential-humanistic traditions. What are some ideas from those traditions that a person in emotional or mental distress might make use of?

SR: I utilize a clinical integration of contemporary psychoanalytic and existential-humanistic therapies and theories to organize my thinking about what it means for each unique person to be a human being, face human pain and suffering, and how to facilitate growth and development.

A synthesis of these traditions allows for a depth and breadth of understanding that I find to be helpful to children, adolescents, adults, couples, families and groups in my practice. If I had to list which concept is most useful for people in distress I would emphasize the healing power of the therapeutic relationship and alliance, which incidentally, all the psychotherapy research points to as what is most healing in effective psychotherapy. This alliance is comprised of deep trust, respect, care, acceptance, listening, thoughtful pacing of the person-in-therapy’s expressions, and prizing of each person’s unique way of being in the world, socio-cultural worldview and vast inner-complexity.

Finding and engaging in healing relationships is often the lifeline people seek out and find great comfort in during stressful times. However, for those who are more introverted, finding solitude and time alone for periods of creation and reconnecting with personal needs and regulating the level of stimulation and interpersonal contact is crucial for reaching a homeostatic balance of comfort. What is essential is honoring one’s personal preference for promoting a calm, restorative space for self-reflection, emotional de-escalation, regulation, and insight into one’s pain and suffering. With this stance, one can experience being grounded in their authentic intuitions, values, and formulate new possibilities and directions for growth.

EM: If you had a loved one in emotional or mental distress, what would you suggest that he or she do or try?

SR: Trusted friends and family members are often an important source of support when in pain and distress, however, seeking a therapeutic relationship where one’s most private and personal concerns can take center stage, be accepted, patiently engaged, and respectfully worked through can benefit the suffering individual in ways that transforms their suffering into newfound strength, insight and inner resources for personal growth and change. I whole-heartedly recommend seeking a well-trained, supervised and analyzed relational, depth psychotherapist to begin the healing journey of personal evolution.


Shawn Rubin, PsyD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Virginia & Michigan and serves as President-Elect of the American Psychological Association's Division 32, Society for Humanistic Psychology. He is Editor in Chief of The Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Co-Editor in Chief of University Professors Press, and Co-Founder of The Humanitarian Alliance. He can be reached at


Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of 40+ books, among them The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Mastering Creative Anxiety, Life Purpose Boot Camp and The Van Gogh Blues. Write Dr. Maisel at, visit him at, and learn more about the future of mental health movement at

To learn more about and/or to purchase The Future of Mental Health visit here

To see the complete roster of 100 interview guests, please visit here:

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