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Ten years of experience in counseling gender diverse youth in Flanders, Belgium. A clinical overview

Abstract

Research on gender variant children and adolescents has stirred debate on the increased amount of referrals, the sex ratio in referrals, the impact of trans care on their psychological well-being, and the amount of children/adolescents who stop treatment. This retrospective study includes the number of referrals, first contacts at the outpatient clinic and the amount of drop-outs between January 1st 2007 to December 31st 2016 from the sole Belgian Pediatric Gender clinic. Emotional and behavioral problems, measured by the Child Behavioral Checklist (CBCL) and the Youth Self-Report (YSR), were screened. The adolescents who ceased the counseling, were contacted for follow-up. We included 235 adolescents, referred to the clinic, and 177 (of 235) who had a first physical appointment with a psychologist. Almost one in four (24.5%) on the YSR and more than half (54.8%) on the CBCL fall within the clinical range on the total problem score. On the YSR, 40.4% reported having suicide thoughts and 32.1% reported self-harm behavior and/or at least one suicide attempt, all in the last six months. Five adolescents committed suicide. According to parents, more difficulties with peers predicts more emotional and behavioral problems (F(5, 36) = 3.539, p = 0.011). In this study group, 29 adolescents ceased the counseling, whereof 7 could be traced back in the adult gender clinic after 2016. Results are indicative of the need for mental support for trans youth and their families and moreover, highlight the need for longitudinal follow-up studies.

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Acknowledgements

We’d like to thank all adolescents who gave us consent to use their data. Also, thank you to our colleagues, Jolien Laridaen and Heidi Vanden Bossche, for helping with the collection and input of the data.

Funding

This research was funded by the department of Equal Opportunities from the Flemish government

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Correspondence to Gaia Van Cauwenberg.

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Van Cauwenberg, G., Dhondt, K. & Motmans, J. Ten years of experience in counseling gender diverse youth in Flanders, Belgium. A clinical overview. Int J Impot Res (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41443-021-00441-8

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