Columbia University Medical Center
Ranked #1 in Psychiatry
U.S. News & World Report
Ranked #1 in Research Funding
National Institutes of Health
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital The University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell

Ask the Experts

Question:

I would like to know the answer to the question I have been asking many and have been receiving contradictory replies:

"Is Gender Identity Disorder treatable?" After taking enough treatment, will a person who suffers from this disorder ever be able to live a normal life, just like someone else who doesn't suffer from this disorder?

The APA website clearly states : "nothing can change sexual orientation." Is this true? Other websites/organizations claim treatment is available in many countries to change sexual orientation - I am terribly confused!!!

It would be great if you can throw some light into this very important and serious problem in my life!

Answered by: Jennifer Downey

Let me start with the 2nd part of your question, which is about sexual orientation (SO). SO is a term that refers to the object of a person’s sexual desires and activities but also to his/her sense of identity as being gay, straight, or bisexual. Many people do experience SO as fixed and unchangeable.

In other people, sexual desires can change, especially over time, and more commonly in women than men. There are some people whose SO seems to change in response to normal life circumstances.

Others respond to various life events, including some that are labeled “treatment.” The concept of treatment for SO is controversial because the mental health professions do not consider any SO pathological. For more information on this, you might want to look at Drescher and Zucker’s book Ex-Gay Research: Analyzing the Spitzer Study. . ., published by Haworth in 2006.

The 1st part of your question was about Gender Identity Disorder (GID), which is listed in the DSM (the diagnostic manual mental health professionals use) as a sexual disorder. Clinicians don’t treat disorders, however; they treat people. Many different types of people are diagnosed with GID. Some may have other psychiatric disorders as well. Some have medical disorders. Some have been subject to extreme psychosocial stressors. Different types of treatment from counseling to gender reassignment surgery may be appropriate, depending on the individual’s age and psychological and physical state.

Many people who receive treatment for GID do very well and have an excellent outcome.