Ripple Effect Report: Scholar Embarks on Groundbreaking Transgender Research Project

Pride Foundation scholars pay it forward in some of the most impactful ways! Read how Juan Barbachano is working to improve the lives of transgender people.

Growing up Mormon and transgender in Palmer, Alaska did not set Pride Foundation Scholar, Juan Barbachano, up for the easiest time in life. In addition to dealing with the sense of anxiety he felt regarding his gender identity, Juan had to come to terms with a belief system that taught him and his family that his thoughts and feelings were inspired by the devil. When he started to transition, he wasn’t just in need of an understanding therapist, but a cheering section of people who shared his experience and could celebrate with him.

“Finding others with whom I could talk about my feelings and who were feeling the same things helped me to understand that my reactions were normal,” says Juan. “The feeling of being trapped in the wrong-gendered body was not a mental illness, but a type of condition no one could have anticipated or controlled, and that taking medical steps was taking responsibility for myself and my life.”

Now a doctoral student of Education in Counseling Psychology, Juan is embarking on his dissertation research that could turn what was for him an informal networking and mentoring experience into an acceptable model of care for people going through gender transition. He is in the process of recruiting 40 transgender people to participate in a comparative study of individualized and group therapy. Through this study, Juan seeks to prove that common symptoms associated with being transgender, such as depression and anxiety, will be alleviated if the person transitions as part of a group rather than in the standard individual therapy method. He will also document the ways in which a person’s general feelings of wellbeing are positively impacted by group therapy.

If Juan’s thesis is proven correct, there might be other benefits to transitioning people besides an improved counseling experience. Individual therapy can often end up being a financial barrier to starting the transition process—neither psychotherapy nor medical costs associated with gender identity are covered by most health insurance companies. But group therapy generally costs about half the price of individual therapy, potentially making the journey toward transition more affordable and accessible.

“My research is about how to help people transition more successfully and with support,” Juan reflects. “So often, trans people feel unique and alone because very few know of others like them. They have no one with whom to share their thoughts, feelings, and dreams.” While some cities have informal transgender support groups, they are not included as part of the menu of recommended treatments for those who are transitioning, nor has any research been done on their effectiveness. Thus, Juan’s research stands to be ground-breaking both in the field of counseling and in terms of how it will impact the transgender community.

If you are interested in participating in the study, you can contact Juan Barbachano via email or leave a voice or text message at 907-242-4415.

Tiffany is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Alaska. Email Tiffany. The application deadline for Pride Foundation’s 2013 Scholarship Program is January 31, 2013. Apply today!

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