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Counseling Professionals Workshop, Southern Comfort Conference (1998)

Counseling Professionals Workshop, Southern Comfort Conference (1998)

©1998, 2013 by Dallas Denny, Jack Boyan, Virginia Erhardt, Evan Eyler, Erin Swenson, Tarryn Whitten, Sandra Cole, Sandra Samons, Joan Boonin, Sarah Herbert, & Janice Heckler

Source: Denny, Dallas, Boyan, Jack, Cole, Sandra, & Swenson, Erin. (1998, 2-3 October). Counseling professionals’ workshop on gender identity issues. Two-day workshop held at the Southern Comfort Conference, 2-3 October, 1998, Atlanta, GA.



Counseling Professionals; Workshop Brochure (PDF)

I was in charge of programming for the Southern Comfort Conference for a good part of the 1990s. In 1997 and 1998 several Atlanta-based mental health professionals, including myself, formed an organization called the American Gender Institute. We produced a workshop our first workshop in 1997, this workshop in 1998 and another at SCC the following year. The members of AGI, as best I recall, were Jack Boyan, Virginia Erhardt, Jan Heckler, Erin Swenson, and myself.



Jack Boyan, M.Ed., LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist who facilitated the Atlanta Gender Explorations Support Group from 1992 t0 1998. Jack is involved in the men’s movement and does individual and group therapy in the transgender community.

Joan M. Boonin, M.S., C.C.C., is a Certified Speech-Language Pathologist at University of Michigan Hospitals. She is a core member of the Comprehensive Gender Services Program and has been a practicing clinician in her field for 21 years, with specialization in adult neurogenic communication disorders, and transgender speech and language.

Sandra S. Cole, Ph.D., is Professor and Director of the Comprehensive Gender Services Program, University of Michigan Medical Center. For the past 16 years Dr. Cole has affiliated with the transgender community—working with wives, partners and couples on topics of sexual health, intimacy, and relationships.

Dallas Denny, M.A., has been licensed to practice psychology in Tennessee since 1980. She is the former Executive Director of The American Educational Gender Information Service and editor of the new text Current Concepts in Transgender Identity.

Virginia Erhardt, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, sex therapist, and former Southern Voice columnist. Virginia does individual and group psychotherapy with clients with sexual orientation and gender identity issues, and is currently facilitator of the Atlanta Gender Explorations Support Group.

A. Evan Eyler, M.D., M.P.H., is a family physician and AASECT-certified sex educator who serves as the Director of Primary Care Services of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Gender Services Program and as a Clinical Association Professor at the Department of Family Medicine of the University of Michigan Medical School.

Janice Heckler, M.A., is the Process Improvement Coordinator for clinical services at Clayton Center Mental Health. She is a group facilitator for Atlanta Gender Explorations Support Group, facilitates a group for transgender youth, and is co-author of a chapter in the edited textbook, Gender Blending.

Sarah E. Herbert, M.D., is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Emory University School of Medicine and Director of the Psychiatry-Obstetrics Consultation/Liaison Service of Grady Memorial Hospital. She has had extensive experience in working with children and adolescents with intersex and gender identity issues.

Sandra L. Samons, D.C.S.W., B.C.D., C.A.C., participated in the establishment of the University of Michigan Medical Center Comprehensive Gender Services Program and functions as its lead mental health affiliate. She has been working with transgendered people since 1992, has presented at numerous gender-related conferences, and has broad background and experience in addictions treatment.

The Reverend Erin Swenson, Th.M., Ph.D., is an ordained Presbyterian minister and licensed marriage and family therapist. She does individual and group psychotherapy with transgendered and transsexual persons and their families and is Parish Associate at Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church.

Tarryn M. Witten, M.D, Ph.D., received her Ph.D. in Biophysics from SUNY Buffalo, and is a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America, with over 20 years of experience in issues of aging and human developm,ent. Recent areas of research have included quality of life issues among older transgenders and transsexuals; HIV and aging; and violence within and against the gender community.



Friday, October 3, 1998

A Three-Hour Introduction to The General Field of Transgender Counseling

9:00 am – 12:30 pm

Staff: Boyan, Denny, Erhardt, Eyler, Heckler, Swenson

At the conclusion of this program, participants should be able to:

  1. Describe the components of gender identity
  2. Describe the transgender spectrum, differentially diagnose, and understand issues relevant to the theoretical debate about diagnosis/pathologizing
  3. Have an understanding of the place of transgendered persons throughout history
  4. Explain the alternatives for a person with gender dysphoria and the transition process for a transsexual who decides upon sex reassignment (gender confirmation)
  5. Explain (and understand the importance of) the Standards of Care of the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association and their relevance to psychotherapeutic work with transsexuals
  6. Describe and explain special therapeutic issues and areas of concern when working with a transgendered population

Transgender 101 Outline

  • Welcome, Introductions
  • Sexual Identity (Virginia Erhardt, Ph.D.)
  • Transgender Spectrum (Janice Heckler, M.A.)
  • Transgender History (Erin Swenson, Ph.D.)
  • Standards of Care (Dallas Denny, M.A.)
  • Therapeutic Issues (Jack Boyan, M.Ed.)

Boundaries of Therapeutic Contract

Exclusionary Criteria

Honesty vs. Learned Script

Purging Cycle




  • 11:00 – 11:15 (Break)
  • Medical Issues (Evan Eyler, M.D.
  • 12:30 – 2:00 (Lunch)

Transgender in the Family Crucible

2:00 – 5:30 pm

Family & Significant Others Through the Life Span

Staff: Boylan, Cole, Denny, Erhardt, Heckler, Herbert, Swenson

At the conclusion of this program, participants should be able to:

  1. Identify systemic family issues growing out of intersex birth
  2. Discuss the emergence and meaning of transgender behavior in pre-school age children
  3. Discuss family treatment issues relevant to early childhood transgender behavior
  4. Explain the major issues prevalent in school age children who deviate from gender norms
  5. Describe the major issues encountered in transgender expression in adolescence, including suicide risk, peer treatment, and sexual expression.
  6. Understand the major developmental tasks inherent in the transition to adulthood for transgender individuals
  7. Identify the development of transgender identity in adulthood, including marriage, couples, and sexual issues
  8. Understand the major issues in aging for transgender individuals

Transgender in the Family Crucible Outline

  • Preface (Dallas Denny, M.A.)
  • Why are SO Issues Important? (Erin Swenson, Ph.D.)
  • Children (Sally Herbert, M.D.)
  • Adolescents & Young Adults (Janice Heckler, M.A. & Erin Swenson, Ph.D.
  • Break
  • Therapeutic Advocacy for Wives and Partners (Sandra Cole, Ph.D.)

Relationships require careful attention, nurturing and investment, In a transgender relationship the pivotal point for the partner which dramatically influences her/his ability to experience and accommodate the gender uniqueness of her/his partner lies clearly in the manner of the discovery. When she/he learns, how she/he learns, and from whom she/he learns are of fundamental importance and can be initially experienced as emotional trauma. This discovery is compounded by her/his own sexual history—thus, the journey begins.

Critical indicators influencing successful outcome and viability of relationships, as well as indicative qualities of happiness, trust, respect, and longevity for the couple will be addressed. Helpful guidelines will be recommended for working with both the couple and the non-TG partner. As professionals, we have the trusted privilege to assist toward these goals and to continue to learn from those we serve.

  • A Word About Seniors, Resources (Dallas Denny, M.A.)


Saturday, October 3, 1998

9:00 am – 12:30 pm

Clinical Issues in Transgender Treatment

University of Michigan Medical Center

Comprehensive Gender Identity Services Program

9:00 – 9:50 am

Violence Within and Against the Transgender Community

Evan Eyler, M.D. & Tarryn M. Witten, Ph.D.

This session will present information from our survey research regarding violence, abuse, and exploitation experienced by transsexuals, transgendered, and crossdressing persons. This will be discussed in the context of hate crimes (e.g. gay bashing) and the need for protective legislation and information gathering by the gender community. Issues of personal safety will also be discussed.

10:00 – 10:50 am

Issues in Clinical Management of Transgender Clients

Sandra L. Samons, D.C.S.W.

In working with transgendered clients, certain themes and situations that are problematic to the client seem to recur persistently. These include the tendency to rush headlong out of the closet once the decision to come out has been made, impatience to begin hormonal treatment, and how to talk with family members about being transgendered (especially if some of them are children). For the therapist, being in the position of gatekeeper is often uncomfortable and may seem to complicate the therapeutic relationship. This presentation will identify some of the most common issues and approaches to addressing them.

11:00 – 11:50 am

Gendered Communication: Implications for the Transgender Community

Joan M. Boonin, M.S.

In this presentation, issues of socialization and male-female communication development will be explored. Implications for the transgendered population will be discussed, with an investigation of particular patterns and behaviors which the transitioning transsexual might consider self-examining as he or she works to acquire characteristics of his/her target gender. An underlying assumption will be that the construction of gender is not strictly biological, but rather in large part social and cultural. With this, certain aspects of gender presentation are more modifiable than some might immediately realize.

It is the hope of the presenter that attendees will come away from this talk with an increased awareness of the specific communication behaviors that affect gender presentation in our world. Further, it is hoped that such increased awareness will shed light on some of the less obvious or less-discussed measures that transitioning transsexuals might take as they work to reconstruct their gender roles and identities in society.

12:00- 12:30 pm

Feedback and Wrap-Up Evaluation

All Workshop Participants

12:30- 2:00 pm (Lunch)

2:00- 5:30 pm

Case Conference

An Opportunity to discuss one of your transgender cases with workshop staff (clinical practitioners only, please). TO assist in planning, please indicate your desire to present a case by checking the appropriate box on the registration form or letting one of the workshop staff know of your desire to present.