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Nonfiction Social Sciences Theory

Gaslighting in the context of clinical interactions with parents of transgender children

By Damien W. Riggs and Clare Bartholomaeus, 2018

Understood as a type of identity-related abuse, gaslighting is a form of manipulation where the perpetrator attempts to convince someone that their thoughts, perceptions, or beliefs are mistaken. In the clinical context, gaslighting is often seen as part of a broader constellation of abuse and violence between adults. However, it can also happen in more subtle ways, and can present in ways that are difficult to detect. This paper explores instances where gaslighting may potentially occur in clinical interactions involving parents of transgender children. Three fictionalised case studies are presented drawing on the first author’s clinical work, and demonstrate three overarching forms of gaslighting: (1) deferred action, (2) intentional forgetting, and (3) placing an emotional burden on the child. Having presented the three cases, the paper concludes by discussing how clinicians might identify and respond to gaslighting, emphasising (1) speaking with children on their own, (2) speaking on behalf of children to parents, (3) modelling advocacy to parents, (4) correcting misgendering in the clinical context, and (5) using peer supervision to discuss cases. In sum, the paper argues that whilst clinicians should not rush to “diagnose” gaslighting, clinicians should also not overlook its powerful effects upon transgender young people.

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