Interview with Acey Mercer

Interview with Acey Mercer, LMSW, Practice Manager at Choices Counseling & Consulting in Albany, NY. Acey is one of the Keynote Speakers for the Couple & Family Institute of New England's (CFINE) symposium Sexual Identity, Gender Identity: Staying Current in a Rapidly Changing Landscape taking place Saturday, October 26, 2019 at the Smith College Conference Center in Northampton, MA. These are the highlights from the interview. Watch the full interview here.

Jeremiah Gibson: How did you become interested in becoming a therapist?

Acey Mercer: I used to work with children with emotional and behavioral issues, and I worked alongside many social workers. And given my skill-set I had many people asking me, "Have you thought about social work? What do you think about it?" At the time, I was actually considering getting my PhD in Clinical Psychology, and based on the conversations with people and hearing a little bit more about social work and what it entails, I opted to go into social work, and primarily because it's so versatile. I really appreciate, obviously, being able to do clinical work, but also the opportunity to do teaching, education, professional development...on a macro level, is really important to me.

Jeremiah: I'm curious, when you're doing professional presentations, and also when you're doing this presentation for a group of therapists, what are ways that you find it imperative for therapists—particularly cis-therapists—to stay current regarding gender identity, gender education, and sexuality.

Acey: First, I would say attending conferences and trainings, first and foremost; continual education is really important. I would also say collaborating with other professionals, especially trans-identified professionals. I think we have so much to learn from our colleagues, especially around what's working with their clients. I would also say read journals, being involved with email listservs...there's cutting-edge information that's out there and having access to that is really important. Also, being involved with professional organizations. For example, I'm involved with WPATH—which is the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. WPATH has created what are called "The Standards of Care 7." They're in the process of working on version 8 currently. Basically, those standards of care provide medical and mental health professionals information on how to best serve adolescents and adults when it comes to gender transition and gender identity.

Jeremiah: What information do you find is most helpful within the WPATH 7 particularly, again, for cis-therapists who are working with folks who are in the process of transitioning?

Acey: I think, not only for cis-therapists but also trans-therapists, just having guidelines to refer to and having a point of access, because people can get really nervous around this topic for some reason, feeling like they don't have enough information. But when it comes down to it, I think one of the most important things we need to do is listen to our clients; there are so many different identities, and so many ways that people experience their lives and their gender that it's really important that we're listening and allowing them to have their own narrative.

Jeremiah: I'm curious how your own experience of transitioning impacts the way you do therapy.

Acey: It's definitely given me an edge. I think there's a barrier that comes down for folks when they know that the therapist they're working with is trans-identified. Obviously, we have different experiences and have different backgrounds. But there is something that allows us to collaborate a little differently than with a cis-gender therapist. It's something that for me, within my work, has really helped me to, on some level, really find peace and purpose within my own transition. It's really a privilege working with people and being a part of their gender transition and their journey through their gender identity.

Jeremiah: Tell me more: what's the edge that your transition narrative has given you?

Acey: So just being trans-identified and having to navigate—having had to navigate and still having to navigate—different medical systems and mental health systems, I know the barriers firsthand; I know what it's like to be treated differently or seen differently, and what that experience is like and how that can really be traumatic for people.

Jeremiah: I'm curious what are some factors to consider for someone who might transition as a youth or teenager, and how those might differ from those who might transition as adults.

Acey: I have some general thoughts that I think might apply to working with both youth and adults. First and foremost, for cis-therapists, being aware of your privilege is a huge aspect. And allowing that to be part of the conversation you're having, because it's present in the room regardless of whether you talk about it or not. So I always err on the side of encouraging folks to lean in and to talk about it, just because I think that allows you to align with your clients better. I also encourage people to be mindful of, and challenge, their own assumptions around gender and sexuality. I think we have lots of expectations and notions about what it means to be a man and a woman that can really influence our practice. Being mindful of these things—I call them blindspots—being mindful of these areas where our upbringing, our childhood, has sort of developed different perspectives that we hold for people. Something simple is making sure your office is noticeable trans-affirming. Whether it's flags or books or magazines that are inclusive and well as a non-discrimination statement. I think it's really critical to see that your practice is accepting of all individuals regardless of gender identity, expression, sexual orientation, etc. Another huge part of it I would say is to really refute the idea that trans and non-binary identities are pathological; so really stepping away from this sense of pathology and really coming to appreciate gender diversity. The other is embracing the need for ongoing empathy and cultural humility. I prefer cultural humility to competence because competence more or less gives this assumption that there's an end point, where cultural humility is sort of this ongoing education and growth and learning that we can do as providers. Lastly, with trans-affirmative care, just recognizing that that itself, providing affirmative support, is what leads to positive outcomes and we have research to support that. So rather than challenging people's identities, really meeting them where they're at and affirming their identities is critical.


Share this post:

Comments on "Interview with Acey Mercer"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment