Gender-Affirming Practices in Residential Treatment Centers

Recently, our Medical Director, Dr. Michael Connolly and Executive Clinical Director, Jennifer Wilde led a breakout session on gender-affirmative practices in residential care for adolescents at the Gender Education Demystification Symposium (GEMS). Elevations RTC is one of the leading treatment centers for struggling teens of all genders, as we are dedicated to exploring and applying the newest research and evidence-based techniques to create a more supportive environment for transgender and gender non-conforming teens. 

How Can Residential Treatment Centers Accommodate Different Gender Identities? 

Gender variant youth are present in all residential settings regardless of the program’s unique gender designation. From enrollment paperwork to dorm and programming assignments to medical and therapeutic needs, it is imperative that the residential setting pay special attention to creating an affirming environment for these youth. The residential environment can be full of many “hidden” and unsuspected pitfalls that can potentially make these students feel invalidated. 


  • Identify potential barriers to creating an affirming environment.
  • Remain open to feedback and be willing to consider changes in programming to accommodate a wider range of students.
  • Commit to ongoing training on gender and sexuality and how to support teens with diverse identities.
  • Collaborate with staff and students to provide practical strategies to overcome barriers students might face.



How Can We Facilitate Parent Education and Support?

For parents of teens who are questioning their gender identity or who have come out as transgender, we encourage parents to gather as much information as they can to make sure they give their child to be the opportunity to be their best self. 

Recently, basketball player Dwayne Wade opened up about how one of his kids came out as transgender and how that transformed him as a parent. 

“My job as a parent is to be my child’s biggest ally,” explains Wade. “So when a child comes home with a question, when a child comes home with an issue, when a child comes home with anything, it’s our job as parents to listen to that, to give them the best information we can, the best feedback we can. And that doesn’t change because gender or sexuality is now involved in it.” 

We also facilitate spaces where parents can ask our professionals questions and mediate conversations between them and their child as they try to understand how to support them better.

About every eight weeks, Elevations students and their parents work with other families and professional staff to further explore and better understand family dynamics during parent seminars. Through various experiential and therapeutic interventions, families often walk away from the two-day seminars with a greater understanding and ability to overcome the challenges they face. Families also recognize they are not alone in these challenges.

How Can We Create Safe Spaces to Discuss LGBTQ+ Issues in Group Therapy?

One of our goals is to encourage transgender and non-binary students to lead conversations that we have on campus about gender identity rather than third-person perspectives. Every week, we offer processing groups for LGBTQ+ students to discuss challenges that they’ve faced related to their gender and/or sexuality and “social expectations.” These groups may offer support on safe dating practices, coming out to acquaintances, advocating for one’s needs, building confidence, and finding outside resources for once they transition home. 

As a residential treatment center that works with teens of all genders, we also encourage discussions about gender and sexuality as fluid concepts, gender stereotypes, and how to be a better ally within the community. Over the past few years, we have brought in guest speakers to facilitate campus-wide seminars dedicated to gender identity issues

We understand that gender and sexuality sometimes add an extra layer to processing mental health struggles and relationship problems and that in order to properly address the mental health struggles that teens experience, we must consider how they might intersect with their identity. We are also committed to a framework that defines identity loosely–whether that includes sociopolitical constructs, hairstyles, clothing, or teen’s interests.  

Elevations RTC Can Help 

Elevations RTC is a program for adolescents of all genders ages 13-18 that are struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, impulsivity, and trauma. We offer a multidisciplinary approach and provide college-preparatory academics, therapeutic recreation activities, and individual, family and group psychotherapy. Our goal is to teach students positive coping skills, communication skills, and self-care practices to help them manage symptoms of depression when stressors arise. Elevations gives students the tools they need to lead healthy, happy lives.

For more information about how we help transgender teens at Elevations RTC, please call .