The Affirm Lab, a research team at Boston College whose goal is to improve care for stigmatized youth, is currently conducting two studies to assess how mental health clinics and schools can better support transgender youth.
“The GAPS and IMPACTS studies are the two that are currently ongoing right now,” Maggi Price, director of the Affirm Lab and an assistant professor in the BC School of Social Work (SSW), said. “They’re both focused on improving enhancing adults’ abilities to be gender affirming with transgender kids.”
Both studies analyze gender affirming practices, which are behaviors meant to ensure transgender and gender diverse people feel welcomed and supported, according to Price.
“A gender affirming practice could be using [someone’s] affirmed name and pronouns,” Price said.
Price said that while the IMPACTS study aims to increase gender affirming practices among school staff, the GAPS study narrows its focus on examining gender affirming psychotherapy among mental health clinicians.
“IMPACTS is about using these practices in school environments, whereas GAPS is focused on developing these understandings in mental health services,” Price said. “I always described them as sibling studies, but they have different timelines and different funding sources.”
To determine how to best implement these practices, the Affirm Lab is using focus groups to put together an initial training program curriculum.
“We’re doing focus groups with important stakeholders in the community,” Price said. “This includes transgender high school students specifically and high school staff that have been using transgender affirming practices in their school already.”
The Affirm Lab employs BC students as research assistants and ultimately hopes to educate future mental health trainees at BC, according to Price.
“[BC has] a mental health counseling training program, the nursing program, and counseling psychology Ph.D. students in the Lynch school that can all benefit from the ultimate program,” she said. “Practitioners, school based and clinic based, of which there are many that come out of BC, will be trained with these state of the art practices.”
According to Price, the GAPS study began in the summer of 2021 and has grant funding from the American Psychological Foundation through the summer of 2022 and from the National Institute of Mental Health until the summer of 2025.
The IMPACTS study began in the summer of 2021 and has funding from the BC Center for Social Innovation and the Schiller Institute through the spring of 2022. Price and her colleagues are currently submitting research grants to support its future completion.
Price said that though BC has been supportive of the lab’s studies, critics on Twitter have left copious negative comments on both the Affirm Lab’s and Price’s personal account.
“It was intense and kind of shocking,” Price said. “Although I do this work and I’m very familiar with the kind of vitriol, I’m a cisgender person and I have a ton of privilege in that I’ve never experienced transphobia directly against me, and so I think it was painful and eye opening. I have some really great support from BC, but it’s definitely still painful, but certainly motivating.”
The end goal of both the IMPACTS and GAPS studies is to create online programs that can be disseminated widely to schools and clinics.
“They will ultimately be turned into separate training programs—one for the clinicians [and] one for the school staff that is housed online,” Price said. “The idea is that once we have something that’s really rigorous and very put together, it can be used in many different sectors.”
Featured Image by Caitlin Cunningham