Counselor education professor featured on LGBT+ podcast

Contact: Chris Hybels

Dr. Gary Bischof at the International Association of Marriage and Family Counseling conference in St. Petersburg, Florida.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University's Dr. Gary Bischof, professor in the Department of Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology, was featured on the OurPath "Our Voices" podcast. He discussed the complexities of gender transition within relationships, ways couples can maintain a strong bond and the role of supportive couples therapy. He was interviewed by host and producer, Kristin Kalbli. 

The OurVoices podcast offers support for straight partners and partners of trans individuals navigating the changes that occur when a partner comes out as LGBT+. The podcast features stories from this community as well as expert insights to aid in understanding and healing. Bischof appeared on the episode, Counseling Couples Through Gender Transition

"One of the challenges is that often the trans partner has been wanting to or feeling the need to identify as a gender other than they have been. And they're excited once they kind of make a decision or they begin the transitioning process," Bischof said. "It's a lot of exuberance. Then, the other partner has to catch up to that." 

He added, "In some cases, the trans partner experience is kind of a second adolescence where there's more experimentation. It's another part of their identity kind of unfolding. And that can be challenging for the cisgender partner to understand, to deal and to cope with. And at the same time, they want to be supportive of their partner kind of finally matching their identity to who they are." 

According to Bischof, the first thing couples need to do is have a lot of openness and honest communication during the process. Often the trans partner can begin to make unilateral decisions in the relationship that the cisgender partner is not on board with. If both people are not having a equal voice in the communication, it could erode the trust in the relationship.

"One of the things that happens sometimes is the straight spouse may get labeled as being transphobic because they're having difficulty with this transition. And I think that's a mistake for health care providers," explained Bischof.

You can listen to the full episode on OurPath's website.


In Bischof's new course, Transgender Couple Issues and Strengths, students look at the significant gap in training when it comes to transgender and transgender couple issues and the new standards of care that were released by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health in 2022. While most graduate programs cover lesbian, gay and bisexual topics adequately, transgender experiences often receive less focus.

Bischof describes couples therapy as particularly demanding due to the potential for partners to easily trigger each other's emotions. He also says it is crucial for therapists to be engaged, even-keeled and maintain a balanced perspective. His preferred method of conducting couples therapy is using a family systems approach.

"You're looking at the contributions of both partners in the various interactions they have; you're looking for key patterns. That's a key thing among good approaches to couples therapy in general, needing to attend to softer and more vulnerable emotions," said Bischof. "Particularly for this population (of transitioning partners), it's nice that therapists have had some training and that's what I've been about in creating this one credit graduate course."

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