Letters to Yalom — #2 — Cross-dressing and Castration Anxiety

Letters to Yalom — #2 — Cross-dressing and Castration Anxiety

Some of you may be familiar with Irvin Yalom, he pretty much wrote the book on Existential Therapy, and he’s also written many amazing non-fiction about his therapy work. His honesty about his own experiences sitting with clients, and ability to admit his shortcomings and mistakes is inspiring for me in my work. I’ve read most of his non-fiction books, and have been so inspired by what I’ve read that I’ve started writing him emails about his work. I’ve decided to publish my letters on this website.

Thanks for reading!

-Kate Stewart

Dear Dr. Yalom,

I’m a fairly new therapist, and I identify Existential therapy as my theoretical orientation.

I wrote an email to you not too long ago, but I never got a reply. This email was regarding the role of cross-dressing or ‘transvestism’ in pathology. You wrote in Existential Psychotherapy that this urge stems from castration anxiety, but I was very curious to see if your views on this had changed as gender identity has emerged as a subject of study in recent times.

The ironic thing is, I was looking for an answer from you, and I came to realize later that this isn’t neccessarily a question for you, as an author and leader in your field, to answer. It’s really a puzzle to ponder myself, as a clinician. What do I believe? What are my own experiences with people that cross-dress and transgendered people? I was also remembering what you wrote about therapy being recreated with every client, and how true that would be, especially in the case of clients that cross-dress. They might be greatly helped by a therapist who didn’t judge them and bring pre-conceived ideas about the cause of crossdressing impulses into the session with them.

So the conclusion I’ve come to is this, I don’t know why people cross-dress, or are transgendered. I realize I may never understand this on a first-hand basis, and it’s quite possible that there are many reasons people do these things, and the only reasons that matter are the reasons that my client brings to me in therapy.

As a therapist at the beginning of her career, this is just the beginning of the questions that I will have to answer for myself (aside from the input of my supervisor and colleagues). All of elders in my field that I have met that I respect have told me that the most important tool at our disposal in therapy is ourselves, the subtle quirks of our personality, our instincts, our humor.

So Dr. Yalom, don’t feel obligated to respond to this email. It would seem that I learn the most from unanswered emails! But I would like to say thank you for all of the books you have written. Your words are very soothing to graduate students and budding therapists (and most certainly other people too) in their realistic and kind tone.


Kate L Stewart, MA


P.S. Yalom actually responded! Here is his email:

very glad to hear that i, through indirect means, have stimulated such an investigative process in you – my best wishes, irvin yalom

Author: Kate Stewart

Radical Acceptance. Supportive therapy by Kate Stewart.

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