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  • Alison Clayton

Gender‑Afrming Treatment of Gender Dysphoria in Youth : Storm Environment for the Placebo effect


In the last decade, there has been a rapid increase in the numbers of young people with gender dysphoria (GD youth) presenting to health services (Kaltiala et al., 2020). There has also been a marked change in the treatment approach. The previous “common practice” of providing psychosocial care only to those under 18 or 21 years (Smith et al., 2001) has largely been replaced by the gender afrmative treatment approach (GAT), which for adolescents includes hormonal and surgical interventions (Coleman et al., 2022). However, as a recent review concluded, evidence on the appropriate management of youth with gender incongruence and dysphoria is inconclusive and has major knowledge gaps (Cass, 2022). Previous papers have discussed that the weaknesses of the studies investigating the efcacy of GAT for GD youth mean they are at high risk of bias and confounding and, thus, provide very low certainty evidence (Clayton, 2022a, b; Levine et al., 2022). To date, however, there has been little discussion of the inability of these studies to diferentiate specifc treatment efects from placebo efects. Of note, the term “placebo efect” is no longer used to just simply refer to the clinical response following inert medication; rather, it describes the benefcial efects attributable to the brainmind responses evoked by the treatment context rather than the specifc intervention (Wager & Atlas, 2015). This Letter argues that the current treatment approach for GD youth presents a perfect storm environment for the placebo efect. This raises complex clinical and research issues that require attention and debate.

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Gender‑Afrming Treatment of Gender Dysphoria in Youth
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