Chicago native Dr. Demetry Apostle is using the humanistic psychology principles he learned at Saybrook University to serve the LGBTQ community—with an increasing focus on counseling transgender children and their families.
As a gay teen coming of age in 1970s Chicago, Dr. Demetry Apostle lived through an era in LGBTQ history when the very idea of “gay pride” was as novel as a city-wide parade to celebrate it—an era where after decades of oppression and injustice, the road to LGBTQ equality was just being paved.
Being openly gay at that time meant being different; it meant pushing boundaries and forcing society outside of its comfort zone. That perspective on the world led Dr. Apostle to be more than a witness to the movement—inspiring a personal quest that ultimately landed him at Saybrook University.
“My experience and ongoing connections to Saybrook have been transformative in ways I could never have imagined,” says Dr. Apostle, who credits Saybrook’s “affirming, person-centered” training for helping him actualize his potential as an advocate for LGBTQ individuals and their families.
He came to Saybrook from law school, eager to change careers and start an M.A. program in psychology. From there, Saybrook faculty connections led Dr. Apostle and his partner to a life-changing opportunity to work in Melbourne, Australia while still completing his graduate studies.
In 2008, by the time he completed his master’s degree and started a Ph.D. program, Dr. Apostle was working as a staff therapist at the Victorian AIDS Council, providing therapy to LGBTQ individuals and couples. He and his partner also became the first same-sex couple to adopt a child in the region—a tremendous legal victory he says was possible by the support he received from the community he built through Saybrook.
Today, Dr. Apostle is back in the San Francisco area with his family. In addition to a staff position at United Behavioral Health-Optum and his work providing psychotherapy in a private practice setting, Dr. Apostle serves an emerging segment of the LGBTQ population that was virtually unseen 40 years ago—children and teenagers who identify as transgender.
While some of the children Dr. Apostle assesses and counsels have the love and full support of their parents, others do not—which causes the same atmosphere of stigma and oppression gay teens experienced a generation ago.
“I recently worked with a 7-year-old who has been gender expansive from birth and comes from a divorced family,” he says. “One parent is on board and supportive. The other parent is not and the result has been a lot of distress for the child. Together, we are working through the issues raised, so that he can feel comfortable in his own skin, and comfortable in the world around him.”
Dr. Apostle, who completed his Ph.D. in 2013, was recently asked to co-author a book chapter for an American Psychology Association publication about co-occurring disorders in gender non-conforming and transgender children and adolescents. He never imagined himself helping children work through their gender identity. But his work is the natural evolution of his journey as an advocate, and is as critical to the future of LGBTQ health and well-being as the gay rights movement was in the 1970s.
“It’s amazing to be a part of this point in history,” he adds. “Saybrook’s humanistic tradition has offered me a philosophical perspective that continues to enhance and enrich my life and work. It’s been truly remarkable.”