Episode 124

124 - A Culture of Desistance: Schools and Gender w/ Alex Capo

Published on: 28th July, 2023

Alex Capo, LMHC, is the Executive Director at The Charlton School (TCS) in Burnt Hills, NY. Alex has over 25 years of clinical experience in working with children, adolescents and families in various clinical/therapeutic settings as well as schools. He has facilitated trainings for administrators, mental health professionals, teachers and students for over 10 years. He has been with TCS in various clinical and administrative positions for the past 20 years. 

In this episode, Alex describes his experience and observations of gender identity trending in his student population at the Charlton School. Between 2016 and 2020, the all-girls school experienced a dramatic increase in students questioning their gender identity. Following the advice of experts, the school implemented an affirmation policy, leaving parents feeling pressured and triggering an obvious social contagion amongst the student population. Alex noticed that the focus on gender issues was overshadowing the real problems these students faced, and it was not benefiting them. He shares his reflections on the school getting caught up in gender-related matters, while the root issues of students' mental health were being overlooked. This led him to team up with Genspect for a different approach, of which he reflects with Sasha & Stella, ultimately resulted in a “culture of desistance” unfolding. His exploration for an alternate approach was not widely embraced by all of his professional colleagues and respected clinical peers, despite his extensive qualifications and proven commitment to supporting wholeness and wellness for his students. We hope this episode offers other professionals and leaders out there, struggling to speak up about their concerns about the negative implications of the affirmative approach, an empowered sense of confidence and comfort in setting the tone for a more flexible, less rigid approach to identity exploration.

The Charlton School is a nonprofit therapeutic learning community providing 24/7 evidence-based clinical support and an onsite New York State Education Department approved high school for young women. Charlton serves young women and families experiencing mental health challenges including depression, anxiety, low self esteem, self-injurious behavior, among others.

Founded in 1895, Charlton serves a 100% voluntary enrolled individualized approach in a non-traditional environment. Charlton provides students with smaller class sizes to support their academic progress, as well as multiple forms of therapy to aid with the improvement of their mental health. Their residential and day students are supported with collaborative treatment plans that include Equine Therapy, Social Emotional Learning, Art Therapy, Psychiatric Nursing Services, Family Therapy, and more on a scenic 275 acre campus located in southern Saratoga County. 

The entire treatment and educational teams remain committed to the integrity of their 360 degree approach to students and their families and its proven success. The school believes in honoring evidence based outcomes as means for measuring the success of its program. And while their numbers are small due to the limited nature of their capacity, their model is designed and proven to thrive on the intimate nature of their individualized, family-focused approach.


Learn more about The Charlton School



A Clinical Guide for Therapists Working with Gender-Questioning Youth


School Policy: Gender Identity (USA)


School Policy: Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity (Ireland)


Brief Guidance For Schools


Brief Guidance On Social Transition


If you liked this episode, more episodes you might find interesting:

Gender & Schools | GWL Episode Playlist


We encourage you to bookmark the playlist for future reference as more episodes are added.

Episode 7 - Collective Collusion


Episode 96 — Official Launch: Clinical Guide for Therapists Working with Gender-Questioning Youth


Episode 106 — Detransition Awareness: Beyond Identity & Political Narratives


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For more information about Sasha’s & Stella’s parent coaching membership groups:

Sasha Ayad: https://inspiredteentherapy.com/parents-start-here 

Stella O’Malley: http://www.stellaomalley.com/parent-coaching

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About the Podcast

Gender: A Wider Lens Podcast
Two therapists explore the expanding concept of "gender" from a psychological depth perspective.
Gender dysphoria has become a minefield for public discussion, with many afraid to express their views or question the narrative. Our mission is to examine this important and complex topic from a range of perspectives, but always through a psychological lens. By openly considering and examining gender identity, transition, and the transgender umbrella, we hope to give all interested parties permission to engage these fascinating topics with less fear and more honesty. Interviews and discussions will involve clinicians, medical professionals, academics, transgender people, parents, detransitioners and other interesting individuals whose lives have been touched by the concept of gender.

Conversations between two practicing therapists give listeners an opportunity to contemplate gender from a depth perspective not currently taken up in most of today’s accessible debates. As a result of their work with gender dysphoric therapy clients as well as their personal divergent experiences with gender, Stella and Sasha hold a refreshing and informed perspective.

Is gender identity a facilitation of development and expression of creativity, or can it be a defense against painful existential realities of living in a human body? What can we discover about masculinity, femininity, identity, gender performance, and sexuality when we peer beneath the surface and dive into a deeper psychological exploration? What is the relationship between body, mind, identity, culture, and psyche?

This podcast engages listeners in an intimate and fascinating behind-the-scenes inquiry about a topic as taboo as it is salient today.

Thank you to our sponsors:
Genspect - an international organization which offers an alternative to WPATH. Providing a range of education, resources and supports to anyone impacted by gender distress, Genspect unites many different organizations globally, and gives voice to 1,000s of previously untold stories. For more info, visit genspect.org.

GETA - an association of therapists who believe that individuals experiencing gender related concerns ought to be treated using a whole person approach. GETA connects like minded clinicians, provides educational resources and trainings, and helps people with gender dysphoria find support. For more info, visit genderexploratory.com.
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About your hosts

Stella O'Malley

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Stella O’Malley is a psychotherapist and author who works in private practice in Ireland. Her work focuses on parenting, family dynamics and working with teenagers.

Much of Stella’s counselling and writing focuses on mental health and the importance of well-being and she is a regular contributor to the media. She is also the resident psychotherapist for the current TV series, Raised by the Village, a family programme that helps troubled teenagers reconnect with themselves and their families.

Stella's first book, Cotton Wool Kids, was released in 2015 while Bully-Proof Kids: Practical tools to help kids grow up confident, resilient and strong was released in 2017. Stella’s latest book Fragile, was released in 2019 and focuses on overcoming anxiety and stress.

Stella was the presenter of the documentary Trans - Kids: It’s Time To Talk broadcast on Channel 4 in November 2018 and she contributed a chapter to the 2019 book, Inventing Transgender Children and Young People.

The Jungian analyst, Lisa Marchiano, and Stella launched Secrets of the Motherworld in September 2019, offering thoughtful exploration of the most intimate aspects of motherhood in a bid to help mothers feel less alone.

Stella is a Clinical Advisor for the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine and a founding member of the International Association of Therapists for Desisters and Detransitioners. She is also the lead facilitator for the Gender Dysphoria Support Network.

Stella holds a B.A. in Counselling and Psychotherapy and a M.A. in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Sasha Ayad

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Sasha Ayad is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works in private practice, and has treated adolescents for over 10 years. Her work focuses on teens and young adults struggling with issues of gender dysphoria and gender identity.

She became interested in the sharp rise in teenagers who declare a trans identity for the first time during adolescence. She discovered, through working with hundreds of families, that many teens were developing gender dysphoria only after adopting a transgender identity. She questions the practice of medical transition for children and teenagers, and her clinical work focuses on developmentally appropriate, least-invasive-first talk therapy.

Sasha is also a founding member and Clinical Advisor in the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine and a founding member of the International Association of Therapists for Desisters and Detransitioners.

Sasha’s previous work experience includes:
- School counselor for middle and high school students at a charter school for underserved communities

- Behavioral therapy with children on the autism spectrum

- Individual and group counseling for women and children impacted by domestic abuse and sexual violence

- Developed and ran the first counseling program at a large state supported living facility for adults with intellectual disability

Sasha holds a B.S. in Psychology and an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology.