The coming out process can be a difficult experience for someone in the LGBTQ community. Many people fear rejection from family and friends once they share who they are. Counseling can be a helpful tool in navigating the coming out process. According to the Cass Identity Model, there are six stages to the coming out process.
During this time, a person is confused about what they are feeling and what their feelings mean. People in this stage often feel “different” but can’t pinpoint why. An example of someone in this stage would be a teen who realizes that she is attracted to another female friend in a way that feels like more than just a friendship. However, she does not know what exactly that means about her. Counseling can be a helpful tool during this stage as it can help validate that it is okay to feel different and not necessarily know what that means. Counseling can also help clients in this stage sort through the confusion they are experiencing.
In this stage, people are beginning to learn more about their identity by comparing themselves to others. They may begin to consider whether they are in the LGBTQ community and what this would mean for them. Counselors can provide clients in this stage with resources within the LGBTQ community so that the client can further explore what this identity means to them.
People in the identity tolerance stage are beginning to accept that they are most likely a member of the LGBTQ community. They will seek out other people within the LGBTQ community to begin to form a social circle comprised of peers they can relate to. A person in this stage may benefit from using counseling to examine internalized homophobia and transphobia from living in a primarily heterosexual, cisgender world. Counselors who are aware of the LGBTQ resources in their area can point their clients in the direction of community connections as well.
During this stage, people in the LGBTQ community are accepting themselves for who they are and are integrating this aspect of their identity into their self-view. Clients may be attempting to “fit in” to the LGBTQ community while distancing themselves from the heterosexual, cisgender community. They may be expressing their sexual orientation and gender identity in more outward displays. Clients may find that the life they expected to have is very different than the way their life is turning out, and counseling can be helpful in navigating this.
In identity pride, people may be more open about disclosing their sexual orientation and gender identity. As a result, they have a greater potential to have some negative experiences associated with disclosing their sexual orientation and gender identity to unaccepting people. People in this stage may be experiencing an “us vs. them” viewpoint that can lead to anger towards heterosexual and/or cisgender people. Counselors can help clients in this stage process this anger, as well as any other emotions that come up in this stage.
In this stage, people are integrating their sexual orientation and gender identity into the other aspects of themselves. Their sexual orientation and gender identity do not define who they are, and are merely a part of who they are. Counselors can help clients in this stage identify other parts of their identity that may have been neglected during their coming out process.
If you found that you could relate to the information in this article, consider working with a therapist who can help you navigate the variety of emotions that may arise throughout the coming-out process. The Light Program has LGBTQ-affirming therapists who are knowledgeable of the issues that face clients in this community. To make an appointment with a therapist at The Light Program, contact our intake department today.