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Coming Out: How LGBTQ Counselling Can Help

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

coming out counselling

As a queer affirming therapist, I'm uniquely positioned to understand the challenges of coming out. Many of my clients seek out therapy when they are at a crossroads in their life, trying to figure out what to call their identity, how to tell the people in their lives, and how to manage the changes in their relationships that follow. Although people are coming out as queer and trans at younger and younger ages, this also means that those who come out later in life face unique challenges. One of the benefits of queer affirming counselling is connecting with someone who has "been there," before you necessarily feel ready to seek out support from the wider queer community.

Although there is now great LGBTQ representation in media and among public figures than there has been in the past, anxieties about rejection by loved ones or discrimination in other areas of life is very real. It is a journey that often involves facing fears, confronting social stigma, and navigating complicated relationships. For those who are struggling with coming out, therapy can be an invaluable source of support and guidance - particular if you are able to find a queer affirming therapist, who may have been there themselves and has a sense of what it's like to be in that position.

Benefits of Coming Out Counselling

Therapy provides a safe and non-judgmental space where people can explore feelings and thoughts about coming out. Common concerns for my therapy clients who are in the process of coming out include the possible reactions of family members, friends, and colleagues, as well as the possible consequences of coming out in different settings. A queer affirming therapist can help their client figure out when they're come out and what the costs and benefits might be. Queer affirming therapists work with each client to make a plan that feels right and fits with each individual’s own goals, values, and priorities. A queer and trans affirming therapist understands that everyone has a different pace and comfort level around coming out.

For people who have not yet come out, the sense of isolation can be overwhelming. It is common to feel a sense of distance from loved ones because of a secret you feel like you have to keep, but also not yet connected to people who share your identity. A queer affirming therapist can be a source of emotional support during this vulnerable time. Therapy can offer validation and empathy, as well as the sense that other people have been there too. For many people, the coming out process comes with fears about rejection or judgment from others, and so it is particularly crucial to have a private, non-judgmental space where you can explore your identity and the feelings that come with it.

Many people experience feelings of shame, guilt, or self-doubt when coming out. If you are someone who struggles with people-pleasing, your identity may feel like it's going to cause unwanted conflict or otherwise "make waves" in your life. Some of my clients are concerned with letting down parents who raised them, or a spouse with whom their relationship will be transformed once they come out. Therapy can help you connect with your emotional needs, desires, and boundaries, and to communicate them effectively to loved ones. For many people, coming out is not the only issue, but is instead connected to other struggles. For example, it may be more likely that someone will experience anxiety during the coming out process if they struggle with anxiety in other parts of their life. An LGBTQ affirming therapist can help you gain self-awareness about these patterns and how they are affecting your coming out process, and give you tools to cope with them.

In addition to providing emotional support, a queer-affirming therapist can help you find support and deepen your connections with others. This can include developing a support network and connection to queer or trans communities, identifying safe spaces and resources, and creating a plan for how to come out in different settings. It may also mean working on the quality of your existing relationships so that you can show up in them as your whole, authentic self. Therapists can help individuals assess the potential risks and benefits of coming out and provide guidance on how to navigate the process.

Navigating Relationships

Queer and trans affirming therapy can provide a space for individuals to explore the impact of coming out on their relationships. Coming out can have significant effects on family members, friends, and romantic partners. Therapists can help individuals navigate changes in these relationships and provide guidance on how to communicate effectively with others about their identity.

Discrimination and Intolerance

Unfortunately, discriminatory attitudes towards LGBTQ people still exist, and coming out may expose queer and trans individuals to intolerance, discrimination, or rejection. Therapy can provide support and guidance for individuals who have experienced discrimination or harassment as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many LGBTQ individuals face discrimination in various areas of their lives, such as in the workplace, at school, or in healthcare settings. In our current cultural and political moment, I talk with many people struggling with the rise of anti-trans legislation in particular. Therapy can help individuals develop coping strategies to deal with these experiences and provide support for managing the emotional impact of discrimination.

Coming Out Later in Life

Many of my clients are seeking therapy for support as they come out in their 30s, 40s, or beyond. One of the reasons why coming out later in life can be difficult is that individuals may have been living in the closet for many years, possibly even decades, and have built their lives and relationships around hiding their sexuality. They may also feel like they have missed out on opportunities to explore their identity and relationships, which can lead to feelings of regret and sadness. In these cases, therapy may be a space to explore grief from years that may feel like they were “lost” to hiding one’s true self.

In addition, individuals who come out later in life may also face unique challenges related to their age and life stage. For example, they may be in long-term relationships, have children, or have established careers, which can complicate the coming out process and make it harder to navigate the social and familial expectations that come with these roles.

However, coming out later in life can also be a liberating and empowering experience. It can provide individuals with a sense of authenticity and freedom to be their true selves, and can lead to deeper connections and relationships with others who share similar experiences.

Coming Out in Rural Places

Many clients in rural areas of BC seek out online counselling to provide support with the coming out process. Coming out as queer or trans in a small town can be a uniquely challenging experience that can bring up additional worries compared to coming out in a more urban area.

One of the main challenges is the potential for social isolation and limited support systems. Small towns often have a close-knit community where everyone knows each other, which can lead to fear of social judgement from peers, family, and community members. There may be a perceived lack of privacy, and the sense that “everyone knows everyone’s business” Additionally, there may be a lack of visible LGBTQ+ representation and resources in the area, which can make it difficult for individuals to find support and community.

Another challenge is the potential for discrimination and harassment. Homophobia and transphobia may be more prevalent in small towns, and individuals may face discrimination or harassment in their daily lives, including at school or work. This can make it difficult for individuals to feel safe and supported in their community.

Safety is a priority when coming out in a small town. This may involve finding support from friends or family members who are accepting, seeking out online or in-person LGBTQ+ support groups or organizations, and connecting with allies in the community who can provide advocacy and a sense of community. Queer or trans affirming counsellors may be less available locally, making it necessary to look online or to nearby cities for mental health support.

Wherever you are in your coming out journey, it is okay to reach out for support. We understand that it is a uniquely vulnerable and challenging time, and our LGBTQ+ affirming counsellors would love to connect and hear your story. Please don't hesitate to get in touch by email or book a free consultation in our online calendar.

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