In Coming Out, Pt.1 of my blog entry I was talking about the definition of coming out and the nature of the process. In the second part, I would like to mention the stages of coming out, as well as positive and negative consequences for counselors to consider, when they work with LGBTQIA clients.
To my knowledge, Cass Model of Gay/Lesbian Identity Development (with six stages) is a well-known model to apply with LGB clients, although I cannot suggest a straightforward application of this model to transgender, intersex, asexual, queer, and other clients, as counselors must have additional considerations. Nevertheless, I find it important to know where our clients are in terms of their development, which may or may not correspond to their actual age. This way we can best help these clients and avoid harming them. For example, what if a client is contemplating on her possible identification as a lesbian, but she feels isolated from others (Stage 2)? To immediately encourage her to accept herself and suggest that she label herself a lesbian would be hasty and potentially damaging, even if you try to convey that being gay is just as great as being a heterosexual. That client may need more time to self-explore and opportunity to label herself however she wants at that point in time. The same client at Stage 4 (Identity Acceptance) may better accept herself as a lesbian and consider introducing her identification to other safe individuals.
Having an idea at which stage our clients are can is also relevant to the coming out process. For some, coming out may not be the best decision, as they haven't figured out how to label themselves yet, if at all; for others, it may make sense, but then there is a whole array of considerations, such as whether these clients should reveal their identification and, if so, how, to whom, when, et cetera. Each client and his or her situation is unique; therefore, unique approach in regards to coming out should be implemented. What are the pros and cons for that specific client? On one hand, coming out can result in stronger self-esteem, sense of relief, and healthier and more open relationships; on the other hand, it can result in rejection, harassment, endangerment of personal safety, and various losses. Positive and negative consequences can also go hand-in-hand. Ask clients if they have specific concerns and what they are. After all, they know their lives better than you do. An adolescent with abusive family members may not want to reveal his or her gender or sexual identity, as the probability of abuse or even ban from the family is higher. An 35-year-old adult with a stronger support system and a secure job may decide to come out to his or her family, but not necessarily to co-workers.
In sum, please beware of two extremes: On one end, you may be too optimistic about your clients coming out, having faith that the consequences will be predominantly positive, while you failed to properly analyze their situation. On the other end, you may be too pessimistic, being afraid that clients will suffer too many negative consequences, so you may end up unintentionally discouraging their decision to come out.
________________________________________________________________________Evelyn Pavlova is a counselor and an Ally, whose preferred population is LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, invisible minority, asexual, and ally) individuals. Her areas of interest are eating disorders, mood disorders, mindfulness, and spirituality. Read more about her new counseling journey at www.curvyroad.weebly.com