Navigating the Coming Out Process

October 10, 2022 - Shelly DeJong

Every October 11, National Coming Out Day is recognized. But for many, it is still a challenging day of figuring out what path is best for them. A team of psychologists and counselors collaborated to figure out the best ways for mental health service providers to support clients who are in the early stages of navigating the coming out process. 

“My colleagues and I recognize that coming out is a really important part of living as an LGBTQ+ person. And that while a lot of the guidance that was out there for mental health professionals emphasized the importance of helping people come out and adequately supporting them, there's actually no guidance for how to do that,” said Ignacio Acevedo, associate professor of psychology and Chicano Latino Studies at Michigan State University and co-author. “So, we sort of sought to fill in that gap.” 

Their study, published in the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health in 2018, surveyed experts in LGBTQ+ mental health to find a consensus on how mental health professionals can best support LGBTQ+ clients through the coming out process.  

“Essentially what we found is that there is no one size fits all for supporting the coming out process, that everyone has a different lens and a different way to support that,” said Oak Reed, co-author of the study and licensed clinical psychologist. “But the core commonality across all was being incredibly affirmative and supportive of each individual’s unique navigation of their identity development.”  

The lead author of the article, David Solomon, assistant professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, first realized the gap in literature as a graduate student completing a practicum in counseling. One of his first clients was a young gay man who was struggling with making decisions related to coming out. After finding contradictory advice across sources, he decided to design the study to help find consensus amongst experts as a first step. 

“I learned that there are no right answers when it comes to coming out, but instead the most important thing is to help guide clients in making their own coming out decisions,” said Dr. Solomon. “I also learned that, as a gay man myself, it is important for me to ensure that my own biases are not inadvertently pushing the client in their decision-making. Each person must make their own decisions about coming out based on their own values and sense of emotional, physical, and economic safety.”  

The team recently came together to create a video to help reiterate their findings with health professionals and to provide advice to people who may be looking for support as they come out.  

Dr. Acevedo recognizes that gender identity is core to who a person is and that living closeted can be incredibly detrimental for some people. He hopes that each person can find the support they need to help them make the right decision for them.  

Tiffany O’Shaughnessy, co-author and associate professor at San Francisco State University, also calls on counselors to learn as much as they can about identity, development processes, and creating plans and practicing through roleplay to help prepare their patients.  

“Let each interaction with our clients be unique and different to meet our clients where they are, to follow their lead, and to support them in whatever choices they ultimately make around the coming out process,” added O’Shaughnessy. “There's not one right way, or time, or process for doing it.”