Contributed by therapist Katie Gregor, LMHC
For many years, the phrase ‘coming out’ has been predominately used in the LGBTQ community as a euphemism of living openly and authentically as a sexual minority in society. As a member of this community, I want others to know we all have something we want to ‘come out’ about. Sexuality, faith, abusive relationships, changes in mental and physical health, loss, they all impact who we are and how we function in the world. If others knew about these parts of our story, they may be more connected and understanding. If you are grappling with the decision to ‘come out’ about something in your life to your loved ones here are some thoughts/steps to consider.
Who do I tell- Make a list of all the people in your life and decide who needs to know and who doesn’t. Having this structure may help in reducing the heaviness and overwhelming feelings connected to thinking ‘I have to tell everyone right now’. You also have the choice to not come out to individuals as well. This is your journey, invite only the people in your life that will provide support and space for you to live authentically.
How do I tell people- Face to face, letter or email, video, on the phone or through video services like Facetime and Skype, social media, each option has its pro’s and con’s. Consider your physical and emotional safety as priority one in this step. The power of face to face communication can solidify how important it is for you to share your story with another. However, this powerful connection is not worth risking your safety. Think about how you would want someone to approach you about news like this? Will their reaction (intentionally or unintentionally) stay with you for better or worse? Does sending a letter or video make sense so you can stay safe and give them time to mull over their response and questions? Is social media something you want to use to tell extended family and friends? This option is discouraged when it comes to sharing your authentic self with close family and friends.
What do I say- This is the trickiest part; how do I say what needs to be said with respect to the recipient of the message and to myself? Keep in mind this conversation is the beginning. If you don’t share everything right away or forget something, it’s ok. This is the beginning of a stronger and deeper connection. Tell them highlights of your journey, your process, what your hopes are in being your authentic self, etc. Think about boundaries you want to set in this conversation. Making statements like ‘I know there are questions but, today I want to only share my experiences with you.’ It’s never too early to set boundaries. Consider how you want to end the conversation. Let the person know you want to connect again about this in a couple days, to allow for reflection on both sides.
Now what- Consider what works best for you after experiencing an emotionally intense conversation. Do I need to go home, veg out and snuggle up with a furry pet? Do I need to exercise? Do I need to be with others who are open and accepting of my authentic self? Do I need chocolate? That’s a no brainer! This is where self-care comes into play. How do you celebrate the significant step you just took? This step is just as important as how and what you say. It takes a lot of courage to do what you just did, that deserves recognition and care.
At the end of the day, however you ‘come out’ know, there is no right or wrong way to do so. Listen to your gut and share your story the way that yields the most comfort and confidence for you. Know you are not responsible, nor can you control others reactions. You are only responsible for living and being your authentic self.
Contributed by therapist Kristen Peterson, LISW
Making the decision to begin therapy is a big step. It’s an investment in your mental health that takes time, money and some vulnerability to talk about the not so fun stuff in life. It’s important to remember that you are the consumer. It’s likely you wouldn’t make a big purchase (house or car) without doing prior research. The same effort should be made when looking for a therapist. There are many good clinicians out there; however, it’s not a one size fits all. You must do some work.
A simple first step is figuring out what kind of person you feel comfortable talking to. We are all naturally drawn to different people. Spend some time thinking about who you think would be the best fit. Would you prefer a more nurturing person? Someone who is more straightforward? Do you prefer someone older or younger? Do you prefer male or female? All these preferences are valid and should be taken into consideration.
Internet searching therapy clinics can seem rather daunting. Get referrals from family, friends and social media groups. They may be able to help guide you in the right direction based on their own experiences. Look at all potential clinic websites and read therapist bios. Find out what they specialize in and what population they work most with. When calling to set up an appointment remember to ask what the therapist’s available hours are, as well as, what insurance they accept. Often, therapists don’t follow a regular 9-5-hour work week. It’s helpful to know right away any issues there might be with scheduling or insurance coverage.
If the thought of starting therapy gives you some butterflies rest assure that it’s completely normal. You are basically meeting a stranger with the intention of sharing your life story … the good, the bad and the ugly. Where do you even begin?! Do you start with the fight you had with your partner ten minutes prior to your session, or do you take it back to middle school drama? Find comfort in knowing that a (skilled) therapist knows you will be nervous and will guide the conversation, so you don’t feel like a chicken with your head cut off. The first session is a great time to express any concerns or fears you might have. Therapy is a team effort and you are the captain of the team – don’t hesitate to say what’s on your mind.
The first couple sessions will quickly reveal if you feel a genuine connection. However, it’s important to invest enough time to get past initial fears and preconceived notions. Once that subsides and you realize something is missing it’s okay to look for services elsewhere. If you aren’t feeling a connection, you will never fully open up, which will hinder your progress. Remember that therapists can read body language, not minds. If you disagree with the path your treatment is going down or feel like you aren’t being fully heard speak up! You will not offend or hurt feelings.
The bottom line is therapy works and can be a powerful tool used to heal and improve one’s quality of life. Studies show that if a person feels genuinely connected to their therapist success and personal growth is much higher. Hopefully this provides some encouragement to take the next step in finding a therapist that will join you in healing. You deserve it!