Poly psychotherapy article
in a major newspaper
Poly activists, researchers, and therapists have long tried to get a foothold at mainstream academic and professional conferences. They achieved a milestone last Wednesday (May 9) with a well-attended panel at the convention of the American Psychiatric Association in Philadelphia. Ken Haslam, who was there, posted to the Polyamory Leadership Network about
...what was probably the first-ever formal discussion of polyamory at a psychiatry convention. William Slaughter (a psychiatrist from Harvard), Richard Sprott (a psychologist), and Eli Sheff (an academic sociologist) presented a wide variety of polyamory topics to a standing-room-only audience of psychiatrists. It would appear that polyamory has, to a very small extent, finally made it onto the screen of mainstream medicine.
That's Bill Slaughter at right. Here's the session listing in the program:
Polyamory (responsible non-monogamy), an emerging relationship orientation/presenting issue: Research and clinical information to improve care. William David Slaughter MD, Elisabeth Sheff, Ph.D. and Richard Sprott, Ph.D.
Here are Sprott's PowerPoint slides from his part of the presentation: "A Review of the Research on Polyamory."
One of the people attending the session was a medical reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the major local newspaper. She didn't hold out much hope at the time that she would get an article published. But in this morning's paper, here it is:
Experts in Philly describe mysteries of polyamory: When one lover isn’t enough
By Stacey Burling
You think a romantic relationship between two people is hard? Try polyamory.
A panel of experts at the American Psychiatric Association meeting in Philadelphia last week said that open relationships between more than two people can work, but it requires a lot of talk about rules, boundaries, and time spent with various lovers.
William Slaughter, a psychiatrist in Cambridge, Mass., who has been treating polyamorous patients for about five years, said they need to have very good communication skills and be especially good at “mentalizing” or understanding others’ emotional reactions. He and Richard Sprott, a psychologist at California State University East Bay, and Elisabeth Sheff, a sociologist who recently left Georgia State University, talked about what to expect from polyamorous patients. Such patients often complain that they have to spend too much time educating their therapists, Slaughter said.
...The most common presentation, the panel said, is a couple that considers their relationship primary, while each may also have secondary relationships with other people. Sometimes all the relationships are considered equally important or all secondary.
Sheff said she knows of one group of seven, but that’s unusual. “When they get larger than quads, they’re a moresome,” she said.
...Sheff and Sprott believe polyamory is increasing. Sprott said younger generations are less insistent on monogamy than their parents. He cited research that found that 29 percent of lesbian couples, 29 percent of cohabiting straight couples, and 47 percent of gay couples are not monogamous.
...The panel said there is ongoing debate about whether polyamory is a choice or a sexual orientation. Some people float between monogamous and polyamorous relationships.
She and Sprott said the poly community tends to be white and well educated. About half say they are bisexual and 30 to 40 percent are into BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism), Sprott said. He said both the men and women tend to have unusually high testosterone levels and be extroverted and high in what psychologists call sensation-seeking.
Sheff has studied children in polyamorous families. In her small sample, the “kids tend to be in great shape.” These families often aren’t obvious to the mono world. They look like a couple whose good friends come over a lot or people who are good friends with their exes. Most are discreet about sex, so the kids aren’t confronted by it and neither are their friends.
Sheff said the children say they like having extra adults in their lives. There’s always someone to drive them somewhere or help with homework. “A number of them expressed pity for children who only have two parents,” she said.
The important point for therapists, she said, is that polyamorous families are “not definitionally pathological.” While they don’t follow conventional morals, they do establish clear ethical codes that emphasize honesty and treating others well.
...Slaughter said people in the poly community come to him for the same reasons as other patients. Some extra issues include secret affairs, coercion, grudging consent, the opening and closing of marriages, and fears about child custody. A particularly emotional time is when a couple decides to enter the poly community together, he said. They have to work out new boundaries. They ask: “How much time do you spend with me? How do I know you love me?”
Asked about sexually transmitted diseases, the panel said this issue is probably discussed in more detail in the polyamory community than among other groups. People may agree on complex sexual rules, including “fluid bonds” that spell out whom they’ll have sex with without condoms.
Read the whole article (May 14, 2012). In the print edition it was on the front page of the C section.
Regarding this bit "patients often complain that they have to spend too much time educating their therapists" print out and give your therapist in advance this excellent, professional booklet: What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory. It's produced under the auspices of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF). The paper copies of the first printing have all been distributed; a second edition is currently being edited and printed, funded by yours truly.