Creating poly-aware therapists
Polyfolks sometimes complain about the lack of poly-aware therapists and relationship counselors: professionals who can assess people's problems without seizing on multi-relationships as the "obvious" cause for whatever is wrong — or, conversely, who are too naive about poly to grasp the common reasons it does go wrong.
Two new books are coming out this summer that should, among other things, help therapists get straight about what they're dealing with.
Deborah Anapol's Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners (Rowman & Littlefield, to appear in July) surveys the poly world with a sociological eye and clarifies, for instance, the difference between healthy polyamory and "sex addiction" — a genuine pathology, Anapol insists, but a trendy diagnosis that too many therapists apply prematurely.
Love Unlimited: The Joys and Challenges of Open Relationships, by Leonie Linssen and Stephan Wik (Findhorn Press, to appear in August), is based on Linssen's relationship-coaching practice specializing in non-monogamous situations. Among many other things, she analyzes how to distinguish poly from "commitment phobia" — another pathology that's often used as a convenient rush to judgment.
Polyfolks also complain that when they start with a therapist, they may have to waste session time and money educating the therapist on what poly is about. For years, one shortcut has been to send the therapist a couple of papers in advance: What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory by Geri D. Weitzman, and Working with Polyamorous Clients in the Clinical Setting by Joy Davidson.
Those papers have now been updated, combined, and expanded with more material into a booklet titled What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory. It was put together by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) with volunteer help from members of the Polyamory Leadership Network. From an NCSF press release:
[What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory] is edited by NCSF Foundation chairman James R. Fleckenstein, B.A., and Carol Morotti-Meeker, M.S., M.L.S.P. This guide answers all of a therapist's questions about the purpose and practice of polyamory: everything from the motivations and benefits of polyamory, to emotional and social concerns such as discrimination and family disapproval. Polyamorists can use this guide to explain their lifestyle to their therapist, and [it's also] for therapists who understand that personal value systems may sabotage their goal of enabling their clients to explore options and life experience in a neutral or supportive way.
"For too long, polyamorous clients have consistently expressed concerns that their therapists completely failed to understand the clients' lifestyle choices at best. At worst, therapists immediately pathologized the clients' lifestyle and ascribed all of the clients' issues solely to the decision to have non-exclusive relationships," says Fleckenstein. "This piece, written by three clinicians and thoroughly supported with three pages of references, should help put an end to this practice."
At the same time, NCSF has also issued A Guide to Choosing a Kink-Aware Therapist by Keely Kolmes Psy.D. and Weitzman. While written to "help people who engage in BDSM find a therapist who can accept them without judgment or prejudice," is has obvious parallels to the needs of polys:
"Therapy needs to be a place where you can feel safe to bring your whole self. I hope that our article is a helpful tool for kink-identified clients and the therapists who want to learn more about working competently with them," [says] co-author Keely Kolmes.
...NCSF is dedicated to ensuring that everyone can find a mental health professional who is understanding and supportive of alternative lifestyles. It believes these guides are an important addition to its Kink Aware Professionals (KAP) program and referral list, and to the DSM Revision Project. A member of KAP recently wrote: "Thank you for operating this fantastic resource. All of my current clients have found me through the KAP database, which is helping me cultivate exactly the kind of practice I'd hoped for."
...NCSF needs your support to continue important mental health projects like the KAP and DSM Revision Project that directly impact peoples' lives. Please join NCSF to show solidarity! We do so much for very little money, and we need your help. Please donate to NCSF now!
There's also the incredibly badass Alternative Sexualities Conference at the Center on Halsted in Chicago, which focuses on teaching therapists to deal with alt sex. I was on a panel about BDSM last year, but there was lots about poly too. Don't know if it happened again this year, but I hope so. Here's the program from when I was there:
An aspect I hadn't thought of-- but then, the whole idea of professional therapy in the context meant here (e.g. clinical) has always been ungrokable for me. Thanks for bringing the issue to light for those whom it may help, though!
There are also poly-friendly life coaches around, such as myself.
Life coaching is about achieving personal fulfillment, so my work includes a client's whole life, which includes relationships. I am personally poly, so poly people know that I understand and empathize with their day to day relationship life.
The conference was put on by CARAS and this year it is in Sanfransisco in September. They are a wonderful organization doing fabulous work.
Sweet! I am glad therapists are getting more educated. I hope this comes out more in our culture.
As a poly-practicing and poly-friendly marriage & family therapist in Ontario, I have to say, the links are bang on (I'm also on a Poly Researchers mailing list with Anapol and several other key figures on the scene). I can also recommend Anapol's book, I haven't gotten my hands on the other one yet. We're out here, we honestly are!
Turns out that here in the Boston area, there's a therapists' professional-development group (forget what it's called exactly) that has been discussing polyamory and things that they should know about it. I met an organizer of it over the weekend.
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