Poly and therapy: a roundup of stuff
A couple of you asked what I meant. Here's a roundup of recent items:
1. At the website GoodTherapy.org ("Helping people find therapists & advocating for ethical therapy"), here's an article that deserves to be spread around for wider attention in the profession:
Polyamory in a Monogamist World
By Damon M. Constantinides, LCSW
...Many people have found that they flourish in a relationship structure that stretches beyond traditional monogamy. This can mean many different things for different people. Some terms used to describe alternative relationship structures are polyamory, open relationship, open marriage, nonmonogamy, and polygamy. Each of these structures is different, but they all share the concept of being romantically linked with more than one person at the same time.
I teach a human sexuality class at a college in Philadelphia.... Every semester, I have a guest speaker come in and talk about polyamory. He defines polyamory for the students as “the desire, practice, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.” I enjoy the opportunity to learn from him and to see the reactions from students in my class. Some people respond with openness and curiosity; they want to know more about polyamory and what kinds of benefits and drawbacks come with it. Some students are defensive and incredulous; polyamory falls outside their value systems.
And almost all of them move quickly [to] either expressing their own shame or shaming others. How could you tell your friends and family? Wouldn’t you face a lot of discrimination? This semester, a student pointedly asked the speaker, “What do your parents think?” What strikes me about this is how quickly the students go from exploring their own wants and needs to anticipating hostility and rejection from friends and family. Instead of questioning what it might feel like to be in this kind of relationship and exploring the feelings of excitement and curiosity that come up in the room, the question being explored is how to live with a stigmatized identity. Practicing polyamory in our culture is a radical act.
This feeling of shame and navigating stigma has frequently been expressed by clients I have worked with who are in polyamorous relationships. With a polyamorous relationship come all of the challenges that accompany living with any identity that is not culturally sanctioned....
...In her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, researcher Brené Brown talks about shame, the importance of vulnerability, and combating shame — something she calls “shame resilience.”...
...I’ve worked with clients who can’t figure out why they feel so guilty until they begin to recognize the messages that they are getting that invalidate their identity....
...Polyamory is a valid alternative relationship structure, and as with other alternative identities in our culture, people who practice polyamory may find themselves affected by oppression and discrimination. Recognizing and naming this experience as caused by an external force, instead of perceiving it as an internal failure, is one tool toward healthier relationships....
Read his whole article (April 2, 2013).
2. Also at GoodTherapy.org:
● Five Myths About Polyamory and Monogamish Relationships
● Exploring Alternative Lifestyles in Your Relationship
● Being Open About Polyamory
● Issues Treated in Therapy: Polyamory
3. An online conference for therapists will take place on July 19: Understanding Polyamory and Non-Monogamy in a Context of Sexual and Relational Diversities, presented by Rachel Kieran, PsyD. It offers CE credits. This description is also from GoodTherapy.com:
Web Conference Description
Consensual intimacy (sexual and otherwise) outside of a primary relationship is becoming an increasingly common relational agreement in our postmodern world. The term “polyamory” has been used as an umbrella term; however this concept covers a vast range of relational agreements, each determined by the individuals involved...
...Misunderstandings and pathologizing assumptions about these clients abound and contribute to a culture that often creates barriers to appropriate treatment for these individuals, even regarding other clinical issues. As responsible clinicians, we must challenge ourselves to confront our own values and stereotypes around sexual and relational diversity, becoming increasingly aware of the judgments we bring into the room. This continuing education event will attempt to share some of the collected findings regarding polyamory and non-monogamy, including a review of how these terms and types of relationships are often understood by their participants.
This web conference is designed to help clinicians:
1) Identify and describe multiple styles of non-monogamy polyamory, open marriage, polyfidelity, responsible non-monogamy, triads, etc;
2) Explain polyamories as one of a client’s multiple identities, in the spectrum of sexual and relational identities;
3) Identify frequently expressed relational concerns of polyamorous clients;
4) Describe ways to avoid pathologizing behavior with non-monogamous clients in therapy....
4. What's been your experience with therapy as a poly person? A study is under way, with an online survey. Says longtime researcher Geri Weitzman, "Feel free to pass it along; they are trying to get a large study sample." From the front page:
All people age 18 and over, who identify as polyamorous, regardless of relationship status, gender, or sexual orientation, are welcome to participate. You will be asked questions about your personal and family history, experiences you may have had in therapy, views of therapy, and the qualities you see as valuable in a therapist. A reason we ask for information on personal and familial history is because without this information, damaging myths, biases, and stereotypes can arise about polyamorous people. We are interested in your input whether or not you have experience with therapy. We believe your contribution can directly benefit how therapists work with polyamorous people....
The information in the study will be kept anonymous, and you will not be asked for any identifying information....
If you have questions or suggestions please feel free to contact [students] Madeline Barger or Atala Mitchell at polyamorystudy2013 (AT) gmail.com), our advisor, Dr. Ferrinne Spector, or the Institutional Review Board at HPRB 1000 Edgewood College Drive Madison, WI 53711, email: HPRB (AT) edgewood.edu .
The study's organizers have received advice and an endorsement from the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS), says CARAS executive director Richard Sprott. Its endorsement is a sign that a research project or online poll is well enough designed and organized to be taken seriously.
5. Moving right along, gay therapist Gregory Cason appears on the Bravo network in the reality show L.A. Shrinks. He wrote recently about people's reactions to his own declared monogamish relationship:
In this society, our view of relationships is antiquated and rigid. I don't think that's a newsflash....
What... bothers me is that there's been such lurid interest in my own relationship since I mentioned on TV that my fiancé and I are "monogamish." Frankly, it strikes me as a little creepy. It's almost like having people clamor outside my bedroom window with a bowl of popcorn cradled in one arm, anticipating (and hoping) that something untoward will happen. (Of course, I recognize the irony of someone from a reality show complaining about people peering into his personal life.)
In any case, my use of the "monogamish" label for my relationship has lit a fire, and the spotlight is on me as I hold the smoldering match.
...Rigid rules usually lead to rowdy conflicts and icy stares. The rules that we thought would protect our coveted relationship can be the very thing that breaks it apart. So, for some couples, the flexibility they need most is in the communication department.... I'm so surprised that couples don't talk more in this day and age....
...L.A. Shrinks airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. ET on Bravo.
His whole article (March 4, 2013).
6. Back to the academic world. Ryan Witherspoon presented a poster paper, Polyamory as a Cultural Identity: Implications for Clinical Practice, at the National Multicultural Conference and Summit 2013, held last January 17–18 in Houston. He told the PolyResearchers group,
I was floored by the level of interest in my work and the positivity of the responses.... Clinicians told me how timely and necessary research on this topic is, and would relate stories of clients they or their clinic had, and how useful something like this poster would have been to them... and these aren't people from the Bay Area, they were from Utah, Indiana, etc.... I feel like the larger clinical/academic community is starting to catch on to this altsex/poly stuff.... I feel like we're riding the crest of a wave of interest.
Witherspoon also presented The New "Normal"? Polyamory and LGBT at the August 2012 American Psychological Association convention on Orlando.
7. Don't forget the booklet What Psychology Professionals Should Know about Polyamory, published under the auspices of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF). The stock of printed copies was destroyed in NCSF's fire earlier this year, but it will be reprinted. The link above is to a high-quality, printable PDF file.
Also, of the 32 books on polyamory published since 1985, two are written by therapists for others and their clients: Love in Abundance: A Counselor's Guide to Open Relationships by Kathy Labriola (2010), and Love Unlimited: The Joys and Challenges of Open Relationships by Leonie Linssen and Stephan Wik (2010).
Of a more academic orientation are Border Families, Border Sexualities in Schools by Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli (2010), and Understanding Non-Monogamies, edited by Meg Barker and Darren Langdridge (2010; in paperback 2013). Did I miss any?
8. Lastly: the Madison (Wisconsin) Area Polyamory Society holds regular discussion groups and posts notes from these on its Yahoo site. Here are conclusions from a discussion on poly therapy, written up by Kitchenkarma:
We discussed an article written by a poly-friendly therapist about 5 things that can help make polyamorous relationships work....
We moved beyond the reading to talk about what poly folks should look for in a therapist. Some great suggestions were:
- Don't be afraid to interview your therapist and seek other options if:
- there's bad rapport
- stiff or cold body language
- clear indication that there's discomfort
- Pay attention to a therapist's office. Scan the titles of the books on the shelf. Look for LGBT-friendly items and vice versa.
- Be blunt. Tell your therapist what you are looking for from them. Clarity helps *so* much.
We also talked about some good places to look for therapists (LGBT centers, word of mouth, online bios via in-network searches), when therapy should be sought (stigma shouldn't stand in the way, it's hard to look too soon but easy to look too late), and alternatives for those without insurance (ministers, spiritual directors, etc.). It was a great discussion with a lot of useful information and insights shared.
Want more? Here are my posts with the "therapists" tag in the last three years (including this one; scroll further down).