New moves for poly awareness in mainstream counseling and psychotherapy
Today, unlike just a few years ago, you have a pretty good chance of being able to find a poly-aware therapist or counselor. (If, of course, you have good insurance or can afford to pay out of pocket.)
You still have to vet potential therapists in advance about their knowledge of polyamory or other forms of consensual non-monogamy (CNM, the term now used in psychology land). Otherwise you still may get one who doesn't grasp what you're talking about — and who, at best, you have to educate on your own expensive time, or who at worst seizes on your poly-ness as "obviously" the cause of all your problems.
This is partly because a lot of academic research on CNM has been published in the last several years, while many less formal articles have appeared in the literature for psych professionals, and the topic is showing up at conferences. And there's always NCSF's booklet What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory, which you can point your therapist to so they can educate themselves on their own time (though it's getting a bit dated).
Last January the American Psychological Association (APA), in its Division 44 (sexual orientation and gender), set up a Consensual Non-Monogamy Task Force to better serve our community's needs. It's co-chaired by Amy Moors (Chapman University and Kinsey Institute) and Heath Schechinger (UC Berkeley). They're gung-ho for educating their peers on how to understand and serve CNM clients.
Recently, as Schechinger posted on the PolyResearchers Yahoo Group, "Drs. John Sakaluk, Amy Moors and I had an article accepted for publication at the Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology. It's the largest study to date (that we're aware of) addressing the therapy experiences of people engaged in consensual non-monogamy." Here's a preprint.
Schechinger is getting quoted in the media, and we couldn't ask for a better explainer. He also wrote an article for Medium about the paper's findings and what to do next. Excerpts:
What Therapists Need to Know About Consensual Non-Monogamy
By Heath Schechinger, Ph.D.
We believe our results clearly highlight how we need to start taking the mental health needs of the CNM community seriously. For context, around 4–5% of people in the United States report that they are in CNM relationships, comparable to how many people identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. More than one in five adults have also tried CNM at some point, which is not far off from how many people own a cat. ...
It is still rare, however, for mental and medical health professionals to receive training on how to effectively support people who are engaging in or exploring consensual non-monogamy. ... As co-chair of the American Psychological Association’s Division 44 Consensual Non-monogamy Task Force, I’m calling for my colleagues to thoughtfully examine our assumptions around monogamy, pursue and promote education about relationship diversity, and approach this issue with the same level of respect and care that we do with other marginalized communities.
In our study, Drs. John Sakaluk, Amy Moors, and I asked 249 people engaged in CNM about their experiences in therapy, making it the largest study to date on this topic. ... We asked participants in structured and open formats what their therapist did (or did not do) that they found to be helpful and unhelpful, allowing us to generate broad and specific practice recommendations and calls to action.
... One-fifth of our participants ... reported that their therapist lacked the basic knowledge of consensual non-monogamy issues necessary to be an effective therapist, and/or had to be constantly educated about CNM issues. ... One-third of therapists in our study were described by CNM clients as quite knowledgeable of CNM communities and resources. ... It is important to note that our results may be inflated positively as nearly half of our participants reported intentionally seeking a therapist who was affirming toward CNM. ... Clients who screened for a CNM-affirming therapist reported better treatment outcomes. They experienced more “exemplary” and fewer “inappropriate” therapy practices by their therapists, and they rated their therapists as being more helpful than those who did not search for a CNM-affirming therapist.
...Educating therapists needs to be addressed at the highest levels of the mental health profession. It is time to include CNM in therapist training and continuing education programs, and I am calling on my colleagues to join me in advocating for this change.
Removing Barriers to Treatment
...I am also requesting my colleagues advocate for CNM to be included as a search term on therapist locator websites (such as Psychology Today and APA Psychologist Locator) to help remove barriers to the CNM community accessing culturally competent care.
This is a step that I am pleased to announce that APA Psychologist Locator has agreed to take. ... with the changes (hopefully) set to go live in November/December 2018. We hope Psychology Today and other therapist locators will follow suit.
Blaming Problems on Relationship Style
Over half of participants indicated their therapists held judgmental or pathologizing beliefs towards consensual non-monogamy. The most common way this judgment appeared to manifest was in attributing clients’ problems to CNM.
For example, when a monogamous couple is having problems we typically don’t assume it’s because they’re monogamous. We also don’t assume a monogamous client is depressed or anxious because they are “attempting monogamy.” ...Multiple peer-reviewed studies have compared data on monogamous and CNM relationships with regard to participants’ relationship quality and personal well-being (e.g., depression, happiness) or relationship well-being (e.g., satisfaction, commitment, longevity). There is also substantial overlap in the perceived benefits of monogamy and consensual non-monogamy.. ... Compared to monogamous relationships, CNM relationships appear to exhibit approximately equal levels of commitment, longevity, satisfaction, passion, and love. The research also indicates that CNM relationships enjoy advantages of greater levels of trust and lower jealousy.
...In other words, therapists’ comments about CNM relationships not lasting or causing problems for clients have more to do with therapists’ pre-existing biases than they do with CNM. These biased attitudes are informed by our mononormative culture, not empirical data.
Another way stigma shows up in therapy is assuming clients are monogamous. This was one of the most common mistakes made by therapists, with over one-third of our sample indicating that this happened to them. The hopeful news is that this practice is easily preventable — we just have to ask. ... Therapists should ask about relationship style, (preferably) on intake demographic forms. This step has been embraced by an increasing number of mental and medical health centers, including all ten University of California counseling centers.
Dr. Amy Moors and I are serving as co-chairs of the APA Division 44 Consensual Non-monogamy Task Force and are currently overseeing initiatives on a number of topics such as including CNM as a protected legal status, educating therapists, making it easier to find CNM-affirming therapists, and promoting awareness of issues facing individuals engaged in CNM with multiple marginalized identities.
We believe this task force is a significant sign of how far the non-monogamy movement has come and suggests there is hope that the world will become safer for people in CNM relationships.
...One of our initiatives is to advocate for the eventual creation of practice guidelines, similar to those that were created by the American Psychological Association for working with lesbian, gay, and bisexual therapy clients as well as transgender and gender nonconforming therapy clients.
In addition to signing our petition and/or joining our mailing list, we would like to invite you to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, where we will be posting updates. I will also be making updates on my Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin accounts.
...Just as monogamy is not right for everyone, neither is consensual non-monogamy. It’s not about what’s right for all, but what’s right sized for the individual.
Heath Schechinger, Ph.D., is a licensed counseling psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley.... His private practice specializes in providing support to the CNM, kink, queer, and gender non-conforming communities.
Read the whole article (Sept. 26, 2018).
● Also, the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS or "Quad-S") recently interviewed Schechinger and Moors in its newsletter (Summer 2018 issue). PDF download.
UPDATE: Heath writes, "People may be interested in knowing that we are organizing over 50 poly researchers and activists from across the United States to accomplish our twelve initiatives.
"I'd also welcome giving folks an opportunity to sign up for our mailing list (which is the best way to stay updated on our progress) and sign our petition to support relationship diversity in mental health, medical health, and the legal profession."