Potential New Therapist: Hello.
Potential New Client: Hello, I need a therapist to help me with my poor communication with my partners.
Therapist: Problems with communication? Did I hear you say partners?
Client: Yes, I have 3 partners, and we struggle with getting on the same page.
Therapist: *snark*…well, partnerships are challenging enough with two people without adding more.
Client’s internal dialogue: I am glad my life is entertainment for you. This is the 6th therapist today. I am so frustrated.
Confusion and disbelief is not an uncommon reaction from others when folks share they are in a nonmonogamous relationship. The concept of a consensual nonmonogamous relationship challenges conventional thinking of what a relationship looks like. In the informational pamphlet, Consensual Nonmonogamy for Mental Health Professionals, they define consensual non-monogamy as a relationship in which participants give their informed consent to simultaneous, multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships. This can include polyamory, open relationships, swinging, and relationship anarchy.
Polyamory, the freedom to engage in multiple, simultaneous romantic, committed, or/and sexual relationships where everyone is aware and consents, is in opposition to the mainstream societal belief of what is a happy and successful relationship. Relationship exclusivity, emotionally and physically, is achieved by being solely with one person — The One. This is a very viable relationship structure for many, but not all. There are other very viable alternatives to monogamy. The challenge for those who are polyamorous is finding a therapist who is aware, educated, or at minimum, open minded to alternative ways to be in committed relationships.
It’s not surprising that therapists have very little knowledge of working with clients that are polyamorous. Unfamiliarity and lack of exposure to polyamory or open relationships leads to stigma. When a community is stigmatized, that community is misrepresented, misunderstood, and mocked. The therapist’s prejudice and biases impact the ability to engage and help a client. An affirming therapist celebrates the dignity and worth of the individual’s choices for their life. Finding a therapist that has those professional values and beliefs that are affirming is essential.
If you are seeking a therapist, here are a few suggestions to decrease the frustration and disenchantment with finding help:
- Search on platforms designed for therapists who are knowledgeable and experienced with polyamorist partnerships. This way, you are more likely to find therapists who are affirming.
National Coalition for Sexual Freedom Kink Aware Professionals
There is the ability to search for providers who specialize with open or polyamorous relationships.
- Review the therapist’s website. Does therapist speak to the client they are hoping to reach (using words and phrases like: partnerships, open relationships, polyamorous, agreements, negotiation, contracts, etc.)?
Does that therapist use prescriptive language, such as “I treat all relationships the same.” or “I am a clinical expert with polyamorous or open relationship couples”?
Red Flag: Each relationship is different and should not be placed into a nice box. A therapist may believe they know everything and “know exactly what you need.” In reality, individualized therapy that meets your needs is important. A therapist should be knowledgeable and well-informed with helping these love styles without insisting they have all the answers.
- Ask about years of experience. It’s expensive (paying for the session) and time consuming (a whole session or two) teaching the therapist about polyamory or open relationships if they have limited experience. Providing the therapist with books to read and websites to offer information is not your job as the client.
- Be wary of the kitchen sink therapist. If you ask a broad concept, such as, “do you work with open relationships?” and the therapist’s response is a quick, “yeah, I do that” without exploring what open relationships means to you, that is an indicator of questionable or shallow skills.
Red Flag: For a question as broad as, “do you work with open relationships?” met with an automatic response of yes, that is not an effective screening for determination if the therapist’s skill set meets your needs. Exploring the client’s needs in an informed way is a part of the consultation process. For example, I offer clients a fifteen minute phone consultation (although those calls rarely stay at 15 minutes). This offers me time to glimpse at the client’s understanding of what the client needs and where they want to go.
- Ask the therapist:
- How long have you worked with polyamorous relationships?
- What is your approach with polyamorous relationships?
- Do you have experience working _______________(historically marginalized and oppressed groups that could be a part of partnerships)?
These are some suggestions and recommendations. This empowers you to have knowledge to make an informed decision about who helps you.