3 Ways to Combat Therapeutic Bias Against Polyamory
Insights for counselors, therapists, and the general public on polyamorous folks
Posted March 7, 2016
In the first blog in this series I explained therapeutic bias and how it impacts people in consensually non-monogamous relationships. This second blog explains three ways that therapists (and laypeople) can combat bias against polyamorists, swingers, and other people in consensual unconventional relationships.
1. Get Educated
Check out the many free resources on the web. Your first stop should definitely be the extremely accessible and informative “What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory” written by a team at the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom directed by Geri Weitzman, a pioneer of therapy for poly folks.
Read some of the many books on polyamory, of which there has been an explosion in the last few years. On the more academic side there is my own work and others like Meg John Barker, Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio, Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, Jillian Deri, and Alex Iantaffi. More accessible popular press authors with insights in to polyamory include Deborah Anapol, Celeste West, Eve Rickert, Franklin Veaux, Gracie X, Louisa Leontides, and Tristan Taormino.
Learn about consensual non-monogamy by seeking continuing education. If you are in the Atlanta area on March 12, consider joining me and a panel of experts for the Alternative Relationship Education Workshop Event at the Philip Rush Center. A full day event with six CEUs, the morning sessions focus on information and research about alternative relationships, and the afternoon sessions focus on practical applications of ethical practice with clients.
For those of you in central Texas, check out the Southwest Sexual Health Alliance and their “sexceptional” lecture series that hosts experts in the field and provides CEUs.
If there is nothing in your area then ask your local organizers to do some digging around for local resources or bring someone in to provide the information you require to adequately serve clients in consensually non-monogamous relationships.
2. Face Your Own Biases
Growing up in a society that enforces what Mint and Emens call “compulsory monogamy” – a social system that treats monogamy as the only natural, legitimate, and inevitable relationship style – means that most therapists practicing in the US today have some degree of pro-monogamy bias that encourages them to think of monogamy as an unequivocal social and relational good. Personal biases against non-monogamy can be especially problematic for people with personal or familial histories of infidelity, because unresolved issues of trust and cheating from the therapists own experiences can influence the ways in which they react to clients’ experiences with non-monogamy.
One of the ways to combat bias is to make friends with people in consensually non-monogamous relationships. If you get to know swingers, polys, or monogamish folks, they will become more fully human for you. When you only know about CNM relationships as a form of sexuality, you will of course related to it only (or at least primarily) as sexuality. In truth, people with unconventional sexualities have fully three dimensional lives and personalities – just like people with a more conventional sexuality are not ruled solely by their sexuality or consider everything through the lens of sexuality. Folks in CNM or other unconventional relationships still pay their taxes, go to the dentist, and take their kids camping. Rather than a separate highly-sexualized species, alternative sexuality folks are people too, and getting to know them as such will help demystify them and weaken bias.
3. Make an Informed Referral
For some people, polyamory is something about which they know little and wished that they knew less. In cases where therapists and counselors find polyamory so distasteful or anathema to cherished religious beliefs, it is better to recuse one’s self rather than provide inadequate or possibly damaging service to a client. Indeed, it is the therapist’s ethical duty to recognize that “human sexual experiences as diverse and supports the acceptance of sexual diversity while embracing consensual sexual expression within the framework of human rights and social justice.”
The National Coalition of Sexual Freedom not only provides information and support around issues relevant to sexual minorities, they also maintain a data-base of experts able to meet needs specific to sex and gender minority populations. The Kink-Aware Professionals listings provide contact information for a range of professionals, from lawyers to therapists. Most kink-aware therapists will also know about consensual non-monogamy. Loving More, a polyamory magazine and advocacy organization, also maintains a list of Polyamory Professionals that includes therapists. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) also has a list of counseling professionals who have specialized in sexuality, some of whom are knowledgeable about polyamory. Finally, I provide relationship consultations for individuals with questions regarding how polyamory or BDSM might affect their relationships, and ongoing relationship coaching for people trying to develop or perfect negotiation and communication skills or strategies to manage challenges in CNM and kinky relationships.