The concept of an open relationship or polyamorist relationship challenges conventional thinking of what a relationship looks like. Open or polyamorous partnerships having the freedom to engage in multiple romantic or sexual relationships is the antonym to societal belief of the makings of happy and successful relationship. To most people, emotional and physical intimacy is reserved for one person - The One. The knowledge base I was taught, as a relationship therapist, aligns with that mainstream concept of the epitome of relationship structures being solely one + one = 1.
As a student in graduate school 15 years ago, if memory serves me correctly, the concept of consensual non-monogamy was not outlined within any direct practice (relationship therapy) syllabi. The intent of relationship therapy was seen as to preserve the couple and if that was not the end goal, there was no need for therapy. For example, couples often abruptly discontinue therapy if there is an inkling the relationship is over.
As a therapist, I was taught my role was to provide help and support for dyadic partnerships impacted by infidelity or divorce. These stressful times are dysfunctional and unhealthy for the couple. So the obvious conclusion is that non-monogamy is dysfunctional.
It’s not surprising that mental health professionals have scant knowledge of working with clients that are consensually non-monogamous. Unfamiliarity and lack of exposure to polyamory or open relationships give the love style an esoteric and stigmatized aspect. When a group is stigmatized, that group is misrepresented and mistreated. Unfortunately, many mental health professionals attempt to utilize a monogamous point of view with all clients. The therapist may recoil from the client that has a love style that is counterintuitive to their belief and values. This impedes and disengages the client from the therapeutic process.
As a therapist, I highly recommend that clients interview any potential therapist to increase the likelihood for successful outcomes.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Search on platforms designed for therapists who are knowledgeable and experienced with polyamorist partnerships. You are more likely to find therapists who are sex positive. Here are a few websites.
National Coalition for Sexual Freedom Kink Aware Professionals
Polyamorous Couple Therapy Group
2. First Impressions Mean A lot
Review the therapist’s website. Do they speak the language of 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 clinical expert may believe they know everything and “know exactly what you need”; they are a “clinical expert” remember. In reality, tailored care to your needs is essential. This must be intentional practice. A therapist should be knowledgeable and well-informed with helping these love styles without insisting they have all the answers.
3. Ask about years of experience. It’s expensive (paying for the session) and time consuming (a whole session or two) teaching the helping professional about polyamory and 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.
4. Be wary of the kitchen sink therapist. If you ask a broad concept, such as “do you work with Kink?” and the therapist’s response is a quick “all yeah, I do that” without exploring what Kink means to you, that is an indicator of questionable or shallow skills.
Red Flag: For a question as broad as, “do you work with Kink?” and there is an automatic response of yes. That is not an effective screening for determination if the therapist’s skill set meets the client’s needs. Exploring the client’s needs in an informed way is a part of the consultation process. For example, I offer a fifteen minute phone consultation (those calls rarely stay at 15 minutes). This offers me time to glimpse at the prospective client’s needs.
5. 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.