Chelsea Randall, PsyD, is a 2021 graduate of the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program at Antioch University, Seattle.
Christopher L. Heffner, PsyD, PhD, Committee Chair
Dana Waters, PsyD, ABPP, Committee Member
Geri Weitzman, PhD, Committee Member
polyamory, consensual nonmonogamy, mononormative bias, therapist attitudes, therapeutic alliance, therapist bias
Polyamorous people can encounter unique negative experiences in psychotherapy. Western culture perpetuates the ideal of romantic and sexual exclusivity between two people through monogamy as the dominant social norm, to the extent that nonmonogamous relationships are considered abnormal or othered. Polyamorous people have reported experiencing such biases from therapists, resulting in being pathologized, inaccurately labeled as infidelitous, and spending excessive treatment time providing education on polyamory. Research on the therapist’s contribution to polyamorous clients’ negative experiences is lacking, which limits suggestions for affirmative practices and the rationale from which to implement them. The current study sought to directly survey therapists’ attitudes toward polyamorous people and examine data on factors that have been hypothesized to contribute to negative therapy experiences for polyamorous clients. A total of 153 therapists participated in an online survey in which participants read a vignette about a hypothetical couple presenting for therapy and subsequently responded with their level of agreement to statements about the vignette characters’ ideal partner and relationship traits. Participants were randomly assigned to read one of three vignettes, in which the couple’s relationship style was presented as either monogamous, polyamorous, or infidelitous. Differences in attitudes were analyzed across conditions, and contributing factors were explored by analyzing interactions between relationship style conditions and individual demographic or experiential variables on attitudes toward the vignette couple. Results indicated no significant difference in attitudes between the monogamous and polyamorous conditions. Attitudes were found to be significantly more positive for the polyamorous condition than the cheating condition for some measures. Although the current study was too underpowered by number of participants to determine specific factors that may contribute to therapist attitudes toward polyam people, response trends indicated that certain characteristics of the therapist, such as sexual orientation, religiosity, and location of current practice, may be worth further investigation in future studies.
Randall, C. V. (2021). An Assessment of Therapist Attitudes Toward Polyamorous People. https://aura.antioch.edu/etds/715