Conference on the Future of Monogamy and Nonmonogamy

 Therapy with Consensually Non-Monogamous Clients: Best Practices and the Applicability of Guidelines Designed for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients

 Heath Schechinger

University of California, Berkeley

 Therapists do not typically receive training on working with consensual non-monogamous (CNM) clients, and the few resources available lack substantive empirical backing.  Given the size (4-5% of Americans), increasing visibility, and pervasive stigma, it is necessary to examine the unique therapeutic needs of CNM clients.  The purpose of this research was to examine CNM client-reported helpful and harmful therapeutic practices and their associations with therapeutic outcomes.

 A sample of individuals in CNM relationships (n = 249) indicated if their recent therapist engaged in 13 different practices (coded as ‘inappropriate’ or ‘exemplary’) that were adapted from the American Psychological Association’s guidelines for treating lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients.  Participants were also asked to describe what their therapist(s) did regarding their CNM status that was particularly helpful and unhelpful.  Thematic analysis was used to identify major and minor themes, and frequencies of their prevalence were estimated.

 The 13 practices accounted for nearly half (49.6%) of the variance in therapist helpfulness scores, and nearly one-third (29%) of therapists lacked the basic knowledge of CNM necessary to be effective. Four practices emerged as particularly crucial predictors of perceived therapist helpfulness. Five helpful and six unhelpful practices were also identified from participants’ qualitative responses.

  The APA’s guidelines developed for working with LGB clients appear to be very applicable to CNM clients and there is a strong need for therapists to be educated about CNM issues. Practice guidelines based the current results and available literature and are proposed. Clinicians working with CNM clients are especially encouraged to: (1) take a non-judgmental stance; (2) affirm the client’s CNM identity/lifestyle; (3) recognize the importance of a client’s CNM relationships; (4) address CNM when it’s relevant; (5) avoid pathologizing or making an issue of CNM when it is not relevant; and (6) assess relationship structure at intake.


Learning outcomes: By the end of the session attendees should be able to:

1.     Understand some of the issues facing CNM clients seeking therapy

2.     Identify the therapeutic practices that CNM clients find particularly helpful and harmful

3.     Speak to the harmful/helpful practices therapist use most frequently