Advice please - relationship counselling

Jilla

New member
Hi everyone. I'm still quite new to this forum and have only posted once before (in the 'introductions' section), although I've done a fair bit of lurking. :)

I'd be very grateful for some advice from more experienced poly people on the following...

P (31M, partner of 10 years) and I (30F) have recently decided to have some relationship counselling. The purpose of the counselling is to address a few long-term issues in our relationship, namely:

- The fact that I want more attention from P than he feels able to give
- The fact that (I feel) P is consistently negative about decisions I make
- How we deal with minor disagreements
- Our sex life, which isn't non-existent but isn't what it once was

We don't feel these are deal-breakers for our relationship (which overall is very good, loving and trusting) but we agree they are areas that need work, and discussing them extensively between ourselves doesn't seem to have resolved them. We are in a position to pay for external help so we have decided to give it a try.

Now, I don't feel that the issues P and I are seeking counselling for are much to do with my relationship with R (37M, partner of one year), who also lives with us. Naturally R's presence will influence the dynamic of our household and my relationship with P, but the issues between P and me existed before I began a relationship with R and I don't even think he is much aware of them. (We have told R that we are getting relationship counselling for some issues between us, and we have all jointly agreed that R will stay out of it unless an issue comes up that he can help with, since he has to live with both of us and doesn't want to take sides.)

Another thing that came up during our initial consultation with our counsellor yesterday, but which I don't feel has much of a bearing on the issues between P and me, is P's six-month relationship with C (30F), which ended in February this year. Again I'm sure it has influenced some things and there may be separate issues around that, but again, the issues between P and me that I mentioned above pre-date P's relationship with C. (My general view is that there will be issues surrounding all current and previous relationships, but if we sought to address them ALL during counselling, we would be there forever and paying a lot of money!)

As I said above, we had our initial consultation yesterday, and it is my impression (though to be fair, I didn't ask) that the counsellor we have been given is unfamiliar with poly relationships. My relationship with R came up when she asked (during her initial "To start with I'll ask the questions and you answer them" phase) if I'd ever lived with another partner. My reply was along the lines of "Yes, I have another boyfriend, R, and he lives with us." She did a visible double-take and said something like "So is this a - poly-a-mor-ous [she mispronounced the word] - set-up?" I think she then made a concerted effort not to look flustered and to get to know our circumstances.

After P and I had explained some of the issues we want to address, she returned to the fact of R living with us. Around that time, P's relationship with C came up. The counsellor asked if P had loved C and he said that he did. P then explained that, although his breakup with C in February was emotionally difficult and upsetting at the time, he now feels that he is "over it" (this may sound simplistic but honestly, in my experience of P, he does rule a line under things pretty quickly - he has a very functionalist attitude to life). Our counsellor didn't seem to want to accept this, insisting that he is "in mourning" for a "bereavement" that is "still raw". I certainly wouldn't suggest that relationships are quick or easy to move on from, or that there are no lasting effects of P's relationship with C, but surely she has to believe him when he tells her how he feels?

Anyway, by this time we'd outlined the issues that led us to seek counselling and we were running out of time (consultation was one hour). Our counsellor then said "It seems like you're all playing havoc with each other's emotions. You've got a huge amount of issues going on, battened down by 'this is how we are' and 'he's OK with this' and 'she's OK with that'." She also practically accused me of wanting P to be "someone he's never been".

I fully accept and appreciate that the lady who counselled us will have professional training and will have had reasons for all the questions she asked. However, I can't help feeling that maybe she is out of her depth. Before our first session P and I agreed that we wouldn't pursue counselling with anybody who tried to pin all our problems on the fact that we are poly (this was my biggest fear). In fact, I genuinely feel that my relationship with R has helped with some things, and P voluntarily said that he "likes having R around" and "having R around takes the pressure off sometimes". (Just to clarify, I have had endless discussion with P to make sure that he isn't just tolerating R's presence because it makes certain practical things easier; he assures me that isn't the case, P and R are close friends and share many interests that neither of them shares with me. They were friends before R and I began a romantic relationship.)

I'm new to the process of finding a counsellor but a Google search suggests that there are counsellors with experience of poly relationships near us. As things stand, P and I have individual sessions with the same lady booked next week and the week after, but I'm wondering if we should cancel these and try someone who won't be judgemental of our set-up? Or maybe give the individual sessions a try but be open to the possibility of looking elsewhere if we still have concerns? After all, we're paying a lot for the sessions and would like them to focus on what we want to work on, although of course we are happy to discuss anything that could be relevant. (R is also happy to come to the sessions if his contribution would be useful.)

Sorry for mammoth post, any words of wisdom would be very valuable!

Thank you for reading. :)
 

FallenAngelina

Well-known member
Please edit your post while you have time and give your people nicknames. Following a story with names is much more reader-friendly that trying to keep initials straight.

Regarding therapists: Did you feel a personal connection with this therapist? Did you like her? If you didn't feel a connection with her, no matter what her training is, nothing is going to go well in those sessions. You'll find few therapists by looking specifically for poly as an area of expertise, but there are many therapists who can understand and support poly situations. I followed the advice that a personal connection with your therapist is vastly more important and productive than the particular areas of expertise. In my view, any therapist that is going to gel with me is going to be someone who is not only supportive of poly, but supportive of all kinds of personal choices beyond the norm. So don't get bogged down in trying to find someone who advertises as poly-friendly because hardly any do, but there are many who are going to be able to validate and work with your situation because of their nature as open minded therapists.

I am the one and only client who has ever brought up poly to my therapist, yet she and I have a great personal connection and she is eager to listen and learn. She offers guidance based on who she is and who she knows me to be and that is gold to me. To me, a good therapist doesn't tell you what to do, but guides you in processing what you already know in your heart is right for you. Relationships all have fundamental similarities and any therapist is going to need to learn the particulars anyway. When there's a good personal connection between therapist and client, everything will flow out of that.
 
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opalescent

Active member
Like any relationship, sometimes people are incompatible. This therapist does not sound like the right fit for you and P. Therapists do not have to be poly themselves but they do have to have the ability to sort through when their preconceptions don't fit the people they want to treat.

It is really normal to go through a few therapists before finding a good fit. Keep looking.
 

GalaGirl

Well-known member
Doesn't sound like this therapist is right for you.

P has to make up his own mind about it. But if you don't want to do counseling with her you could seek a different one.

To me this would be no different than any other doctor. Whether family practice, OB/GYN, dentist, allergist, etc. If they have a beside manner I don't care for, I'm not going back. I'll keep looking.

As you say, you are paying money for your appointments.

Galagirl
 
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Tinwen

Well-known member
Of course you could give her one more try - maybe she'll do her preparation around poly. But if you don't trust her after the second session either, I'd go. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable when therapists are giving a mirror, but trust should be definitely there.
 

lunabunny

New member
I'd be interested in hearing how this turns out for you, Jilla, and what you and your partner decide to do - whether you stick with this therapist or seek another whose knowledge and views are more compatible with your issues.

Reason being, I am about to undertake my own search for a psychologist/counsellor. In my case, I will need someone who is clued up on not only polyamory, but also autism/Asperger's and trauma counselling. A hard task to find someone who ticks all these boxes, perhaps.

Also, Jilla, would you be able to link your Introductory story here or message me with the link?
 

kdt26417

Official Greeter
Staff member
Hi Jilla,

I'm of the opinion that when it comes to counselors, it's best to go with your gut instincts. If something about a counselor rubs you the wrong way, even if it's your first appointment, you should probably take that as a sign that it's time to look for a different counselor. I wouldn't even bother with a second appointment, but it's up to you. There, too, you have to go by your gut instinct.

And I agree with you that the issues you want to discuss (in counseling) have little if anything to do with your poly. So if your counselor seems to get all hung up on poly, that too might be a sign that it's time to look for a different counselor.

I hope you find someone good that you can work with.
Sincerely,
Kevin T.
 

Bluebird

Well-known member
I would give it another shot with this therapist, if you felt like she was ok otherwise. She should have spent some time getting up to speed around poly, and hopefully will be better prepared for your next visit. If she spends the time trying to blame poly, or isn't listening, yeah, I wouldn't give her a third strike.
 

Jilla

New member
Please edit your post while you have time and give your people nicknames. Following a story with names is much more reader-friendly that trying to keep initials straight.

Regarding therapists: Did you feel a personal connection with this therapist? Did you like her? If you didn't feel a connection with her, no matter what her training is, nothing is going to go well in those sessions. You'll find few therapists by looking specifically for poly as an area of expertise, but there are many therapists who can understand and support poly situations. I followed the advice that a personal connection with your therapist is vastly more important and productive than the particular areas of expertise. In my view, any therapist that is going to gel with me is going to be someone who is not only supportive of poly, but supportive of all kinds of personal choices beyond the norm. So don't get bogged down in trying to find someone who advertises as poly-friendly because hardly any do, but there are many who are going to be able to validate and work with your situation because of their nature as open minded therapists.

I am the one and only client who has ever brought up poly to my therapist, yet she and I have a great personal connection and she is eager to listen and learn. She offers guidance based on who she is and who she knows me to be and that is gold to me. To me, a good therapist doesn't tell you what to do, but guides you in processing what you already know in your heart is right for you. Relationships all have fundamental similarities and any therapist is going to need to learn the particulars anyway. When there's a good personal connection between therapist and client, everything will flow out of that.

Thank you for your reply, FallenAngelina! (On a side note, but worth mentioning at the start, I've never really posted on a forum before so this is my first attempt at quoting a post and replying to the person who posted it! Hope it goes OK, ho hum.)

Noted re giving my partners nicknames. I can certainly appreciate how that would read more easily - but I'd just got used to thinking of them as P and R (as opposed to their real names, which start with, you guessed it, P and R.) I have OCD which can affect me in sometimes unexpected ways. However! Please don't think I'm ignoring your point and I will give some thought to appropriate nicknames. I want to get it right.

I wouldn't say I disliked the therapist, certainly not to the point where I resisted booking further sessions (P and I had agreed signals where we would know if the other had an issue with the therapist and wanted to hold off on rebooking). It's really only in retrospect that I wonder if I found her a bit patronising, or just that she didn't 'get' where we were coming from.

I haven't got much experience of therapy - I've had it a couple of times before, on my own (not relationship therapy but in connection with my OCD/anxiety/depression, and some family issues). I live in England where, in my experience, seeking therapy is the exception rather than the norm and not many people think about having counselling to improve an already pretty healthy relationship; among the people I know, anyway, it would be thought of as almost a last resort. But I'm trying to buck this trend! :D
 

Jilla

New member
Like any relationship, sometimes people are incompatible. This therapist does not sound like the right fit for you and P. Therapists do not have to be poly themselves but they do have to have the ability to sort through when their preconceptions don't fit the people they want to treat.

It is really normal to go through a few therapists before finding a good fit. Keep looking.

Thanks, Opalescent. That had been my thinking - that the issues we're seeking therapy for aren't really to do with our being poly, so why look for a therapist who 'does' (or 'is') poly? I'd assumed any therapist would be fairly open-minded about different relationship structures and would in any case be led by the issues we wanted to focus on. But perhaps not.

It seems we have four choices:

(1) Cancel the individual sessions and look for another therapist.
(2) Go ahead with the individual sessions but look for another therapist if we still have concerns following those.
(3) Give things a proper try with this therapist, even if we feel the same way after the individual sessions, and see what her plan is.
(4) Forget therapy for now.

So, (4) isn't a goer because we had good reasons for starting therapy - I just included it for completeness! (Although, since last week's session P and I have both been making a noticeable effort and I'd say some of the issues have improved. But I don't think it's necessarily a long-term fix.)

I'm apprehensive about (3) for now, but I think (1) and (2) are both justifiable options.

On balance I'm inclined to give the individual sessions a go, on the basis that:

- P seems to like our current therapist (not necessarily the best reason, he likes everyone :p ).
- Time's short right now and looking elsewhere would probably result in us putting this off for a while.
- We might have the same, or other, issues with a second therapist.
- As others have said, hopefully our current therapist will have gone away and done some research about our lifestyle.

P's individual session (already paid for, another complicating factor) is this Wednesday so I'll update everyone on how it goes. :)
 

Jilla

New member
Doesn't sound like this therapist is right for you.

P has to make up his own mind about it. But if you don't want to do counseling with her you could seek a different one.

To me this would be no different than any other doctor. Whether family practice, OB/GYN, dentist, allergist, etc. If they have a beside manner I don't care for, I'm not going back. I'll keep looking.

As you say, you are paying money for your appointments.

Galagirl

Thank you Galagirl. That's a good point about other types of doctor, somehow I hadn't thought of it like that. (Although, as per my reply above, being in the UK I am generally subject to the NHS and get whatever doctor I'm given! But this is different because, as you say, we are paying.)

P seems to like the therapist we saw last week so we're going to give her a chance. During my individual session (next week; P has his this Wednesday) I will ask her if she knows much about poly, and if I feel she continues to unduly focus on our relationship setup I will say so. I definitely won't be continuing to see her if she refuses to focus on the issues we are seeking therapy for. :confused:
 

Jilla

New member
Of course you could give her one more try - maybe she'll do her preparation around poly. But if you don't trust her after the second session either, I'd go. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable when therapists are giving a mirror, but trust should be definitely there.

Thank you Tinwen. This is what I'm going to do. Will let everyone know how session number two goes! :)
 

Jilla

New member
I'd be interested in hearing how this turns out for you, Jilla, and what you and your partner decide to do - whether you stick with this therapist or seek another whose knowledge and views are more compatible with your issues.

Reason being, I am about to undertake my own search for a psychologist/counsellor. In my case, I will need someone who is clued up on not only polyamory, but also autism/Asperger's and trauma counselling. A hard task to find someone who ticks all these boxes, perhaps.

Also, Jilla, would you be able to link your Introductory story here or message me with the link?

Thanks lunabunny - stay tuned, I'll post again after our individual sessions (P's this week, mine next week).

I'd be interested to know how you get on too. I have OCD, anxiety and on/off depression (all probably at their least influential currently as I recently finished a very helpful course of CBT) and I've long suspected that I'm somewhere on the autistic spectrum, although I've never been diagnosed. It hadn't really occurred to me to look for a therapist who is clued up on all these things, but maybe they are out there? I admit my search wasn't the most thorough, the UK's Relate service seemed to top all the Google searches so I went with them. It was only after booking an introductory session that I searched for more specific things and found independent therapists who mention poly as a specialist topic. Which again threw me, because poly isn't what we want to talk about... :eek:

Link to my previous post here:

http://www.polyamory.com/forum/showthread.php?t=85141

And here's some info on the Relate service we're using, in case anyone is curious:

https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help

:)
 

Jilla

New member
Hi Jilla,

I'm of the opinion that when it comes to counselors, it's best to go with your gut instincts. If something about a counselor rubs you the wrong way, even if it's your first appointment, you should probably take that as a sign that it's time to look for a different counselor. I wouldn't even bother with a second appointment, but it's up to you. There, too, you have to go by your gut instinct.

And I agree with you that the issues you want to discuss (in counseling) have little if anything to do with your poly. So if your counselor seems to get all hung up on poly, that too might be a sign that it's time to look for a different counselor.

I hope you find someone good that you can work with.
Sincerely,
Kevin T.

Thank you Kevin, good advice. I agree with you. We're going to give this lady another try, but be prepared to look elsewhere if we're still concerned after our individual sessions.

I'd definitely cancel if I thought our current therapist had said something out of line, but I think it's more a matter of her being a bit taken aback and misunderstanding where our issues are coming from. I'll keep you posted. :)
 

Jilla

New member
I would give it another shot with this therapist, if you felt like she was ok otherwise. She should have spent some time getting up to speed around poly, and hopefully will be better prepared for your next visit. If she spends the time trying to blame poly, or isn't listening, yeah, I wouldn't give her a third strike.

Thanks Bluebird! That's what we're going to do. :)

On an unrelated note, I stumbled across your blog and I'm really enjoying it. :D Not just because it's well written, which it is, but also because your (gloriously geeky :p - I mean that as a huge compliment btw) MFM setup sounds similar in some ways to ours. I don't know anyone else who's poly 'in real life' so reading about you and your partners is great. P and R are both big Star Trek fans and R especially is into trivia. :)
 

kdt26417

Official Greeter
Staff member
Hi Jilla,

It sounds like you made the right decision for you, it's not like you have any deep misgivings about this therapist, so I can see giving second visits a try. I'll be interested to hear how it goes.

With much regards,
Kevin T.
 
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