I recently started therapy for anxiety. The therapist is nice enough, but, when I mentioned being poly, he said it’s okay while I’m young, but that I need to choose one partner if I want to get married or have kids. I have tried to tell him that I disagree, but he just retorts with something to the effect of, “It’s statistically impossible.” I am not out to my parents, so telling them I don’t want to go to therapy anymore would be difficult because I don’t have a reason. How do I approach this?
First off, I am really sorry that you’re dealing with this - therapy should be a safe and affirming place, but therapists are people too, who often bring their biases or baggage into the session as well. It sucks and it’s not what you deserve from a mental healthcare professional.
Unfortunately, you are not alone - many healthcare professionals are uninformed about polyamory, which can be frustrating and block polyamorous people from getting the best care. One gynecologist insisted that I was in an abusive relationship because my male partner had manipulated or brainwashed me into thinking it’s okay that he has other partners and pressed a bunch of domestic violence pamphlets into my hand. She was well-intentioned, but it was sad and alienating for me to be told that my healthy, consensual relationship is actually abuse.
You have a few options here - none are ideal, but the situation itself isn’t ideal. Choose whichever one sounds safest to you.
One: Keep your polyamory out of the sessions. If you’re seeing the therapist for anxiety, talk about your anxiety and avoid the topic of polyamory. Of course it’s suboptimal to feel closeted or like you can’t share the whole story of yourself with your therapist, but if your anxiety is primarily about things besides relationships, you may be able to re-frame therapy for yourself as a sort of ‘targeted’ medical procedure rather than an open-ended talk-therapy relationship. Ask your therapist about CBT or DBT, talk mostly about your anxiety and how it feels and what triggers it, and clarify for yourself and your therapist what your treatment goals are, keeping them focused on reducing the anxiety and its symptoms.
Two: Find another therapist. Lots and lots of people take a few tries to find a therapist they really click with, and it’s totally okay to shop around. You don’t need to tell your parents exactly why you don’t feel 100% safe and comfortable with this therapist, you can just say that you’d really appreciate the chance to try a different one. Or, make up a white lie - you’d prefer someone younger, or of a different gender, or you don’t like how he approaches [other issue]. You can review some articles with them like this one and ask if they are open to letting you do some research and find another person to talk to. Of course, there may be barriers to this, including time, distance, cost, and insurance - so let your parents know that you are grateful to them for helping you access therapy in the first place, and be as collaborative as possible about this request.
Three: Try to educate your therapist. I hesitate to suggest this, because it’s really not your responsibility, and you may end up feeling even more alienated or unsafe if he refuses to receive what you have to say. But if you want to try, there are materials out there to help therapists understand polyamory in an accurate and healthy way. You could write him a letter or bring it up in conversation. You can print or email him some resources like:
- What psychology professionals should know about polyamory
- Counseling the polyamorous client
- Working with polyamorous clients in the clinical setting
- Therapy with clients who are bisexual and polyamorous
You could say something like “When I mentioned my relationship orientation [or however you define/experience your polyamory], you were dismissive of polyamory. In order for me to feel safe in therapy, I need to know that my whole self and my relationships are accepted and understood here. It sounds like you’re working from outdated information or a misunderstanding of polyamory. In reality, it’s well-documented that polyamorous relationships can be as healthy and long-lasting as monogamous ones, and it is a valid [identity/orientation/relationship style]. As your patient, I’d ask that you read this and work with me to become better informed so that our treatment relationship isn’t harmed by misunderstanding or prejudice. I’m happy to answer any questions.”
No matter what you choose, know that you are valid, you are awesome, and you deserve a happy, healthy, fulfilling life. Anxiety is a beast (I also am in treatment for an anxiety disorder), but you are doing the hard work of fighting it! I am proud of you and you should be proud of yourself. And this period of your life, where your parents and other adults are all up in your business about who you are, will end eventually. I promise.