Counselling for Open Relationships
What is LGBT/QIA+ Open Relationship Counselling ?
Let's talk about how Lesbian, Gay, Bi & Queer people in an intimate, open relationship sometimes use counselling support for their open relationship. How do LGBT/QIA+ work in therapy sessions with British Professional Specialist Dean Richardson MNCS(Accred/Reg) - an established relationship counsellor of over 21 years+ experience...
Defining Open Relationship.
You may have searched Google for a counsellor for a couple in an open relationship, hoping to find an experienced counsellor who works with intimate couples who have opened their relationship to polyamory or non-monogamy (whether by prior arrangement, or managing a recent invitation from their partner).
Yet, when looking at the counsellor’s website, you may have been left wondering: “well… do they?! 🤔”
Open Relationship Couple Counselling from Dean Richardson MNCS(Accred/Reg) would be the service you’d consider when your open relationship has developed difficulties you cannot manage together.
An open relationship (sometimes called non-monogamy or non-exclusive) is an intimate form of relationship that incorporates sexual activities with other partners (whether involving the couple together or one partner alone). The term generally indicates a relationship where there is a primary emotional and intimate relationship between two partners who have agreed (whether explicitly or not) to manage (at least the possibility of) sexual intimacy with other people.
Aims of Counselling
A primary purpose of open-relationship couple counselling is to support the couple creating their own effective approach to resolving relationship conflicts.
An effective therapeutic service for two adults, a couple-in-conflict may bring their struggles into counselling to develop their own, unique, insightful approach to resolving relationship problems… with the added bonus of needing no further counselling sessions once they’re done!
In beginning this approach Dean moves the couple from a blaming/lost position into a creative/solution-finding position, gaining new information about their relationship:-
- New Information… leading to → New Options.
- New Options… leading to → Making New Choices.
- New Choices… leading to → Transforming the Relationship (through informed empowerment).
- Transformations under way (the couple can leave counselling).
By (slowly) becoming innovative, we begin to move from the focus of our work are our problems into a place of hypothesis, checking things out, learning, and putting in place newer behaviour.
Dean is a fully qualified and experienced couple relationship counsellor. He employs effective couple-therapy theoretical frameworks that have been around and developed since the 1970s.
He employs such therapeutically-effective approaches to open relationships because:
(a) his therapeutic approach doesn’t attempt to prescribe what a “normal” couple should be doing, and
(b) his therapeutic approach doesn’t make prescriptions of the order: “what a couple in this situation would do is…”
In this way, open relationship counselling focuses upon the open-couple’s own relationship, their own behaviour and their own needs (rather than someone else’s belief about how a successful open-relationship ought to be).
Exciting, isn’t it?!
Planning an Open Relationship
It’s not unusual for a couple to come into counselling having opened their relationship (or found it had been opened by one or both partners) to work through unforseen or unplanned problems in their relationship.
Some other couples, however, use counselling to plan their open relationship.
Planning an open relationship – along with Dean as their therapist – can see the couple create a living document together: an agreement based upon informed decisions made from detailed discussions.
Dean provides the insight and curiosity (“you’ve said ‘A’ but what about situation ‘B’?).
For example: the couple may decide that neither partner may engage sexually with someone known to the other partner. The couple may decide that their agreement is to focus on non-monogamy rather than polyamory (see my definition of non-monogamy vs polyamory ). The couple may learn of previously-unknown emotional insecurities within their partnership and incorporate a process to mitigate or care-for the emotional vulnerabilities of their relationship plan. Finally, the couple may or may not decide that after looking into creating their own Open Relationship Living Document that opening the relationship is ultimately not what they want to do. At the same time they may take away some learning from the process to incorporate back into their exclusive relationship (such as, perhaps, more sexual playfulness).
Whatever you and your partner want to do with an Open Relationship, it can take just a handful of counselling sessions (average: 6) to assist you in working-out where you would like to take your relationship… together.
Jigsaw Puzzle Analogy
Maybe think of Couple Counselling like this story:- a couple come into counselling carrying an open box. Within the box are many jigsaw pieces, all mixed up. The couple supposes that all the pieces are there. When they have been taking out pieces, one might say: “a blue piece – this obviously means it’s ‘sky’!” and tries to fit the piece to others that may also be sky. The other partner might say: “no, blue means ‘sea’!” and tries to connect the piece to bits that might be sea. An argument ensues because some pieces are fitting together and other aren’t; the couple are fighting over what the picture is meant to look like.
A major contributing factor is: no-one knows where the box lid is; the couple have no picture reference. They haven’t discussed/agreed upon what the jigsaw looks like and each partner has their individual ideas of what this jigsaw picture is supposed to be.
If the jigsaw puzzle is the couple’s relationship what does counselling do to help the couple rebuild the lost-picture-of-their-relationship?
In session, the counsellor’s role includes facilitating the couple into discussing, negotiating and agreeing / empathising / compromising upon what each piece might be in the context of this relationship (new information → inspiration, negotiation, compromise), how each piece might fit with others, and working together to build their own picture. We’re supporting each other in hypothesising “if a blue piece could be more than only sky or sea what else could it be?” to empower the couple with newer (piece fitting…) options to help to build this new relationship picture.
The couple (at their own pace) become empowered into making their own hypotheses together and the counsellor begins to step back from holding the concept of the couple’s relationship in his mind. The couple are discovering new information and are making new, informed choices sufficiently for the pieces of their relationship to fit together, better than before, and a clearer picture is developing in front of them.
Therapy achieved alongside you
A common assumption about couple counselling is often based upon a GP/Doctor experience: the couple describe their symptoms and expect the therapist to prescribe how they fix things.
If this is so, a couple’s first disappointment will be for them to learn how to manage: “why isn’t the counsellor fixing us?!”
As a Couple Counsellor, Dean practices a systemic/psychodynamic form of couple relationship counselling; he takes a neutral stance within the therapeutic alliance in order to learn how the couple pull and push together. He’s listening within the stories for common/conjoined anxieties (hidden within the couple’s behaviour). This approach may relieve you of the need to pull the counsellor into an adjudicating position (deciding who is right or wrong). In fact, it could be helpful to discuss – in session – any recognition of such needs.
This is just one of the extraordinary therapeutic approaches that Dean employs to work alongside a couple, rather than employing exercises at the couple. The couple are invited to participate within the therapy as equal participants: becoming therapists themselves working to resolve open relationship difficulties.
Different from Couple Counselling?
A greater proportion of Open Relationship Couple Counselling is discussed on my Couple Counselling page, as the two approaches have a similar core.
LGBT/QIA+ Counsellor Dean Richardson MNCS(Accred/Reg)
You could choose any counsellor.
But… when you consider that this is the most intimate & vulnerable you're going to be with your partner(s), you'd want to choose someone you could trust with your relationship in therapy. Someone who is British (working remotely but on the same soil) and payable in pounds. Maybe even someone who already had 13 years actual experience of working on webcam with Zoom & Skype before the National Lockdown began.
- Someone who was sensitive and effective with you and your partner's sexuality / gender-identity and intimate ways of relating.
- Someone, who'll you discover quickly, is an informed member of your own community.
- Someone who demonstrates adept skills with lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, mixed sexuality and same-or-mixed gender relationships, but who avoids taking the role of an "all-knowing expert" (experts don't learn & respond, they tell!).
- Someone who speaks plain English (and who can swear like a virtuoso, along with you both as much as you might prefer - or not at all), and works cooperatively with the relationship (doesn't sit in unnecessary silence, or just "hmms..." repeatedly).
- Someone who is an accredited member of The National Counselling Society (accreditation originally awarded 12 years ago from another professional body, being a process that validates a counsellor's substantial experience and attention to an ethical practice) and who is a member of the Psychotherapy and Counselling Union of Great Britain.
Dean focuses on LGBT/QIA+ relationships as a specialty in therapy. He works with individuals, couples and small groups. Plus, he's qualified to a postgraduate level (Chichester PG Diploma in Psychodynamic/Systemic Couple Counselling, IGA National Foundation in Group Counselling) as a private practice counsellor*.
(*Note: not all counsellors - specifically those trained only in Individual Counselling - have such specific qualifications for working with couples nor groups, nor have experience of working therapeutically with relationships. Such counsellors try - out of perhaps misplaced goodwill - to employ ineffective "individual" techniques simply because your relationship is not part of their primary theoretical framework nor rationale. Remember always to ask a new counsellor: "what qualifies you to work with our relationship" and judge what you hear in response).
- 1 Counselling for Open Relationships
- 1.1 What is LGBT/QIA+ Open Relationship Counselling ?
- 1.2 Defining Open Relationship.
- 1.3 Aims of Counselling
- 1.4 Nonnormative Therapy
- 1.5 Planning an Open Relationship
- 1.6 Jigsaw Puzzle Analogy
- 1.7 Therapy achieved alongside you
- 1.8 Different from Couple Counselling?
- 1.9 LGBT/QIA+ Counsellor Dean Richardson MNCS(Accred/Reg)
- 1.10 Got a Question? Don't Hold Back…