A Therapist Moves from "Couples" to "Relationship" Counseling

For almost three decades I have provided couples counseling to people in Atlanta. I've worked with many men and women to help improve communication, resolve conflicts, rebuild trust, strengthen intimacy, clarify boundaries and heal emotional wounds, to name some of the more common topics that people often need help addressing. However, I'm now scrubbing my website to make sure that the phrase "couples counseling" is now "couples and other relationship counseling". I'm doing this because not all relationships are limited to two people.

I've become more sensitized to the fairly substantial polyamory community that is typical in most major metropolitan areas.  I have been reflecting on why I don't have much opportunity to use my counseling skills to help people "in the lifestyle".  I've realized that the answer starts with the fact that I have not clearly offered my relationship counseling to anything other than "couples".  So I'm addressing that imbalance now.

There is an organization in Atlanta called the Relationship Equality Foundation which exists to "provide outreach, education and support for those involved in or seeking relationships with non-traditional structures, and education and outreach to the general public about these relationships."  This organization has helped me learn a lot about the many varieties of "non-traditional" relationships.  Perhaps the most basic lesson I received is that these are normal people experiencing normal relationship concerns who need to know that the therapist they choose  is professionally and personally equipped to handle their situation without judgement or discomfort.  I believe I can offer this guarantee.  If there is a situation where I don't know enough about a specific behavior or relationship I am very comfortable asking for that information so that I can better understand it and the people I work with.

As I have written in my framework for chronically problematic sexual behavior, it is not the type or frequency of sexual behavior that matter as much as whether it engages the five categories (commitment violations, values conflicts, reduced control, negative consequences, lack of responsible sexual behavior).  This means that a behavior or relationship that would be problematic for one person can be just fine for another.  In the final analysis it's not about the sexual behavior as much as the degree that behavior fits within the nonsexual portions of a person's life.

Some people may question whether this shift in attitude affects my ability to work effectively with more traditional sexual interests and relationships.  I believe the opposite is true: my widened understanding of what makes a behavior or relationship problematic actually helps me provide more individualized care to each person I am trying to help. The fact that I am gaining expertise in one area of care does not diminish my deep skills in the areas where I have provided assistance for decades.  If anything, this wider perspective gives me a greater opportunity to help people by having an even greater understanding about the full range and contours of the human sexual experience.

I don't think the population of my clinical practice is going to change much, making this mostly a statement of principle.  If nothing else I want to actively show my support for the right of all people to receive appropriate assistance regardless of  the type of relationship or practices involved. Atlanta has many skilled therapists and counselors who specialize in nontraditional relationships and lifestyles.  My goal here was to share the reason for my slight language change.  Sometimes small things can be big in thier own way.

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Bill Herring is an Atlanta psychotherapist who provides individual, group and relationship counseling to adults, with exceptional expertise in the area of chronically problematic sexual behaviors.