Eli Sheff, PhD is a sociologist and researcher who has compiled the only longitudinal study on polyamorous relationships. For over 20 years, Dr. Sheff has followed, interviewed and published her findings about polyamorous families to gain and share perspective about what polyamory looks like, and how it affects people. On July 6th, Dr. Sheff joined KPACT for a full day of seminars on polyamory, kink, and developing therapeutic skills for clients in either community, and we’re all the better for it! What a tremendous speaker!
The morning session, “Therapeutic Issues in Consensual Non-Monogamy,” was a primer of relevant issues and language that clinicians need to know. Dr. Sheff tackled the most common questions surrounding polyamory: How is it different from cheating? What does a successful polyam relationship look like? How often do therapists bring an unconscious bias about monogamy into their sessions with polyamorous clients?
Clinicians, each with their own base of knowledge and experience, so it’s not surprising that the morning session ended with a spirited and probing conversation about privilege, race, and language within polyamory. Dr. Sheff was careful to buffer her presentation with moments of personal reflection and wasn’t afraid to discuss sensitive issues or own her own and share her personal experiences with blind spots.
In the afternoon session, “Distinguishing Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) from Kink & BDSM”, Dr. Sheff focused on differentiating kink from intimate partner violence, and how to approach a situation where kink and IPV overlap. The importance of consent and negotiation among people who participate in kinky relationships or dynamics was stressed, instead of focusing on stereotypes that perceive kink to be violent or dangerous. Once more, Dr. Sheff’s nuanced presentation was made richer through engaging with KPACT members, who spoke up about their experiences as therapists, but also as members of the kink community.
Dr. Sheff’s research is invaluable, and her willingness to teach and engage with all levels of experience and familiarity is something that’s in short supply these days. We were so thrilled to spend time with her, and with so many wonderful KPACT members!