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Speaking with Dr. Diane Duan

At our September education event, Dr. Diane Duan will cover the basics of working with polyamorous and ethically non-monogamous clients in therapy. We spoke with Dr. Duan about her interest in this topic.

Speaker Interview

How did you first become interested in clinical work with polyamorous clients?

I first became interested in working with polyamorous clients due to my personal journey into non-traditional relationship styles. As I ventured into the BDSM and kink world, I was immersed in the myriad ways people can relate to one another outside of the mainstream monogamous romantic relationship vs. platonic binary. I was intrigued by the nuances of relationship dynamics, and I learned to understand relationships as consisting of different levels of emotional, romantic, platonic, sensual and sexual intimacy. I was particularly awed by the communication skills people displayed in navigating the murky waters of play partnerships, queerplatonic relationships, metamour relationships, etc. that fall in the grey area on the spectrum of relational styles.

At that time, I had already begun pursuing my clinical psychology degree. My fondness for the expansiveness of non-monogamy and its values made the decision to work with this population a given!

Why is this topic important to you?

This topic is important to me because I have seen that, for some individuals (including myself), the dominant mono-normative culture can feel rather prescribed and restricting. I believe that relationships are dynamic, ever-changing, impossibly nuanced, and that an understanding of these intricacies can inspire greater admiration, love, and respect for those we choose to be in relationship with. I also have great respect for the ways in which non-monogamy pushes people to face their own insecurities, attachment wounds, and learned narratives of how we “should” do relationships.

Personally, I have seen my ability to embody much deeper love, compassion and empathy towards others increase as I’ve grown into the non-monogamous paradigm. Non-monogamy is appropriately understood as a way of relating to others, but, more importantly, non-monogamy provides us with an opportunity to develop a more compassionate and secure relationship with ourselves.

What is one thing you would like mental health professionals to know about this topic?

A situation I have come across a few times by mental health professionals who are unfamiliar with non-monogamous dynamics is this idea that the solution to uncomfortable feelings in non-monogamous relationships is to reject it entirely. It often sounds something like this, “If this non-monogamous relationship is causing my client so much distress, then the route to avoid distress is to abandon non-monogamy.” While I certainly have compassion for the difficulty of bearing witness to others’ pain, it is more beneficial to prioritize the client’s autonomy and trust in their ability to make decisions for themselves. Our job as mental health professionals is not to judge them for their decisions, but to support them with unconditional positive regard in whichever path they choose. Sometimes, this looks like a willingness to endure the challenges presented by non-monogamy; other times, a shift towards something more traditional is the right move for the client at that time. Both paths are equally valid as everyone’s journey towards self-discovery is unique!

Dr. Diane Duan will teach Intro the Therapy with Non-Monogamous Clients on Zoom on September 13, 2024 from 6-8PM CT.

Dr. Diane Duan (she/her) is an LGBTQIA+ affirming, neurodiversity-affirming, poly- and kink-knowledgeable psychologist offering individual and relationship counseling. Diane offers a non-judgmental, sex-positive, compassionate and collaborative space to help individuals and couples heal childhood attachment wounds, navigate life transitions, and resolve interpersonal and relational challenges.

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