Therapist Bias

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by Cindy Trawinski, Psy.D. & Rami Henrich, LCSW

Bias influences all of us — even therapists.

In fact, one 2011 study indicates that as many as 50% of clients identifying as polyamorous had seen therapists that they felt lacked cultural competency or were biased.

Meanwhile, a 2006 study by Drs. Keely Kolmes, Wendy Stock, and Charles Moser found that 67% of therapeutic relationships with kink/BDSM-identified clients studied included instances of biased care, such as…

  • considering BDSM to be unhealthy,
  • requiring a client to give up BDSM activity in order to continue treatment,
  • confusing BDSM with abuse,
  • the client having to educate the therapist about BDSM,
  • assuming that BDSM interests are evidence of past family/spousal abuse, and
  • therapists misrepresenting their expertise by stating that they are BDSM-positive when they are not actually knowledgeable about BDSM practices.

What can clinicians do to detect and reduce bias within themselves? How can therapists avoid issues like the above in order to better serve BDSM-, LGBTQ-, poly-, and kink-identified clients, as well as other marginalized individuals?

2015 Alternative Sexualities Conference in Chicago

Join us later this month as we explore these topics and more at the 7th Alternative Sexualities Conference (ASC), where we will present “Working with Therapist Bias: A Lifelong Approach.” Hosted by our friends and colleagues at the Center on Halsted, the ASC is produced by the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) and the Projects Advancing Sexual Diversity (PASD).  Read on for details about the conference and our presentation.

Alternative Sexualities Conference

When: Friday, May 22nd, 9am–6pm
Where: The Center on Halsted, 3656 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60613

Description from the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities website (CARAS):

Leather, kink, BDSM, polyamory, alt sex… Non-traditional sexual practices, lifestyles, and identities have become increasingly visible in recent years. With more portrayals on television and in movies, as well as in literature and music, clients are feeling increasingly comfortable about bringing “forbidden” sexual issues to psychotherapy.

The ASC has been designed to provide clinical perspectives, empirical data and opportunities to discuss the challenges encountered in clinical work and research in the alternative sexuality communities. Our seventh conference includes individual, panel and poster presentations featuring professionals from across the United States, London, and Australia.

ASC is produced by the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) based in San Francisco and Projects Advancing Sexual Diversity (PASD) centered in Chicago. This year we are happy to partner with Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Institute (SOGI) at the Center on Halsted for our largest conference ever.

Therapist Bias: A Lifelong Approach

We define bias as anything that limits one’s capacity to relate to the other as a whole, or that which creates a tendency to marginalize aspects of another’s experiences. The facts are evident: every therapist, no matter their identity or background, has bias. Some bias is easy to recognize, but some remains unknown or hidden from us.

In this presentation, we will explore ways clinicians can detect, identify, and work on their own assumptions and prejudices towards clients. We’ll approach bias from within, viewing it as a reflection or expression of a tendency to marginalize or overemphasize something or some quality within ourselves. Through lecture, group exercise, and guided debriefing, participants will gain perspectives and tools to serve clients, and integrate insights into their own experience of  bias, regardless of the individual’s orientation, gender, cultural heritage, practices, or relationship status.

Interested in this topic but can’t attend the ASC? You can catch us June 6th, at theHazelden Betty Ford Clinic in Chicago where we will be offering a three-hour, CEU bearing course on therapist bias. Find more information here.

We would love to hear from you. How does bias impact you?

You can also leave a comment here, or reach out to us on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, orLinkedIn with your thoughts.

Visit our therapist events page for a listing of upcoming seminars, workshops, groups, and classes, including details about our next KPACT (Kink Poly Aware Chicago Therapists) event.

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