All posts by Rami Henrich

Returning to Therapy — A Profound Act of Self-care

returning to therapy
“Spiral” by Khairul Nizam, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

“I can’t believe I’m here… again.”

Some people returning to therapy for the second, third, or fifth time often wonder “why do I need to go back to therapy?” “was there something I should have handled the last time around?” “maybe I am not really getting to my issues…is it me, my therapist, the approach, or the entire endeavor?”  

Some clients say they feel as though they’ve “failed,” that they weren’t “strong enough” to take care of themselves on their own.  Sinking into self-reproach, they feel wonder if they are somehow fated to repeat a cycle of false or temporary solutions to a problems that seem intractable. Maybe a previous, positive experience in therapy imparted a sense of resilience or well-being that now seems shockingly absent. “Didn’t I already go through this?” They ask themselves. “Isn’t that part of my life over?” 

For others, returning to therapy is a natural part of their self care and personal growth regiment as getting a haircut, going to the dentist or eating three meals a day.

Clients come back to therapy for many different reasons. Recent trauma, loss, or significant life events—such as a change of relationship, job, move, or other transition—can create inner disturbance or bring up patterns that have not been fully resolved.  Questions about one’s identity, sexuality, or spiritual beliefs can prompt deep-seated uncertainty. Relationship conflicts or disappointments can leave us feeling in need of support.  Ongoing issues like depression, anxiety, addiction, and self-harm can interfere with daily life and relationships. All of these difficulties, worries and questions can motivate a person to make a change and seek help.

This brings me to my main point: returning to therapy is a profound act of self-care—even if you don’t realize it at the time. If you are thinking of returning to therapy, consider the possibility that you are responding to a deep awareness that you want or would benefit from help, support or guidance to find or create a new sense of yourself.

In her article “Starting therapy, again…” San Francisco therapist, Carly Earnshaw, MFT, explains that “[r]egardless of whether your last therapy went great or awful, you have an advantage over the first time you tried therapy.” Here are the some of the reasons she gives for why:

  • You have a better idea of what therapy is about
  • You have a clearer understanding of what works and doesn’t work for you in therapy
  • You’re aware of the investment and the payoff

I encourage you to read her article in full, as it speaks to the different mindsets and assuages the fears I often see in clients who are returning to therapy.

Considering seeing a mental health professional again? Below are a few quick ways you can prepare to make the most out of your next time in therapy:

  1. Understand that you are not alone. It is not uncommon for clients to return to counseling when it has worked for them in the past, or out of a desire to find something that will work. Countless people come back to therapy throughout their lives, building on each experience. In fact, your therapist is likely one of those people!
  1. Take your time. If you have decided to seek help, you do not have to book an appointment immediately or stick with the first therapist you find. Allow yourself the time to research and explore your options—remember, you now have a stronger sense of what you’re looking for.
  1. Be mindful of your therapist’s responses and attitude. Whether calling to get in touch or engaging in your first session, pay attention to your intuition and comfort level, as well as how your therapist reacts to you. Listen to how she interprets your words and recognize that, while she intends to help, she doesn’t have all the answers. Again, take your time and be patient until you find someone who you feel hears and appreciates you on your terms.
  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. If a certain approach works best for you, or you need to speak to someone who understands specific issues—such as PTSD, polyamory, kink/BDSM, the experiences of racial and/or gender minorities, or religious convictions—speak up. Your therapist may not be qualified to provide what you need, but chances are she can refer you to a colleague who can.

If you have been there before, what do you look for in a new therapeutic relationship? We would love to hear your thoughts, opinions, and stories. Feel free to leave a comment below, or reach out to us on TwitterFacebookTumblr, or LinkedIn.

Orlando Shooting, June 11, 2016 — In the Shadows of Disney World

Orlando Shooting
by Rami Henrich
When I think Orlando, I think of sun filled days,  blue skies, parents and grandparents offering up days of fun and excitement, showering their children with the time of their lives at Disney World. But from yesterday on, I will think of Orlando in a different way…I will think of the shadows. I will think of the mom whose son is still unaccounted for.

A night of death and life threatening injuries, of never ending pain and grief for the survivors of the tragedy that ended the lives of so many gay brothers, sisters, children, partners, and spouses has displaced those sunnier Orlando thoughts.

Today, the shock of yesterday’s news is sinking in.  When I awoke this morning I set out on my daily routine…meditate, shower, stretch, walk…but this a.m. I couldn’t get it done. My hour walk turned into a ten minute stroll — only enough for Herbie, my dog, to relieve himself. My legs were too heavy, my heart and mind pounding with sadness and grief and outrage.

On my walk, I thought about my work as a therapist, my commitment to working with all who experience them self as marginalized, and I felt deflated and defeated.

On the one hand, it makes sense to me that as more freedom comes forward, (i.e. marriage equality, trans advocacy, and more), the other side (including hatred, intolerance and limiters of freedom) surfaces with vehemence. On the other hand, why would anyone want to kill another? That has never made sense to me.

Today, I grieve with us all…those of us who knew someone at that club, those of us who knew someone who knew someone, all of us who are gay, who are related to someone who is gay, and all those who have fought for freedom.  And I grieve for those who hate, whose hearts have hardened and are unable to see or feel the commonality of being human.

Lastly, I grieve for the shooter, for the family of the shooter and those who knew him.

So many broken hearts. My heart is with yours.

Communication Challenges: Yes, That Again!!

communication challenges

by Rami Henrich, LCSW, Dipl. PW

Have you ever fallen into the pit of communication challenges? Or should I say miscommunication? What an interesting phenomena it can be, if and when you have the detachment to notice you are in the pit and are able to name it as interesting!

More often it is experienced as a quagmire, an endless spiral into the depths of frustration and at times hopelessness.

Here are a few tips to keep from falling, or at least to catch yourself when falling, into the pit.

1. First, tell the person you’d like to talk.  Ask if now is a good time, or set up a time that isn’t rushed to have a chat. Don’t just launch into your frustration or complaint without the agreement of the other person.

2. Begin your interaction by bringing forth good will. Start by letting them know your big picture intention.  Hopefully, you want to work through the current issue to improve the relationship, or to expand the feelings of closeness between you.  Say something like, “I’m bringing this up because I really care about you and would like to get closer.”

3. Agree together that one person will be the speaker and one will be the listener. And that you will switch back and forth so each will have a chance to speak and be heard.

4.  Speaker take your side fully…by that I mean say all you need and want to say.

5. Listener tell the speaker what you’ve heard them say. You can ask for short communications as too much can feel overwhelming. This is an incredibly important step as we all, at least the all that I know, crave being heard and understood.

5. In addition to hearing what the other has said, the listening partner tries to express back to the speaker what you’ve heard, venture a guess as to how the speaker is feeling. Being vulnerable, sharing yourself deeply, calls for feeling responses too. Not just the “I heard you say” responses. Both very important.

6. Then switch. Speaker become listener, listener become speaker.

Keep going until you feel a shift in the atmosphere between the two of you. I know the pit can feel bottomless but there really is hope!

Everyone Has Bias

therapist bias

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

No one is immune from bias, not even us therapists! Everyone has bias.

Therapist bias takes many forms, especially with regards to clients’ sexuality, gender, erotic orientation, etc… 

Bias ranges from misinformed opinions about BDSM to confusing polyamory with infidelity to other subtle perceptions, beliefs and attitudes.  Bias is a part of us all and we need ways to work with it, learn from it and transform ourselves. 

Where Does Therapist Bias Begin?

How does bias impact clients? What can be done to mitigate its effects? Cindy Trawinski, Psy.D. and I attended the 2015 Alternative Sexualities Conference* (or ASC), where I presented “Uncovering Therapist Bias – A Lifelong Approach,” a talk about these questions and more.

*Produced by the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) and Projects Advancing Sexual Diversity (PASD), the ASC brings together leading researchers, clinicians, and educators for a one-day series of seminars and discussions about cultural concerns, clinical issues, and the latest research in the field of sex-positive therapy.

I wanted to share a few of the highlights from the ASC conference.

Why Talk About Therapist Bias?

The topic of therapist bias is especially interesting to us in our work as psychotherapists, educators and clinical supervisors. Our goal is to help the therapists we train and educate learn to recognize bias in themselves. By acknowledging that each of us holds onto certain biases, we can begin to discover and work with unknown or unexamined perceptions, beliefs and attitudes to enhance our ability to understand the diverse experiences that clients bring.  We believe this is best accomplished by deepening experience and awareness toward ourselves as well as others.

Keep reading for a summary of our ASC presentation:

Therapist Bias as a Clinical Issue

At LifeWorks, our clients identify across a variety of religious and spiritual practices, genders, sexualities, erotic orientations and relationship constellations, including: lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer, non-monogamous and polyamorous, and kink and/or BDSM-identified. Many hold more than one of these identities. Being able to identify, transform and understand therapist bias when it occurs is critical to our work.

In a recent informal sampling, a significant number of clients explicitly indicated that they had had experiences where a previous therapist’s bias regarding kink or non-monogamy was an obstacle to their care or hindered their experience in therapy. In an unpublished study (Henrich, 2011), 50% of clients identifying as polyamorous reported that they had seen therapists that they felt lacked cultural competency or were biased. Participants in the study reported that therapists who were uninformed about polyamory, or biased toward monogamy lead to them avoiding certain topics or leaving therapy.

Further, a 2006 study by Drs. Keely Kolmes, Wendy Stock, and Charles Moser found 67% of therapeutic relationships with kink/BDSM-identified clients reported instances of biased care, including:

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

Therapist bias can be devastating for clients. It can undermine the therapeutic relationship and prevent clients from getting the help they seek.

New Perspectives on Therapist Bias

Therapist bias, as we define it, is a perception, attitude, emotion, belief or idea that limits the therapist’s capacity to relate to their client as whole, or that creates a tendency to marginalize aspects of that person’s experience. If left unexamined, therapeutic bias can wound the client by replicating (in the therapy) the stigma and bias they face in the outside world or triggering internalized oppression and further damaging the sense of self.  At the same time, we have seen bias be an important looking glass into the therapist’s and the client’s experience that can enlighten, deepen, and transform the connection and relationship between the client and the therapist.

In our work, we begin with the premise that every therapist—and in fact everyone—has bias. Bias comes from our experiences and the information we gather in life, which are filtered through our identity and culture. Some of our biases are known to us and some are unknown or hidden.

Even therapists who themselves identify as marginalized in some way—for example, those who are LGBTQ, kinky, non-monogamous, or polyamorous—may have biases about the groups with which they identify. Neither being inside or outside a given community offers immunity from bias towards that community (or any other). In our experience and anecdotal research, we find that bias is in all of us and affects us all.

Our work on bias is shaped by the concepts and methods, developed by Arnold Mindell and others, known as process-oriented psychology or process work. Process work is an approach to working with human problems that emphasizes awareness, the flow of experience, and embracing disturbance.

Using process-oriented methods and awareness, we have been teaching psychotherapists to detect and identify bias, to unfold its meaning and to learn to relate to aspects, attitudes and behaviors of themselves or their clients that they may find difficult, disturbing or troubling. In our experience, therapist bias is often a reflection or expression of some quality or trait that the therapist has a tendency to marginalize in themselves or has a tendency to have too much of. Something important, and often subtle, may need to be known or understood better, and can be uncovered by looking closely at our reactions and perceptions.

From our perspective, getting rid of bias is probably impossible, but we have found that it is possible to embrace and transform therapist bias into something that enhances the capacity to experience and support clients’ wholeness. In our experience, however, the awareness and transformation of therapist bias is a lifelong endeavor.

During the ASC presentation, we demonstrated an inner work technique that we developed for discovering the meaning and value of bias. We guided participants through an experiential exercise, which offered participants an opportunity to learn to detect and work with their experience of bias first hand. After the exercise, participants shared their experience and learning in small groups and we then facilitated a guided debrief where participants shared what they noticed, where they got stuck in the inner work and what might be useful about what they discovered.

If you are interested in the topic of therapist bias or have had personal experiences of it, we would love to hear from you. If you have any questions about our presentation, would like to see the list of references we used, or simply want to say hello, contact us.

LifeWorks also facilitates monthly Poly & Kink Support Groups in Chicago at the Center on Halsted. For more information about these and other upcoming events, visit www.lifeworkspsychotherapy.com/events.

Real Life in a Polyamorous Family — The Long Haul

polyamorous family
Photo: Robert Ashworth, Flickr Creative Commons

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

The following is an excerpt from an article that I wrote for Elizabeth Sheff’s book, Stories from the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families. The first of its kind, this anthology collects stories and essays written by and about real people living in “polycules”: the networks between people in polyamorous relationships.

One afternoon when my son was six, he was playing with a friend in the front yard. It was a beautiful fall day and the boys were doing what many boys do on a beautiful fall day: collecting leaves into huge piles and jumping headlong into them. It’s amazing how many piles kids can make and how many hours they can entertain themselves doing that!

Who’s the Mama?
My partner, Cindy, and I were a few feet away cleaning out the garage, when my son  and his friend, Matt, sauntered into the garage covered with leaves from head to toe. My son said, “Matt wants to know who is the mama? Who is she?” he said pointing at Cindy. I replied, “Well, just tell him that I’m your mom.” My son  turned to Matt, “That’s my mom”, he said, pointing to me. A moment later he returned, “Mom, Matt wants to know who Cindy is.” “Just tell her she is part of our family,” I said. “She’s part of our family,” he said to Matt as they ran into another crackling pile of leaves.

At age six, that answer sufficed, but as my son  got older it became more and more difficult for him to come up with an answer that would not only satisfy others but also himself. At the time, there were no easy answers to these seemingly easy questions, no role models or words to describe Cindy’s role in our family configuration.

Me in Common
Before going any further, perhaps it would be useful to explain our family’s relationship dynamic. Tom and I are  legally married. In fact, we were married twice: once in Bombay, India in 1976 while living in an ashram, and a second time in a Jewish ceremony in my parents’ apartment with a handful of family members in attendance. We have two biological children (a daughter born in 1978 and a son born in 1990). Cindy and I have been partners in a relationship since 1983, and we have lived together  since 1992.

Cindy and Tom have a close, supportive relationship that involves more than friendship, in part, because they have me in common. They have travelled together, and supported one another when either one of them was in relationship turmoil with me. As a result, there is a closeness between them that differs from other friendships.  They do not have an intimate sexual relationship, yet they are closely related. If asked if they are polyamorous, both Tom and Cindy would say that they are in a polyamorous relationship but that they do not identify as polyamorous. This is because they are not in love with two people; each of them loves me, and I am the one who has multiple loves. I deeply love both Tom and Cindy, and feel fortunate to have had so much love in my life.

As for myself, I am not entirely sure of how I identify. It is still an unfolding question and answer for me, but for the purposes of this inquiry, I will refer to myself as polyamorous. Hearing  the word for the first time in the mid 90s and calling myself a polyamorist felt like a bit of a retro-fit; giving myself an established name and identity where once there was none. I didn’t have a problem with the word, but it felt a bit like a suit of clothing that didn’t quite yet fit or like a wool sweater that caused my skin to itch. Regardless of whether it fit perfectly or not, polyamory does describe a life relationship pattern that is meaningful to me and, I have found, to others.

Loving more than one person is not always a walk in the park. Much of my work, as a psychotherapist, focuses on the challenges facing people in polyamorous relationships. It has been a difficult undertaking for my family to carve its own path in the world, and by bringing forth parts of our story here, I hope to articulate some of the difficulties and joys of living an unconventional lifestyle that is still in the margins of today’s mainstream culture. When Cindy, Tom and I decided to live together as a family, we hadn’t thought it out, we didn’t have a plan or a map, and we didn’t know anyone else living like this. We just thought we’d give it a go and try it out, telling ourselves, “How difficult could it be?” Not only were there no role models or advisers, but we hardly had the courage to speak with anyone in our community for fear of how they might react to our lifestyle.

To read more of Rami’s chapter, please check out a copy of Elizabeth Sheff’s Stories from the Polycule, available on Amazon.

I Smile

rami-retouched-no-glare

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

I’ve been thinking lately about how much we all experience pain and suffering. Not exactly an uplifting thought, I admit. Yet, when I think about being human, I think that throughout all time, every one of us endures suffering, some more, some less. What a condition, this human one is!

A moment ago, a new client phoned me. As we spoke, I asked how he found me. He mentioned that he’d looked at dozens of therapy websites and what attracted him to me was my smile — not what I said about therapy, not all my education or experience. It was my smile.

“Wow!” I thought. In the midst of his suffering what touched him was my smile.

Of course, a smile evokes diverse thoughts, feelings, reactions. He said when he saw my smile, he thought, “Someone is happy out there.” Another client who had also responded to my smile said, “I imagined sitting across from a smiling face and thought that happiness, or at least a degree of contentment, was possible for me, too.”

As the holidays are upon us, I am aware of those who have much, those who have enough, and those who have little. Perhaps, in the midst of the holiday shopping craze (not that I don’t like a gift here and there), what we can give one another is a smile. I’m talking about an authentic smile, one that comes in a moment when we see another and recognize something human and shared. I believe we are hungry for warmth and acceptance and perhaps a smile conveys, at least for a moment, that the person you are smiling at matters. And that, I believe, is a wonderful and meaningful gift.

Happy holidays to all.

Polyamory and Marginalization

rami-marginalization1

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

What is marginalization?Have you ever been marginalized?  And, how would you know if you  had been? Do you often feel different from others?  Like you don’t quite fit in?

While some feelings of not fitting in may be related to your personal psychology, some of these feelings can come from the world around you. Marginalization often occurs when an individual or group minimizes or disavows the legitimacy, rights or privileges of others who are believed to be somehow different from the mainstream. Individuals and groups can be explicitly or implicitly marginalized.

Marginalization often occurs outside of ordinary awareness which means we do not notice when we are marginalizing ourselves or others, or when we are being marginalized.  Internalized marginalization is the experience of oppressing one’s self with inner criticisms or judgments. For example, I used to blame myself for putting my children in a position where they might feel like outsiders because I had chosen or created an unconventional relationship within which they also had to live.

For polyamorists, like other non-mainstream groups, marginalization occurs daily in small and large ways inside their relationship, from extended family members, and from the world. We live in a culture that places high value on monogomy and often fails to recognize or anticipate relationship structures that fall outside of the traditionally accepted survey categories: single, married, or divorced.

Our culture rewards and reinforces these familiar relationship structures in big and small ways. For instance, most athletic clubs offer family memberships and substantial savings to nuclear families but not to alternative ones. The majority of teachers and school administrators tend to react awkwardly when three adults show up for parent’s night. And the law has yet to fully legitimize homosexual and polyamorous relationships by sanctioning their unions with the same rights and privileges of married heterosexual couples.

Marginalization…sometimes so subtle and implicit, other times so gross and explicit. Have you noticed marginalization in your world?  What are your experiences with marginalization?

Betrayal and Trust

brokenheart

By Rami Henrich, LCSW

A topic that rears its head from time to time in many polyamorous relationships, and monogamous ones as well, is the issue of betrayal and trust.

It seems that most of us have experienced betrayal at some time in our lives…could have been a parent who didn’t keep their word to do something promised, or a friend who said they would call but didn’t. Little betrayals happen all the time, every day in many ways and perhaps we experience them as little hurts. When they are ongoing, we might experience betrayal, and find ourselves losing our ability to trust.

In polyamorous relationships being able to trust is paramount. After all, the idea of being polyamorous is built on the idea of being open, honest, transparent, consenting. Negotiating  relationships takes time and requires patience. Core values need to be discussed, logistics around time, money, children (if they are in the relationship), dating, including others etc. all need to be negotiated. A slip up on decisions made, often after frequent and lengthy discussions, can set one to wondering; slipping up more than once can significantly alter the relationship. Recently, at a poly support group, one participant shared about her history of betrayal by men and how her worldview had changed so that she now expected men to betray her.

One side of the equation is the one who has been betrayed, on the other side the betrayer. It seems that most of us identify with the one who has been hurt, the “victim,” so to speak of the betrayal. But how many of us have betrayed, have been the untrustworthy one? That side is generally less explored, and more difficult to identify with.

In poly relationships, the complexity of relationship structures demand a level of truth, transparency, and willingness to work through times when there is a breakdown of trust. Some say that it is the little things that build trust, others the big things. What do you think? Maybe both?

Beyond Identity: Identity and Aging

robin1

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about identity and aging. Now, several years beyond 65, I think about the future, about who I have been and who I will be. I feel that I have lived many identities…woman, mother, partner, psychotherapist, teacher, colorist, designer, freedom lover, daughter, sister, polyamorist etc. But who am I really? I notice that these identities float around but that some stick around over time. How is it that these identities come to be and why is it that they get rigid in my and others’ thinking?

Arnold Mindell, founder of Processwork (aka Process-oriented Psychology), a paradigm that informs my psychotherapy practice, speaks about identity in his book, The Shaman’s Body (1993). In it he says, ” Buddhist teachings, shamanistic rituals, and simply the process of aging imply that your personal identity will soon disappear. Personal history is your identity, the role you have in a given community and world…Your identity limits you by forcing you into a social role or mold needed by your community.” Identity is given to you. He goes on to say, “It seems sometimes as if you have just one central lesson to learn: to continuously drop all sorts of rigid identities.”

How do we do this, drop identities? Sometimes life forces it upon us, near death, loss of loved ones, changes in health, the sudden realization that I am different than I always thought myself to be. But Mindell suggests that we can let go of our identities more consciously.

"Relax..."One afternoon I was sitting in my yard reflecting on my life, the past, the present, but mostly about the future.  My “worrier” identity was in full gear with my inner voice churning around fears around aging and not having enough…enough money, enough friends, enough work, enough free time, enough engagement in community, enough contact with family, enough enough enough! As I sat there fretting, I noticed a robin sitting in her nest in a red bud tree in my yard, just sitting.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the wind picked up with strong gusts tossing chairs about on the deck. I looked up at the robin who seemed nonplussed by the sudden change in weather with gusts causing tree limbs to sway rather violently, lifting up, slamming down, shifting side to side. She just sat there bouncing to the rhythm of the wind. I was in awe of her. She just sat there going with the gusts, undisturbed and undeterred in her just sitting. As I watched her I thought, what would it be like to be her? What would it be like to shift my identity from Rami, the worrier, to “mama robin”? What would it be like to just sit and let the breezes blow me, to be able to just go with whatever came along in life?

I closed my eyes and imagined that I was her sitting there on that nest. Soon, I forgot myself and in my imagination I became her. I felt the gusts, that I was being moved by the wind, that I was nature, not a human being separate from it. As robin, I was along for the ride, I was lifted, swayed, bounced, in nature’s amusement park.  I felt that my identity had shifted from me, Rami, to mama robin for a few moments. Sitting up there on that branch I could see Rami sitting on the deck with all of her concerns about time, money, family, aging etc. Robin had a message for Rami. She said, ” Rami relax, get on board with nature, with life as she presents herself, sometimes a gentle breeze, at other times a strong gust.” She told Rami that she might enjoy her life more if she could be more robin-like, that is to recognize that she is a part of nature, not separate from it.

That was an amazing moment for me, the me who identifies as mom, partner, therapist, worrier etc. I realized that I was also the robin, the nest, the branch, the tree, the wind and so much more. It seems that conscious shifting or letting go of identities first requires awareness of them, and then the interest in altering or letting go of them.  After the robin experience, I thought about the fluidity and the rigidity of identity, how it is created by the past, by others’ expectations and not set in stone. Perhaps, you and I, are stuck with certain identities that keep us from recognizing other aspects of ourselves.

Thinking along these lines I wondered about the need to identify as straight or queer, polyamorous or monogamous, male or female,  or the need to identify at all. Identity…a rich topic to consider. How do you identify, and who do you say you are or are not? Perhaps if we stretch our minds a bit we can find the “other” in me, and me in the “other.”

Longing for Belonging

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by Rami Henrich, LCSW

The Chicago Polyamory Support Group is now into its 6th year. The group has welcomed hundreds of people through its doors. Being an open support group, anyone can come at any time. Each month a topic is selected and each time the discussion flows — both on and off topic as the group process unfolds.

A recent topic was “Telling Our Stories,” — sharing ourselves and listening with hearts open and attentive minds. Thirty people gathered and each person had the opportunity (if they so chose) to tell their story — embracing an in-the-moment, impromptu telling. Nothing prepackaged or prepared ahead of time. What happened was moving, touching, inspiring, brought tears to my eyes and smiles to my lips for 2 hours.

Whether 30 seconds or 3 minutes in duration, each story spoke to the depths of each person who shared…stories of sadness, endurance, strength, tenderness, upbringings filled with love and caring, pain and sorrow. One theme that echoed throughout the room was that of feeling “weird, an outsider, of not belonging” both in families of origin and over the course of time in the world. The feeling of not belonging mirrored the experiences I have written about in a paper on the concerns and issues unique to polyamorous clients who seek psychotherapy. Interesting!

The Chicago Poly Support Group has grown into a community of people who provide a home where those of us who feel on the fringes of mainstream society can bring our “outsiderness” in and feel inside, where we, who feel weird, can feel normal in our weirdness, where those of us who feel like we don’t belong, do belong.

Longing for belonging, so personal, and so universal — especially for those of us who may feel that we don’t.