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Book Review: A Therapist's Guide to Consensual Nonmonogamy: Polyamory, Swinging, and Open Marriage

Title: A Therapist's Guide to Consensual Nonmonogamy: Polyamory, Swinging, and Open Marriage

Authors: Rhea Orion, PhD

Year Published: 2018

Main Topics Covered: Relationships, Polyamory, Marriage, Consensual Nonmonogamy, Open Relationships, Swinging, Ethical Nonmonogamy

Written for: Therapists

Recommended for: Therapists, Practitioners

Perspectives Taken: Sex Positive, Open-minded, Polyamory, Open marriage

Type of Resource: Therapist Guide Book

APA Citation: Orion, R. (2018). A therapist's guide to consensual nonmonogamy: Polyamory, swinging, and open marriage. New York, NY: Routledge.


Book Overview:


Rhea Orion’s book is a resource for therapists who are looking for helpful mindsets, information, and step-by-step guidelines to help clients navigate common themes and issues around consensual nonmonogamy (CNM). It is geared towards therapists of all levels of experience with consensual nonmonogamy, including those who are new to the topic. She brings her years of experience in the field, cites current research and uses case study examples to illustrate techniques and examples of healthy and dysfunctional consensual non-monogamous relationships, as well as common societal attitudes and beliefs that may impact both therapists and their clients. Her writing is down-to-earth and engaging.


Orion begins the book by encouraging open-mindedness and breaking down mainstream ideas about relationships, dispelling many of them in the process. For example, how much sex within a relationship leads to happiness? Spoiler – there isn’t a set amount. Is monogamy easy for most people? No, it’s not – research shows that most of the population seem to have difficulty maintaining exclusive sexual relationships. Though monogamy is a deeply rooted societal norm, the freedom to have multiple partners (sexual and/or romantic) is becoming more normalized in some parts of society. Though this smaller group is acting on an impulse many individuals feel but resist, this lifestyle is still outside the norm.


What are the issues that consensual non-monogamous relationships face? Orion has found that the main complaints for those in consensual non-monogamous relationships are: (1) time management issues, (2) communication, (3) jealousy, (4) stigma, and (5) difficulty in finding safe, effective help. If many of these may seem like familiar relationship issues – they are. Individuals in traditional monogamous relationships may experience these same issues, though they are less likely to experience (4) and (5) – a felt sense of stigma and a shortage of help. However, with more partners involved, the issues are magnified in CNM relationships. The increased complexity of CNM relationships requires therapists to be sufficiently prepared to assist clients in dealing with these issues. Utilizing both research and experience, Orion suggests an unwelcome truth: though our society proclaims monogamy as the norm, it is not the norm in practice. Cheating is the result of monogamy that is preached but not practiced, and results in feelings of guilt, resentment, hurt, and damage to relationships.


Therapists need to be aware of their own deeply rooted beliefs about consensual nonmonogamy in order to be effective helpers in this area. They need to be up to date on common CNM relationship styles, such as: 1. Polyamory (romantic, loving, and long-term) 2. Swinging (sexual in nature) 3. ‘Open relationships’ (primarily sexual in nature but can also be romantic). The definitions and language therapists use in-session will depend on their clients – some clients may detest labels, while others may have their own definition of what their relationship means to them.


Orion advocates the benefits of ideal polyamory, which include more love and sex, personal growth, deepened communication, and expanded families with shared responsibilities and resources. An ‘open’ marriage can help to maintain intimacy and sexual relations for the marriage, as well as averting boredom and stagnation. Clinicians who have not been sufficiently trained in this area may inadvertently cause or perpetuate client distress rather than help, thereby decreasing the odds that clients will experience positive outcomes. Some key factors therapists need to keep in mind about CNM relationships are: 1. They require honesty 2. There is no one-size-fits all: CNM relationships are on a continuum 3. They require hard work 4. They have benefits and exists in various formats


Successful consensual nonmonogamy requires an emphasis on personal growth, communication skills, valuing love and freedom over jealousy, strategies for managing jealousy, creating and maintaining boundaries and rules, maintaining family commitments, good time management, healthy self-esteem, and respect for each partner.


Orion’s clinician-focused guide to consensual nonmonogamy is a well-researched book that provides techniques that can help therapists as well as individuals interested in enriching their own lives in a CNM relationship. While it does not go into deep detail into each CNM focused topic due to the breadth of information addressed, the book is a handy guide that addresses most situations.


About the Author:


Dr. Rhea Orion, PhD, is a Sex Therapist certified by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. She holds a Doctorate in Psychology from Saybrook University in California and has worked for decades as a marriage and family therapist, teacher, sex and drug educator, and a spiritual emergency counsellor. She is also a Family and Consumer Scientist with a degree in Child and Family Studies from the University of New Hampshire.


In addition to being a Family and Consumer Scientist with a degree in child and family studies from the University of New Hampshire, Dr. Orion is a grandmother, writer, and cancer survivor who has been certified by the Arthritis Foundation and the International Sports Medicine Association to help with positive management for people living with arthritis, disabilities, and chronic illness.

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