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Therapy with Lesbian Couples
Liz Telford

Speaking as a therapist and a heterosexual, the author discusses her work with lesbian couples. She suggests that necessary components of good therapy are the therapist’s awareness of his or her own views, fears and assumptions about homosexuality, and an understanding of the ways that society, including the world of therapy, stillsubjugates same sex relationships. Working with lesbian couples raises challenges that are pertinent to the wider issue of the redefinition of couple therapy in a society where the couple relationship itself is being redefined.


Despite changes brought by feminism and the gay movement, gay and lesbian relationships are still marginalised and relatively invisible in the community, andthis is also true of the therapeutic world. Recent issues of family and marital therapy journals have few articles addressing gays and lesbians. We live in a culture that is still predominantly heterocentric and homophobic and this affects all of us in one way or another. What makes for useful therapy with lesbian couples? What do heterosexual therapists need to consider in order to be in a positionto offer it? Should therapy be any different with gay and lesbian couples? Or do the differences require some particular approach? My own work with lesbian couples has sometimes challenged me to think beyond my usual horizon and this is occasionally disconcerting, but always refreshing. This has been the energy behind this paper. I have also found that while I am thinking about work with lesbiancouples, I am reflecting on the place of couple therapy more generally in contemporary society. I have noticed recently some renewed interest in couple therapy, and some rethinking. For example, in the Summer 2002 edition of Family Process, Gurman and Fraenkel state that we are now in a period of ‘Refinement, Extension, Diversification and Integration’ where the importance of context in shaping ourbeliefs must be acknowledged. In another

article in that issue, Pinsof suggests that the effectiveness of couple therapy is constrained by assumptions about what constitutes legitimate coupling. Parallel discussions are also occurring around Australia. At a Symposium of The Australian Association of Marriage and Family Counsellors (AAMFC), the keynote speaker, Margot Schofield (2003), invitedus to consider how our western view that the couple, the intimate pair-bond, is our primary relationship, might fit with our ageing, changing, and culturally diverse society. At the time of writing, there is also debate within the Australian Association of Marriage and Family Counsellors about whether the word ‘marriage’ in its name ought to be replaced with the more inclusive term ‘relationship’.Society is grappling with how to integrate the variety of intimate coupling options and this is paralleled in the society of therapists as we struggle with the terms that help define relationships. Discussions about counselling same-sex couples are a necessary part of this overall review process. There is still another aspect to this discussion that I realised was entering into my frame ofreference. How do relationship counselling and family therapy relate to each other? I have trained in family therapy and I have also trained and interned at a major relationship counselling organisation. In some ways these are two very distinct professional worlds. At times I’ve wondered if couple therapy is seen by some in the family therapy field as the old conservative aunt, a distant relative who isthere but hardly noticed, while conversely family therapy is sometimes seen by those in the couple therapy field as a reckless youngster, indulging in risky, perhaps even unethical, behaviour. How ready is either

Liz Telford is a Family and Relationship Therapist, Private practice, Northcote, Melbourne. Contact address: 12 Clifton Street, Clifton Hill, Victoria, 3068.

ANZJFT Volume 25...
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