J.P. Cheuvront, Psy.D. for IAPSP.com
The recent passage of a bill in New York State allowing same-sex couples to wed is a reminder of the changing configurations of families. New York has added itself to the ever-increasing list of states (Connecticut, District of Columbia, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont) that allow same-sex marriage and bestow upon them the same rights and responsibilities of their heterosexual counterparts.
Most clinicians are familiar with different dynamics and challenges introduced by differently configured households–increased divorce rates and misfortune of the death of a spouse leading to single-parent families are one example. But many of us have had significantly less exposure to same-sex parent households and working with same-sex couples.
Because self psychology and other contextually-aware psychoanalytic thinking prioritize subjective experience, clinicians working from within the patients’ experience possess strong foundations from which to provide clinical help to these couples and families. Working from within a couple’s or family’s frame-of-reference does help side-step stereotypes, expected social norms and biases, and our own prejudices, that can be woven into the fabric of other theoretical approaches. Still, we are best able to contribute in articulating peoples’ subjective experience when we have some ideas to build on. It is possible that some of us may not feel prepared or qualified to handle these situations. Similarly, others may make the mistake of feeling over-confident and assuming that same-sex parented families and couples work is necessarily no different than work with the heterosexual counterparts.
To this end, I thought that it might be useful to suggest some reading for those wishing to expand their familiarity with same-sex parented family and couple work.
Ann D’Ercole and Jack Drescher’s 2004 edited book Uncoupling convention:Psychoanalytic approaches to same-sex couples and families is an excellent place to start (full disclosure: I’m a contributor.) D’Ercole, Drescher and colleagues draw on cultural, feminist, psychoanalytic and queer studies to provide theoretical context in which to illuminate the experiences of same-sex families and couples. A good review of the book, informative unto itself, written by Richard Ruth (2005) can be found online.
Memoirs can convey more in their specifics than tens of terrific journal articles. To that end, and for those of you who are interested in less theory, more personal experience, and an entertaining read, I suggest two memoirs by Dan Savage. Savage invites us to journey with him through the decision to expand his family through adoption and, later, his decision to marry the other parent of his son, in The kid: What happened after my boyfriend and I decided to get pregnant published in 2000 and The commitment: Love, sex, marriage and my family published in 2006. For those unfamiliar with Savage, he is editor of The Stranger – an alternative weekly newspaper – and a nationally syndicated gay sex-advice columnist who has written, lived, and created a family in Seattle. Savage’s memoirs are touching, thoughtful, humorous and raunchy, and provide an intimate look into the subjective experience and reflections of creating and negotiating his family life.
D’Ercole & Drescher (2004). Uncoupling convention: Psychoanalytic approaches to same-sex couples and families. New York: Routledge.
Ruth, R. (2005). Uncoupling Convention: Psychoanalytic Approaches to Same-Sex Couples and Families (Book Review). Psychologist-Psychoanalyst, Spring 2005, pp. 44-45. Also at
Savage, D. (2000). The kid: What happened after my boyfriend and I decided to get pregnant. New York: Plume.
Savage, D. (2006). The commitment: Love, sex, marriage and my family. New York: Plume.
The author is a graduate, faculty, supervisor and Coordinating Committee member of the Institute for the Psychoanalytic Study of Subjectivity (IPSS) in New York. He is a representative on the IAPSP International Council and has a private practice in New York City. He may be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carla Leone, Ph,D. is on the faculty of the Institute of Clinical Social Work in Chicago and the director of a group private practice in Lincolnwood, Illinois which specializes in the treatment of children, adolescents, adults, couples and families.