Conversations about Psychology and Sexual Orientation

By Janis S. Bohan; Glenda M. Russell et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Who Do We Want You to Be?
A Commentary on Essentialist and
Social Constructionist Perspectives
in Clinical Work

Suzanne Iasenza

As I read Glenda Russell and Janis Bohan's compelling and thought-provoking chapter on essentialist and social constructionist perspectives in clinical work, I began to reflect on my twenty years of clinical experience, much of which involved working with issues of sexual orientation. I experience myself as a social constructionist and as an essentialist in the therapy room at different times, depending on the patient and where I am in my own professional and personal development. My reading thus sparked an interest in how my therapeutic stances change and according to what criteria.

I ask different questions, as Bohan and Russell suggest, depending on the perspective I am using. They say that the essentialist asks, “Who are you?” and the social constructionist asks, “Who do you want to be?” So, for example, I may be the social constructionist with a confused adolescent who needs to explore possibilities without foreclosing on a particular identity. I would explore the “what ifs” of being with a man or woman, or both; of coming out or not; of impact on family, the prospect of having children, career choices—all part of who the client wants to be. Or, I may take a social constructionist position about the normality of fluidity and the multidimensionality of sexual orientation to help a heterosexual patient nonjudgmentally examine the homosexual parts of the self.

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