email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
Maximizing Effectiveness in Dynamic Psychotherapy Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy101 Healing StoriesA Clinician's Guide to Legal Issues in PsychotherapyA Map of the MindA Primer for Beginning PsychotherapyACT With LoveActive Treatment of DepressionAffect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of SelfAlready FreeBad TherapyBecoming an Effective PsychotherapistBecoming MyselfBefore ForgivingBeing a Brain-Wise TherapistBetrayed as BoysBeyond Evidence-Based PsychotherapyBeyond MadnessBeyond PostmodernismBinge No MoreBiofeedback for the BrainBipolar DisorderBody PsychotherapyBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBrain Change TherapyBrain Science and Psychological DisordersBrain-Based Therapy with AdultsBrain-Based Therapy with Children and AdolescentsBrief Adolescent Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Child Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Therapy Homework PlannerBuffy the Vampire Slayer and PhilosophyBuilding on BionCare of the PsycheCase Studies in DepressionCaught in the NetChild and Adolescent Treatment for Social Work PracticeChoosing an Online TherapistChronic DepressionClinical Dilemmas in PsychotherapyClinical Handbook of Psychological DisordersClinical Intuition in PsychotherapyClinical Pearls of WisdomCo-Creating ChangeCognitive Therapy for Challenging ProblemsCompassionConfessions of a Former ChildConfidential RelationshipsConfidentiality and Mental HealthConfidingContemplative Psychotherapy EssentialsControlConversations About Psychology and Sexual OrientationCoping with BPDCouch FictionCounseling in GenderlandCounseling with Choice TheoryCouple SkillsCrazy for YouCreating a Life of Meaning and CompassionCreating HysteriaCritical Issues in PsychotherapyCrucial Choices, Crucial ChangesDeafness In MindDecoding the Ethics CodeDeconstructing PsychotherapyDeep Brain StimulationDemystifying TherapyDepression 101Depression in ContextDialogues on DifferenceDissociative ChildrenDo-It-Yourself Eye Movement Techniques for Emotional HealingDoing CBTE-TherapyEarly WarningEncountering the Sacred in PsychotherapyEnergy Psychology InteractiveErrant SelvesEssays on Philosophical CounselingEssentials of Wais-III AssessmentEthically Challenged ProfessionsEthics and Values in PsychotherapyEthics in Plain EnglishEthics in Psychotherapy and CounselingExercise-Based Interventions for Mental IllnessExistential PsychotherapyExpectationExploring the Self through PhotographyExpressing EmotionFacing Human SufferingFairbairn's Object Relations Theory in the Clinical SettingFamily TherapyFavorite Counseling and Therapy Homework AssignmentsFear of IntimacyFlourishingFolie a DeuxForms of Intersubjectivity in Infant Reasearch and Adult TreatmentFoundations of Ethical Practice, Research, and Teaching in PsychologyFreud and the Question of PseudoscienceFrom Morality to Mental HealthFundamentals of Psychoanalytic TechniqueGenes on the CouchGod & TherapyHalf Empty, Half FullHandbook of Clinical Psychopharmacology for TherapistsHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHandbook of Evidence-Based Therapies for Children and AdolescentsHealing the Heart and Mind with MindfulnessHeinz KohutHelping Children Cope With Disasters and TerrorismHigh RiskHistory of PsychotherapyHow and Why Are Some Therapists Better Than Others?How Clients Make Therapy WorkHow People ChangeHow Psychotherapists DevelopHow to Fail As a TherapistHow to Go to TherapyHypnosis for Inner Conflict ResolutionHypnosis for Smoking CessationI Never Promised You a Rose GardenIf Only I Had KnownIn Others' EyesIn SessionIn Therapy We TrustIn Treatment: Season 1Incorporating Spirituality in Counseling and PsychotherapyInside the SessionInside TherapyIs Long-Term Therapy Unethical?Issues in Philosophical CounselingIt's Not as Bad as It SeemsItís Your HourLearning ACTLearning from Our MistakesLearning Supportive PsychotherapyLetters to a Young TherapistLife CoachingLogotherapy and Existential AnalysisLove's ExecutionerMadness and DemocracyMaking the Big LeapMan's Search for MeaningMaybe You Should Talk to SomeoneMetaphoria: Metaphor and Guided Metaphor for Psychotherapy and HealingMind GamesMindfulnessMindfulness and AcceptanceMindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for DepressionMindworks: An Introduction to NLPMockingbird YearsMoments of EngagementMomma and the Meaning of LifeMotivational Interviewing: Preparing People For ChangeMulticulturalism and the Therapeutic ProcessMultifamily Groups in the Treatment of Severe Psychiatric DisordersNarrative PracticeNietzsche and PsychotherapyOn the CouchOne Nation Under TherapyOur Inner WorldOur Last Great IllusionOutsider ArtOutsider Art and Art TherapyOvercoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and BehaviorsOverexposedPathways to SpiritualityPersonality and PsychotherapyPhilosophical CounselingPhilosophical Counselling and the UnconsciousPhilosophical Issues in Counseling and PsychotherapyPhilosophical PracticePhilosophy and PsychotherapyPhilosophy for Counselling and PsychotherapyPhilosophy PracticePhilosophy's Role in Counseling and PsychotherapyPillar of SaltPlan BPlato, Not Prozac!Polarities of ExperiencesPower GamesPractical Psychoanalysis for Therapists and PatientsPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyProcess-Based CBTPromoting Healthy AttachmentsPsychologists Defying the CrowdPsychology, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and the Politics of Human RelationshipsPsychosis in the FamilyPsychotherapyPsychotherapyPsychotherapy and ConfidentialityPsychotherapy As PraxisPsychotherapy East and WestPsychotherapy for Children and AdolescentsPsychotherapy for Personality DisordersPsychotherapy Is Worth ItPsychotherapy Isn't What You ThinkPsychotherapy with Adolescent Girls and Young WomenPsychotherapy with Children and AdolescentsPsychotherapy without the SelfPsychotherapy, American Culture, and Social PolicyRapid Cognitive TherapyRational Emotive Behavior TherapyRational Emotive Behavior TherapyRationality and the Pursuit of HappinessRebuilding Shattered LivesReclaiming Our ChildrenRecovery OptionsRelationalityRent Two Films and Let's Talk in the MorningSaving the Modern SoulScience and Pseudoscience in Clinical PsychologySecond-order Change in PsychotherapySelf-Compassion in PsychotherapySelf-Determination Theory in the ClinicSelf-Disclosure in Psychotherapy and RecoverySerious ShoppingSex, Therapy, and KidsSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySigns of SafetySoul Murder RevisitedStaring at the SunStraight to JesusStrangers to OurselvesSubjective Experience and the Logic of the OtherTaking America Off DrugsTales of PsychotherapyTales of UnknowingTalk is Not EnoughTalking Cures and Placebo EffectsTelling SecretsThe Behavioral Medicine Treatment PlannerThe Body in PsychotherapyThe Brief Couples Therapy Homework Planner with DiskThe Case Formulation Approach to Cognitive-Behavior TherapyThe Challenge for Psychoanalysis and PsychotherapyThe Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Clinical Child Documentation SourcebookThe Clinical Documentation SourcebookThe Complete Adult Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Couch and the TreeThe Couples Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Crucible of ExperienceThe Cure of SoulsThe Death of PsychotherapyThe Education of Mrs. BemisThe Ethical Treatment of DepressionThe Ethics of PsychoanalysisThe Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Gift of TherapyThe Great Psychotherapy Debate: The Evidence for What Makes Psychotherapy Work The Healing JourneyThe Heart & Soul of ChangeThe Heroic ClientThe Husbands and Wives ClubThe Incurable RomanticThe Love CureThe Making of a TherapistThe Mindful TherapistThe Mirror Crack'dThe Mummy at the Dining Room TableThe Neuroscience of PsychotherapyThe Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social BrainThe New Rational TherapyThe Older Adult Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Other Side of DesireThe Pastoral Counseling Treatment PlannerThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Pornographer's GriefThe Portable CoachThe Portable Ethicist for Mental Health Professionals The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday LifeThe Problem of EvilThe Problem with Cognitive Behavioural TherapyThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Psychotherapy Documentation PrimerThe Psychotherapy Documentation PrimerThe Psychotherapy of HopeThe Real World Guide to Psychotherapy PracticeThe Schopenhauer CureThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Talking CureThe Therapeutic "Aha!"The Therapist's Guide to PsychopharmacologyThe Therapist's Guide to Psychopharmacology, Revised EditionThe Therapist's Ultimate Solution BookThe Trauma of Everyday LifeThe Trouble with IllnessThe UnsayableThe Way of the JournalTheory and Practice of Brief TherapyTherapy with ChildrenTherapy's DelusionsTheraScribe 3.0 for WindowsTheraScribe 4.0Thinking about ThinkingThinking for CliniciansThinking for CliniciansThoughts Without a ThinkerThriveToward a Psychology of AwakeningTracking Mental Health OutcomesTrauma, Truth and ReconciliationTreating Attachment DisordersTreatment for Chronic DepressionTreatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety DisordersUnderstanding Child MolestersUnspeakable Truths and Happy EndingsWhat the Buddha FeltWhat Works for Whom?What Works for Whom? Second EditionWhen the Body SpeaksWhispers from the EastWise TherapyWittgenstein and PsychotherapyWorking MindsWoulda, Coulda, ShouldaWriting About PatientsYoga Skills for Therapists:Yoga Therapy

Related Topics
Conversations About Psychology and Sexual OrientationReview - Conversations About Psychology and Sexual Orientation
by Janis S. Bohan and Glenda M. Russell with Vivienne Cass, Douglas C. Heldeman, Suzanne Iasenza, Fritz Klein, Allen M. Omoto, and Leonore Tiefer
New York University Press, 1999
Review by Suzanne M. Johnson, Ph.D.
Feb 14th 2000 (Volume 4, Issue 7)

Conversations About Psychology and Sexual Orientation is a relatively brief book considering the breadth of the subject matter. What is the contribution of psychology to the study and understanding of sexual orientation? What are the assumptions held within psychology when studying sexual orientation and treating individuals clinically who present conflict, confusion, or questions about their sexual identity? What is psychology's role in setting or affecting public policy regarding legislation effecting gay, lesbian, and bi-sexually identified people? These are the questions addressed.

Using what can be at times a rather cumbersome theoretical starting point and basis for discussion throughout the book, Bohan and Russell set out to compare and contrast the traditional essentialist position held within psychology when examining sexual orientation (and for that matter any dimension of the human experience) and the more contemporary position of social constructionism. Elaborate and sometimes tedious detail is given to the details of each position. In essence, essentialism is seen as ultimately a poor theoretical position for examining human experience. It is seen as oversimplifying and overgeneralizing what is likely to be a far more complicated reality. Can sexual orientation be dichotomized or trichotomized using convenient labels of heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual and accurately represent the myriad of human sexual experience? It is the position of this book that the answer is an emphatic no. Social constructionism is seen as the far more desirable position from which to operate. Viewing human experience on a continuum and a case by case or individual basis is presented as the more strategic and more accurate strategy.

I am left with considerable ambivalence regarding the ultimate usefulness of the social constructionist perspective despite the thorough treatment by the authors of the position and frequent interesting comparisons to essentialism. However, the one area where the social constructionist perspective is convincingly clear and preferred is in the section regarding clinical practice. The several chapters directed to clinical practice are especially poignant in directing clinicians to examine their own assumptions regarding sexual orientation. Is the clinician’s assumption that there is one true orientation that a person must find, embrace and learn to accept? If so, holding this essentialist perspective will guide the clinical process leading clients to examine their lives to uncover their true and fixed sexual identity. If, however, the clinician works from a social constructionist perspective the process will move in quite a different way. Sexual identity or orientation is seen as something that is malleable, changeable, and fluid. It is possible that at different points in one's life one could view oneself in divergent ways regarding sexual orientation or perhaps even avoid assigning labels all together. The chapters exploring clinical practice are, by far, the most practical of the book. All clinicians who have clients with issues regarding their sexual identities would benefit from this read.

Having said that, I still hold an overall ambivalence toward the social constructionist perspective as presented in this book. This is particularly true of the two sections of the book concerning the social constructionist implication for research and public policy. My ambivalence is enhanced by the insightful observation made by Allen M. Omoto, in his chapter on lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues in public policy, regarding the role of critically examining essentialism and social constructionism:

intellectual discussion about essentialist and constructionist perspective on homosexuality may be simply that - intellectual discussions to be hashed out about among experts with relatively few implications for policy development, except for what may be politically convenient or expedient at a given time. There is a gap, I think, between what researchers, theorists, and even practitioners view as important or critical issues in the development of understanding sexual orientation and the concern of lobbyists, activists, and politicians who work for LGB rights. (p. 173). The low point of Conversations About Psychology and Sexual Orientation occurs in chapter 9 exploring psychological research implications for public policy written by Bohan and Russell. The content of their discussion is certainly full of details. The authors discuss and endorse the mainstream of research and scientific inquiry, which has historically and predominantly criticized an essentialist position as being ultimately detrimental to the causes of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. However, this is to misrepresent and misunderstand the usefulness of the essentialist perspective within research and also to misrepresent what the process of scientific inquiry. Their view is usefully countered by another comment by Omoto: On logical and scientific grounds, seeking to understand the causes of a phenomenon does not explicitly or even implicitly suggest anything about the value or meaning of the phenomenon. Hence seeking to understand the causes of sexuality, and homosexuality in particular, need not imply that certain practices or 'orientations' are problematic or inferior, or otherwise deviant. (p.166). Social constructionism is a useful tool like any other - including essentialism. To hold exclusively to either one or some other viewpoint is narrow and ultimately incomplete.

From a researcher's point of view one is left with a familiar and frustrating phenomenon within the human experience that need not have terms like social constructionism and essentialism tied to them. The phenomenon is the struggle to understand human experiences and to find ways to convey that understanding. One could use a social constructionist perspective and render primarily qualitative data; data that would most accurately describe that individual's experience but with little ability to generalize the results or observation to others. One could alternatively use an essentialist viewpoint and render general, assumed fixed, descriptive categories of lesbian, gay, and bisexual, allowing individuals to find where they most accurately fit, understanding that these individuals will never completely be satisfied with how the general descriptions depict people of that type as they are, after all, individuals.

Suffice it say that social constructionism undoubtedly renders the most accurate and real description of an individual's experiences within their understanding of their sexual orientation. Social constructionism, however, lacks a respected and valid position today within the scientific world of psychological research and the broader cultural understanding of sexual orientation, which fuels this very research. Herein lies the ultimate ambivalence toward social constructionism as being seen as a tool which could potentially replace and change the dimensions of research on human sexuality. It will not occur and should not occur exclusively. Both perspectives have value and should be taken into account. As Omoto states: "Shifting from an essentialist to a constructionist perspective may have the salutatory effect of inviting greater discussion of issues within the LGB community, but at the same time it may open up greater possibilities for disagreement from LGB detractors and supporters." (p. 169).

In sum, Conversations About Psychology and Sexual Orientation, leaves a mixed impression. For the clinician with clients presenting issues regarding their sexual orientation, this book will be extremely useful. For researchers within psychology and public policy workers this book may well be seen as a frequently frustrating academic exercise that leaves little to work from and little new information about sexual orientation that has not already been a point of discussion or debate. If anything is clear from reading this book, it is the need for further and considerable research from all perspectives to increase our understanding of sexual orientation and the fixed and/or fluid nature of that aspect of self, keeping the understanding that, like any other aspect of human experience, complete understanding and explanation will never be achieved.

Suzanne M. Johnson, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Psychology at Dowling College on Long Island, New York. She is currently completing a book with Elizabeth O'Connor, Ph.D. entitled Parenting Guide for Lesbian Mothers for Guilford Publishing. Dr. Johnson and Dr. O'Connor are also conducting the largest national study, to date, of gay and lesbian headed families to be published by New York University Press in 2001 entitled The Gay Baby Boom: A Psychological Perspective.   Useful link explaining some of the terms in this review: The Human Sexuality Web: Sexual Identity, by Ken Jett

To discuss this book or the review you have just read, join the Metapsychology Discussion E-Mail Group by going to this URL:


Welcome to Metapsychology.

Note that Metapsychology will be moving to a new server in January 2020. We will not put up new reviews during the transition. We thank you for your support and look forward to coming back with a revised format.

We feature over 8300 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than twenty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!

Join our Google Group!

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716