Monday, February 13, 2006

Meet Coach Sappho: Relationship Expert

(Link) Just in time for Valentine's Day, lesbian therapist Barb Elgin helps singles work through their issues -- before they go out there an leap into the first bad relationship they can find.

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
Washington Blade

If there ever were an audacious holiday, Valentine's Day is it. Proudly, unabashedly, it encourages sentiments printed on little candy hearts, a proliferation of red roses in gas stations and appalling public displays of personal affection.

Of course, it's not all bad. Valentine's Day, like most holidays, induces a certain amount of introspection and relationship analysis. For some, the examination will be painful. Not every single person appreciates being reminded of their lack of significant other - not every coupled person appreciates having their significant other.

Fortunately, there are plenty of gay and lesbian relationship experts that can help.

Barb Elgin is founder of Coach Sappho, a relationship coaching business. A relationship coach, as Elgin describes it, is a little less than a therapist, but a little more than a best friend. Elgin, 44, who is a lesbian, works to help people improve their lives so they are more prepared to enter romantic relationships.

"I started off really working a lot with lesbian women across the board with relationship issues, personal issues," Elgin says. "Quite a few women would come to me around the issue of leaving marriages. Now I'm really honing in and focusing in on things - in particular GLBT singles."

Elgin brings her national "Coach Sappho Tour D'amour" to Lambda Rising in her native Baltimore on Feb. 10, where she plans to counsel couples and hawk her relationship CDs.

ELGIN HAS PLENTY of advice for how to alter the course of gay and lesbian relationships before they even start.

"There's the scarcity trap, where it just seems really hard to find people that are in healthy situations that you can date," Elgin says, adding that she wants to help people find those healthy places so they'll be more attractive to prospective partners.

Discovering who you really are and what you require in a relationship is essential, Elgin says, and something her coaching emphasizes.

"Singles really can use a lot of support," Elgin says. "Most of us walk into relationships with what's called an unconscious frame of mind, which means that we have no process to judge."

Elgin says she tries to include as many perspectives as possible in her relationship groups so people can better understand different points of view.

"If it's a group of all women, they're missing a masculine perspective," Elgin says. "If it's all gay, they're missing a straight perspective. There's no easy answer, but what I'm moving toward is inclusiveness."

Homophobes need not apply, however.

"If you're an irritant, you can't be in the group," Elgin adds.

Steve Geishecker, clinical program manager of mental health services at Whitman-Walker Clinic, agrees that many relationship issues are universal

"A lot of the challenges that all couples face are very similar, " Geishecker says. Gender-role interplay distinguishes same-sex relationships, however, he says.

"Some of the ways that we're socialized will come into play because, typically speaking, women are often focused on the connectedness and relatedness and much more emotive than men typically are," Geishecker says, being careful to point out that the statement is a "broad generalization."

"Males tend to have some challenges around being vulnerable and communication control issues, competitiveness, those kinds of things," Geishecker says. "Some of the core traits that are gender-specific can sometimes clash in same-sex relationships."

HE ALSO ACKNOWLEGES that Valentine's Day can be difficult for some singles.

"When you look around and there's a world of couples around you, it can be a pretty big jab to one's ego," Geishecker says. "We typically find that it's a challenging time for singles. It only magnifies the loneliness that singles feel. People who want to be in a relationship will feel sad and lonely if they're not."

Geishecker and Elgin recommend that people who think Valentine's Day may depress them find a single friend or other person who feels similarly and make plans with them.

Kathleen DeBold, executive director of lesbian health organization the Mautner Project, says that singles and couples alike should focus on the positive message of Valentine's Day. "One of the things with our movement that sometimes we forget because we're always talking about equality and rights and wrongs that are perpetuated upon us," she says. "We forget to talk about love and that's why we're lesbians, because we love other women."