As of 2021, I have maintained a solo practice in Seattle for 22 years. I’m 68 years old and a native of New York City. My path to becoming a therapist in Seattle has gone through Chicago (college), Boston and Los Angeles. I’m a father, son and brother.
Practicing psychotherapy has been greatly fulfilling, as have my own experiences of being a client in individual and couples treatment. My areas of practice frequently let me see my clients at their best. Working with people always beckons me to find my own.
I’m married and I’ve been ‘unmarried’ too, all while parenting a wonderful and successful young adult.
Monogamy is maturing, empowering and humbling. Choosing and wanting the same partner over time is a remarkable accomplishment of the human spirit. The foundation, as in all relationships, is personal integrity.
The very same integrity is essential to consensual non-monogamy (CNM). Ethically developing concurrent committed relationships offers a different path to self-growth and maturity.
I try to bring the benefit of working with all relationship types to my clients, with the ability to see the common elements of adult development that cross over both relationship paradigms.
Professional Education & Development
In 1994, I received my Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from the University of Southern California School of Social Work in Los Angeles (renamed USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work in 2016). It was the nation’s first school of social work established west of the Mississippi. It’s currently ranked #25 by U.S. News and World Report, out of 756 MSW programs in the U.S. The School is known for its excellence in clinical training. My Bachelors degree is in Political Science (1975) from the University of Chicago.
My work is grounded in the study of life and its development, in which human psychology holds a place. This fits with the theory developed by Murray Bowen, M.D. (1913-90), widely accepted as one of the great influencers of 20th century psychotherapy.
Although trained psychoanalytically, his theory evolved along very different lines. It emanates from the study of living systems, including using terms from microbiology like differentiation and immunity. He brought a distininctly systemic (not psychoanalytic) focus on family members in groundbreaking ways. His psychological framework and theory is best summarized here.
In the broadest terms, I am a “systemic” therapist, better described as “eco-systemic“. It came together for me over several years of study and consultation with the late James (“Jim”) Maddock, Ph.D (AASECT President 1987-89), a brilliant clinician, educator and sexologist. I met him in workshops with David Schnarch, Ph.D & Ruth Morehouse, Ph.D.
“Eco-systemic” involves finding an accurate, useful big picture, integrating a wide variety of personal, historic, environmental information about you. I often integrate medical and neurobiologic (brain functioning) information in my ongoing assessment process. All of these factors emerge early in my therapeutic conversations.
A Developmental Perspective
I usually frame the ‘big picture’ within a developmental perspective – how people, families and relationships take their shape over time. I continuously look at the personal, biological, gender, family and relational “ecology”, striving to create a picture that helps us make sense of problems, and links to therapeutic action you can consider. To me, this multi-systemic approach is the heart of clinical social work.
Relationship Therapy Focus
Like most other therapists or counselors, I work with individual clients (about a third of my practice), and develop skills in that area. But my ongoing training and development is heavily focused on relationship and couples practice. I believe this emphasis is necessary to effective work. I also agree with David Schnarch: “Couples therapy can be the best individual therapy you can get.”
Bowen understood that “the family” could be one focus of his theory. I see “family” as both biological and chosen. Two or more committed partners are a family unit, with children or not.
Integrated Relational & Sexual Therapies
My core relational therapy training integrated sexuality into its basic model Working with sexual diversity followed directly from there. Understanding kink, a broad term of eroticism, desire, and sexual creativity/diversity, was an easier task, because the underlying approach was and is intentionally sex-positive.
I’m grateful that my theory and practice over the last 21 years has allowed me to expand the kinds of relationships I can effectively work with. This has included committed multi-relational partners, so-called polyamory, consensual non-monogamy – (CNM), open marriage or relationship for the last 17 years.
Kink knowledgeable practice is directly related to integrated relationship & sexual therapy. The most robust and durable sexual relationships are fueled by the human imagination. Its fullest expression is in responsible kink practices.
For the past 17 years, I have worked with sex-positive, kinky and Leather clients, and kept very current or active with academic research. I have delved deeply into U.S. Leather cultures and their histories as a prime example of advanced human sexual practices.
Relationship Therapy Training
I spent 1997-99 in professional education with John Gottman, Ph.D, and in my early clinical practice with relationships. From 1998 until 2004, I trained with David Schnarch in three week-long intensive workshops, plus three additional 1 and 2 day workshops*. I have also done a 6 month case consultation in 2010 with him, and for nearly two years with his partner, Ruth Morehouse, Ph.D.
My near decade of training and consultation with Dr. Schnarch formed a foundation for my work. If you want the briefest summary of core principles and framework for couples therapy, using his approaches, read this by Dr. Schnarch.
I trained and consulted with Jim Maddock, Ph.D., for four years, initially in two week-long practicums with him and his wife, the equally well-regarded Noel Larson, Ph.D. Among other feats, Drs. Maddock and Larson integrated diagnosis and treatment of personality disorders with systems theory. I maintained two peer clinical consultation groups with other advanced students of Dr. Schnarch, and then Maddock and Larson, for ten and four years respectively.
Perel, Klein, et al.
In the last 8-10 years, I have enjoyed the influences on my approach from much education with Esther Perel, LMFT and Marty Klein, Ph.D. Both are erotically and sexually mature approaches. They bring scholarship, broad knowledge, love and respect for sexuality as one of life’s greatest treasures.
I continue to read professionally in my specializations of kink, non-monogamy, with neurobiology as my “minor”.
Other Professional Activity
• As of July 2010, I am a Past President of the Board of Directors of the Washington State Society for Clinical Social Work (wsscsw.org), after serving a two year term. I have been an active member for 19 years.
• In 2005, I co-led the launch of the Veterans Outreach Program, which provides free & low cost therapy to veterans who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their families. In 2012, I re-launched this program, reaching veterans and families through a network of community based professionals.
• I have been a member of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, a leading organization for critical incident response since 1998
• I maintain continuing education in professional ethics, relational therapy, sexuality, trauma, neurobiology and grief.
Clinical Social Work and Licensure
The LICSW (Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker) is the highest level of licensure for Clinical Social Work in Washington State. To learn more about this licensure, see Resources.
In the U.S., Clinical Social Work is the single largest profession providing private mental health services. It should not be confused with social work services provided in institutional settings, such as in hospital discharge planning, or in local government child/adult protective services, For more information, see “WSSCSW” in the Therapy Links tab above.
* (Professional references to training with Dr. Schnarch are contractually required to be specific in number & nature.)
Robert Odell LICSW / Counseling and Therapy