Notes from Kink-Identified Clinicians Gatherings
Sunday, March 8, 15
Every once in a while, CARAS has convened a kink-identified clinicians meeting, at various places and times. In fact, we have one scheduled for Saturday, May 23 in Chicago. See the event by going to http://caras.wildapricot.org/event-1865951
It is important to have special, focused meetings for therapists and counselors who are kinky themselves, and who often serve the kink community as well. There are complicated dynamics in serving a community that you are part of, when that community is a sexual minority.
Over the years, I hear common themes in these meetings:
1. Professional vulnerability due to stigma
2. Need for mentoring
3. Clinical concerns and competency specific to the kink community
The stigma attached to BDSM/kink sexualities interacts in unexpected ways with being a health provider or clinical professional. First, there are safety issues that get complicated by being kink-identified. Therapists, counselors and psychologists are often working with people in tremendous pain, distress or illness. Sometimes people act out or become threatening; sometimes clients stalk their therapists. In these situations, there can be unintended negative consequences of being identified as kinky in a public way for a mental health professional. NCSF in 2008 identified many of the ways in which BDSM/kinky people are discriminated against – including when it comes to getting law enforcement help when there are threats or crimes committed. This becomes more likely when mental health issues become part of the picture, negative attitudes and stereotypes about kink get activated, and professional identities become questioned. And even if all that goes well, there is still the issue of colleagues rejecting you when a safety incident becomes more public.
Another aspect of vulnerability, probably even more commonly experienced, is the isolation that kink-identified clinicians find themselves in, for a variety of reasons. Many therapists talk about the way they keep professional boundaries and ethics intact, by limiting their participation in the community – playing or socializing only when they leave town, or having a very tight circle of friends and staying within that tight circle. This is an issue that needs more unpacking and more exploration – but the result is more isolation for kink-identified clinicians.
Need for Mentoring
The clinicians who come to these gatherings are all hungry for more mentoring and networking, more connection to their colleagues wrestling with the same issues. There are some pioneers in the field, who manage all these particular issues in a variety of ways. Yet it is difficult to find or connect to these pioneers. CARAS currently estimates that there are just over 500 kink-aware counselors and therapists in the United States. Not all of these are kink-identified clinicians. (There are 93,000 practicing psychologists in the United States; roughly 310,000 licensed clinical social workers; and roughly 120,000 mental health counselors = .1% of all clinicians are kink-aware professionals).
We need someone to gather the stories and the insights of these pioneers – a project just needing to be done! That would be one step towards fulfilling the need for more mentoring within the mental health professions.
There is a need for further research and training about consent violations, abuse, and resiliency factors affecting kinky clients. Kink-identified clinicians are often dealing with these issues with clients in deeper, more complex ways – but often relying on their own insights and experiences only as a guide. At every gathering, there are questions about cases and situations brought up – signifying the hunger that kink-identified clinicians have for providing the best service to the community that they can.
But this requires more networking, more reflection, more research – in the face of isolation and stigma.
More work in this area needs to happen. Anyone wanting to address these issues, please think about working with CARAS to improve the situation for kink-identified clinicians. Contact us! firstname.lastname@example.org