On May 23, 2015, as part of the 7th Alternative Sexualities Conference, a discussion group comprised of kink-identified clinicians was held at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Being a counselor or therapist who is kinky, but also serving the kink communities, creates its own dynamics and issues. Kink-identified clinicians are frequently caught in the middle between the local BDSM/kink communities, and professional colleagues and organizations. This can be an isolating and stressful position.
The following are some notes and general reflections on participating in the kink-identified clinicians’ discussion group this past May:
First, I noticed several new conversations and topics. I’ve been attending these for at least 8 years, and 2015 was the first year I heard, very clearly, that there are circles of support and stronger networks among kink-identified therapists/counselors. There is more community building happening in Chicago and San Francisco, and in other parts of the country too that is specific to kink-identified clinicians. This means clinicians feel less isolated compared to just a few years ago. This means clinicians are finding better resources for consultation, referral, and continuing education in order to serve kink/BDSM communities. This is great news, and it is a marked shift from the past experience of kink-identified clinicians.
Another new conversation: the group acknowledged a growing awareness and a more frequent experience of the overlapping of the kink, LGBQ, trans* and poly communities – the increase in intersections of multiple gender and sexuality identities among clients and patients. This creates new demands for competent, informed care and the training of competent therapists and counselors. For example, there is a large range of consensual non-monogamies and when clients say they are “poly”, the meaning cannot be assumed by a therapist or counselor, but must be unpacked individually with each client.
Yet another new conversation: kink-identified clinicians being “tokenized” by their professional groups, agencies, departments and organizations. Being the token sexual minority in professional circles is a relatively new dynamic as professionals come out more often as kinky. Many people in the circle shared stories on this theme, and yet it was the first time I remember this topic coming up at these discussion events.
I also heard a number of very familiar themes and topics. The group discussed the difficulty of carving out a personal life, when one is kinky and has clients in the kink community. This is not just about running into your client at kink community events or play parties: it is also running into the partners of those clients. Even when well supported by colleagues and friends, many kink-identified clinicians must deal with a personal inhibition about dating, playing, etc. because of the possible entanglements and ethical issues that might come up.
The group also discussed all of the dangers in terms of employment. A therapist or counselor often works with people suffering and not in recovery from personality disorders, or other mental health challenges, that can make the clinician a target of anger and retaliation. Being in the closet protects clinicians’ jobs and employment, often, especially if they work in a public health system or work with the criminal justice system. Many local organizations and leaders of the BDSM/kink communities sometimes don’t appreciate this.
There is also often a burnout issue – it is exhausting to constantly negotiate the boundaries between profession and personal life, and community life. I heard several people talk about withdrawal from community events and organizations. Sometimes the line between work and play gets fuzzy, and the roles come into conflict.
I believe both the new conversations, and the old familiar ones, still call us to develop more resources and more awareness of the dynamics of being a kink-identified clinician serving the BDSM/kink communities.
I look forward to the next conversation (September 23, 2016 in San Francisco!).
--Richard A. Sprott