Working with kink/BDSM from a Person Centered Perspective; Part 1

The kink/BDSM community is one which has often had to hide in the shadows, facing judgement prejudice and discrimination. BDSM stands for bondage, domination/discipline, sadism/submission and masochism. Despite the entry of BDSM imagery into the mainstream, particularly in advertising, many people still hold strong opinions on those who either integrate kink into their sex lives, or see it as an identity. Perhaps it is unsurprising, but still disappointing that those who judge include therapists, since BDSM was only removed from the DSM  5 in 2010. Despite good evidence that those involved in kink have better mental health than those who do not.

Many people have reported pathologisation of their kink activities and/or identities, as well as what could be termed conversion therapy as therapists attempt to frame a preference or desire for kink as a sign of mental ill-health, the product of abuse or the  sign of hatred of other genders. Sadly feminism has also played a hand in this, with BDSM being framed as inherently misogynistic, and many women being shamed for even having kink fantasies.

Given this background, it feels important to me to speak openly and clearly about my attitudes to working with kink, to put my head above the parapet as it were, and in a series of posts I shall explore different ideas, thoughts, issues and attitudes.

Firstly, to tackle one of the biggest myths, and engines of prejudice, the idea that an individual is involved in BDSM due to trauma, abuse or mental illness. BDSM may be entered into for any number of reasons such as, intense sensory experiences and/or altered head-spaces, commonly known as dom or sub space. For other people it may represent a power dynamic, but without the intense sensory experiences  or altered head-spaces (although of course what altered and head-space mean are unique to each individual) such as a service sub, or findom (financial domination). Finally, and as is all too often overlooked,  kink may be attractive because it is erotic, to be blunt it turns people on. One can be a survivor, a victim of previous abuse and/or have a diagnosed mental health condition and be into kink. Indeed there is good evidence that BDSM may of itself be healing, but, it must be made clear that engaging in kink is not a symptom of either being abused or abusive. 

I work with clients around the meaning acts have for them, and do not believe in either pathologising sex acts, or other acts, or of imposing my meaning on theirs. In working with BDSM I am often more concerned with psychoeducation than determining if they like being spanked because they have a daddy fixation. This is not because I do not believe they might like being spanked because they have a daddy fixation, but because it is only relevant if it is causing them harm or distress.  Slightly tongue in cheek I would argue psychoanalysis likes to believe one wants to be spanked because Daddy did not do it, psychotherapy because Daddy did do it. I prefer a middle way which asks; Why is it an issue to you that you want Daddy to spank you? One might be fully aware of why one wishes to engage in BDSM and need no help in drawing those lines therapists seem to love simply so they can stroke their chin and cry “aha”. It is also the case that one might neither know nor care, as described by SM as “inexplicable” (Taylor, Ussher 2001).  I think it is important to point out here that the desire for BDSM may come from a place that might be pathologised (for example a rape victim exploring rape play) but that this, in and of itself, is no reason to assume someone cannot engage in the kink they wish to explore. All too often the assumption has been that one must be somehow mentally healthier than non kinksters, with no triggers, history or adverse life events before you can consider  BDSM.

This does not mean  that I am not aware of the potential for harm in any interpersonal relationships, including BDSM ones. Part of the pathologisation of BDSM is the idea it is separate or other (which is the result of all pathologisation) There are specific practices, such as needle-play, impact play, restraint, bondage, breath-play which may need education to be done safely. A client may feel shame or disgust at their desires, especially if they involve taboo subjects such as pain, rape, watersports or scat. The potential for exploitation in the kink community is also an issue, especially due to a history of covering up abuse and victim blaming. However it is important here to be led by the client, neither affirming nor denying their concerns. In this aspect I believe a person- centered approach has many advantages, especially when coupled with an in depth knowledge of kink and reflective practice.

In my next post I shall explore the idea that kink, of itself can be healing. If you would like to find out more about kink aware practice, or you are a client interested in therapy you can email northumberlandcounselling@gmail.com or use the contact form below

 

6 thoughts on “Working with kink/BDSM from a Person Centered Perspective; Part 1

  1. Thank you for sharing this! I have a post in draft about this exact topic, linking my need to be submissive to my psyche, childhood and past traumas, and was struggling to put a few things into words. This has given me a lot of food for thought so thank you!

    (In relation to person-centred counselling… inspired by Rogers, I’ve also been musing on the ideas of the ‘conditions of worth’ and whether BDSM play creates a safe space for enacting things that were repressed and ‘blocked’ )

    Like

    1. I would love to read your post, assuming it is a public one, I would love to read it once it is ready. I think for many people BDSM is exactly about that safe space, which is why it can be so harmful when kink is framed as inherently abusive, its almost like a form of professional gaslighting, where people are asked to question their own experiences of something

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sorry- somehow I completely missed this response. Yes, I agree with your assessment about professional gaslighting- sadly I think there are also people within the BDSM space itself who have learned to use abusive techniques to take advantage of newbies to the scene, so I suppose it is true sometimes that BDSM can foster abuse, but it’s not inherently part of being kinky in my opinion.
        I’m still drafting and redrafting the post but you have spurred me on to make it public- I will certainly share when it’s live x

        Like

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