I recently found a local counsellor I like, but when I revealed that I enjoy BDSM and kinky sex (impact play, objectification, dominance and submission etc) she became visibly distressed. Her jaw literally dropped. She told me that what I do is unhealthy and that I should deal with my issues and trauma in other ways. I thought she was going to be a good counsellor for me, but her reaction made me really uncomfortable. What do you suggest? Any insight would be appreciated.
Kinky and frustrated
Dear Kinky and frustrated,
Although the situation has improved since BDSM was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 2013, some counsellors and therapists remain ideologically opposed to BDSM and kink.
Counselling and therapy includes dozens of different modalities and approaches, each with their own theoretical and philosophical foundations. Sometimes these various modalities are contradictory to one another. One therapist might well support your kinky lifestyle, another will not. This can reflect the type of therapy or counselling they do, but it’s more likely based on their own personal biases and prejudices. The arena of human sexuality is especially fraught with shadow and difficulty, and counsellors are not immune. Our cultural puritanism runs deep, and often leaks into the counselling office, where concepts of normalcy get pitted against concepts of deviancy.
I’m curious – Are you indeed dealing with your “issues and trauma” through kink and BDSM? Or is this your counsellor’s assumption? Are your kinky proclivities troubling to you? Or are they just troubling to her? These are useful distinctions.
If you otherwise like this counsellor you could ask her about her possible prejudice and see if a way forward together is possible. If sex figures heavily in your counselling work, and if you want someone who can accept your enjoyment of BDSM and kink, you might have to cut your losses and look for a counsellor who is kink-friendly and BDSM-aware. Some counsellors and therapists will openly advertise this, or you can ask explicitly in your initial consultation.
My approach is to treat kink and BDSM as a rich and fascinating area of sexuality. Certainly there is important psychological material there, but it should be met on its own terms in a spirit of curiosity, not with reflexive disdain, criticism, or moralizing.
Kink and BDSM can be seen as a space for playing out particular sexual or erotic psychodramas. These psychodramas are not necessarily damaging, and can be the rare places where certain dark myths get a voice. Consensual BDSM is not literal abuse, it is symbolic and metaphorical. Unfortunately, not all counsellors and therapists understand this.
Beyond the psychological implications, kink and BDSM can also simply “feel good” for some people. There are plenty of physiological and biochemical explanations for this, ie – the dopamine release that comes from a sense of accomplishment or the endorphine cascade produced by certain kinds of strong sensations.
Plenty of research is available to support the health and legitimacy of kink and BDSM practices. All your counsellor or anyone else has to do is search “BDSM research” online and they’ll see about a million results. If you’re feeling generous and want to do your counsellor’s work for them, you can always send them a link to this Introduction to BDSM for Psychotherapists.
Is it possible for BDSM and kink to be unhealthy? Of course. If you have concerns about your sexual inclinations, taking these concerns to a therapist or counsellor is an option, but it’s the counsellor’s job to examine these possibilities with you, not to project their own shadow or assert their judgements onto your sexuality.
Bottom line? It sounds like your counsellor’s reaction to your sexuality is professionally outdated and inappropriate. You can agree to disagree with her on this one point, you can try to educate her, or you can look for a kink-friendly counsellor who understands or at least won’t judge this aspect of you.
All My Best,
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~ Make a place for consensual Dominance and submission alongside equality and respect
~ Confront the shame, doubt, or self-consciousness that thwarts or confuses you.
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