I am spending this very chilly President’s Day avoiding the cold and decompressing from my weekend at The Flea. I want to thank all of the NELA staff and volunteers for putting together such a fantastic event. It was truly a joy to be part of this event.
This past weekend, I taught not one, not two, but three classes at the Flea! (Cue the Troubleshooting Kink on Friday Evening, which seemed to be very well received. From the feedback I got from the participants, I gave them a lot of information to think about and synthesize, which is kind of what I was going for.
Once again, I was grateful, inspired, and humbled by the participants of my Mental Health Roundtable and Breaking Silence classes. When discussing such fraught and taboo topics, there is always a risk that conversations can run off the rails, devolve into arguments, or become charged/unsafe spaces. This was the opposite of what I saw in those spaces. Every time I write about these classes, I find myself using the same words: empathy, courage, compassion, vulnerability, and respect. This is because they always seem to apply. If I keep teaching these classes, I worry that I’m going to run out of synonyms for these words. Talk about a wonderful problem to have!
There were some new things that came to light this time around. First of all, there are a lot of mental health professionals in the kink community. At least five members of the roundtable identified themselves as helping professionals of one stripe or another. Therefore, there was a lot of conversation around finding therapists who are knowlegdeable about kink or, at the very least, not pathologizing about kink, the complexities of navigating the kink community as a mental health professional, and the ethical complexities of finding and being a kink aware professional.
In terms of finding mental health professionals, the Kink Aware Professionals list is the resource most often cited. While this list is not exhaustive and provides no guarantee that you will find someone who is well trained or suited to your needs, it is a place to start. If it is not possible to find a therapist through that resource, there was a general consensus amongst the professionals in the room that self-advocacy is important. Furthermore, people should not be shy about finding someone who will work with them on their identified issues without coming across as judgmental or shaming. WebMD actually has some great general guidelines on finding the right therapist.
When I was in graduate school for social work, I was taught a few cardinal rules for working with clients:
- The client is the expert of her own experience
- Meet the client where she’s at
- Be mindful of your own biases and seek supervision to help manage them
- The client is doing the best she can with the skills she has.
I cannot tell you how many stories I’ve heard about mental health professionals who do not adhere to those rules. Perhaps it’s a matter of training or different theoretical perspectives. Perhaps some people in the field are more burned out than they realize. All I know is that when I keep those principles in mind, I do better work. When I forget or ignore those principles, they always come back to bite me.
In June, I am excited to be a version of my Breaking Silence talk at AASECT‘s upcoming conference in Minneapolis. While I have given smaller and talks to peers and coworkers, this is the first time that I’m going to be speaking to such a large audience of fellow professionals. I hope I can do some small part in educating my peers and maybe bring some of them back to the cardinal rules that have shaped my practice. Thankfully, I am far from the only one who is reaching out to the mental health folk about best practices with kinky clients. Raven Kaldera and Sabrina Popp, MD. have recently co-authored a book about counseling kinky clients. I know that other well known and experienced kink educators have done similar outreach as well.
If you are a mental health professional, someone who has found a mental health professional or any resources that people may find useful, I encourage you to email me or share them in the comments.