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BDSM and therapy – Time to remove the shame.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had two clients express how grateful they have found me.

Grateful as they do not have to hide who they are. Grateful they can sit in my room and speak of their adventures confidently, they will not be judged or shamed.

Grateful I am as open as I am in my advertising and communication around kink and BDSM.

Previously, these clients have experienced unpleasant experiences from other therapists or have not felt comfortable speaking of their preferences. Let’s face it, speaking of any mental health issue can be shadowed by shame or other feelings resulting in us, as humans, hiding away and not being willing to face them. I can tell you I have sat across from a couple of professionals and felt I needed to be silence as my conversation was making them uncomfortable. During my time at university, I have sat in a classroom and listened to a lecturer shape minds around those who enjoy leather, flogging, or sleep with teddy bears as adult.

When you understand the history of kink and BDSM in professional circles, especially psychologists, you can see why they think and feel the way they do. Since 1952, fetish, kink, BDSM or any sexual behaviour that was seen outside of the norm was classified as a mental illness. This included homosexuality, the powers that be decided any non-mainstream sexality was a sociopathic personality disorder. Thankfully we have come a long way, or have we?

..any mainstream sexual activity was a sociapathic personality disorder..

Psychologists are known for treating clients according to the DSM (Diagnositc Statictical Manual). They are trained under the medical model. The DSM is their bible, rarely to they stray from it. I am familiar with the DSM, I also believe any person can find themselves with a diagnosis from the manual. With such a prestigious manual stating non-mainstream sexual behaviours are not normal, why would anyone who is trained in mental health think it is anything but normal?

A revision in 1987 (DSM-III-R) moved BSDM and kink from a sexual deviation listing to being a disorder. Now, if you are kinky you have a mental disorder. Disturbingly, children were being taken away from their parents by family courts because their sexual appetite included spankings or more than missionary position.

‘‘Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies involving the act (real, not simulated) of being humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer.’’

and/or

‘‘The person has acted on these urges, or is markedly distressed by them.’’

In 2009, Richard Krueger raised concerned for how stigma and bullying within workplaces, family courts, etc were impacting the BDSM and kink community. He stated the behaviour towards these communities created high levels of stress and was contributing towards a mental health issue, not the sexual behaviours themselves.

May 2013 the DSM-5 was released. Victory, but has the damage been done?

“A paraphilia is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for having a paraphilic disorder, and a paraphilia by itself does not necessarily justify or require clinical intervention.”

Moving forward I have been in conversations with clinicians who are open to understanding and learning more, also the opposite. The myths are still believed.

The last thing I want for our BDSM community is an underlying fear of walking into a therapists office and being shamed for enjoying breath play or being blindfolded and tied to a St Andrews Cross.

My aim is to change the way therapists and the wider community see kink and BDSM.

I am not saying everyone should like it, everyone should do it, and everyone should be into spankings. If that’s the case, I am going against one of the biggest pillers of the community – consent.

However, you can sit in my room. You can talk about your vanilla sex life, or you can talk about how much you enjoy primal or pet play. There is no judgement.

Work in the mental health field? No thanks.

I never intended to work in the mental health field. In high school, when they gave us those books with all the jobs and what courses you needed to do, I was baffled at why I would want to attend university. No one in my immediate family had. They are all blue-collar workers and proud tradies.

Directly out of high school, I followed in my mum’s footsteps and entered the field of home decor. She was a manufacturer; I was in retail. I had my retail store in a tiny town inland from Airlie Beach in North Queensland, where I started at the local markets. After 15 or so years, I remember thinking – there has to be something more to life than making people’s homes pretty.

Youngest daughter

During these early years, I had two beautiful girls. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I remember how motherhood was for me. I was not one of those mums where everything was perfect, the soccer mum type. I struggled. When my oldest was 18 months old, I was diagnosed with post-natal depression. To this day, I do not think I moved through it.

Five years later, I found myself sitting in a hospital psychologist’s office, around four months pregnant and told I had prenatal depression. That depression stayed with me for years. I saw countless mental health people, on and off medications, you name it. I could not shake it.

I have a reason for sharing. Stay with me.

My oldest struggled at school, and she needed to repeat year 2. She was later diagnosed with ADD with hyperactivity, amongst other things. I remember seeking help from a doctor when she was younger to be told I was just a stressed-out mum. As part of her care, she required speech therapy. Little did I know, years later, that this was the start of my new life.

I began university in Townsville intending to have a career in speech pathology. I had to start with a medical science diploma, the gateway to all medical fields at James Cook University. After six months, my husband and I packed up the girls are moved across the country to Perth. The universities here did not offer the same courses, and I could not complete the diploma online. I began a psychology undergraduate degree as the gateway to speech pathology.

I never did finish a speech pathology degree. I started it, my marriage ended, and life turned swiftly upside down.

I sought the help of professionals and was told I had traits of borderline personality disorder and bipolar. At the time, it gave me a reason why I felt the way I did, so I grabbed onto it. I was medicated for a while, and maybe that saved my life. Now, I wonder, how can they give me those labels after one or two visits?

I took two years off from my studies to regain control of my life. When I decided to go back, it was tough. I worked, studied, and raised my daughters throughout a hostile separation. My family were back in North Queensland, and I had no friends to speak of. Every semester I would ask the universe to give me a semester with no issues. Every semester, it felt just as hard as the semester before. I persevered. I graduated with an undergraduate degree and completed further studies in psychotherapy and counselling.

My two girls

Why am I sharing this?

I want you to know I’ve been there. I know what it is like to feel so lost you don’t know if you are coming or going. I’ve felt so angry I wanted to scream constantly. I’ve cried for days on end. I know how hard it is to crawl out of bed every day when all you want to do is hide under the covers. I remember going to counselling sessions with my head hiding in a hoodie as I didn’t want to be seen by another person.

The most important thing I learned after my separation was that I do not have BPD or bipolar. My responses were perfectly normal for what I was experiencing.

The other thing I discovered, my marriage was a symptomatic cause of my unhappiness.

During my many years at university, I discovered how grief and loss work. I learned how depression could affect us when we face life changes. I discovered what feelings and emotions are normal for life changes. I also learned how childhood paves the way for our adult selves and how connections with others and relationships are affected.

These discoveries paved the way to where I am now. I am sitting in my healing space in Midland, working with people like you. People who want connection and are unsure of how to get it or even what a healthy connection looks like. People struggle with who they are and what their needs are. People who have lost sight of what makes their souls sing with excitement. People who have childhood wounds and struggles yet don’t even realise it.

Undergraduate graduation

My life journey is not different to a lot of the stories I hear in my office. I relate to them on some level.

I never wanted to work in mental health. Psychotherapy and counselling is something I found a love for when I realised how many answers it holds. I realised it was “the something more to life than making homes pretty“.

It’s the opposite. They want to be told everything right and normal about them! I mean, normal is just a setting on a dryer or washing machine, right? The more we tell people they are broken or give them a label when their life is just turned upside down, the more we keep them stuck.

Attachment theory (how we connect with others) resonated with me on many levels. I look at my childhood of travelling around Australia and see how not being able to develop long-term friendships has hindered my adult life. I understand how I was parented has impacted how I parented my children. I see how parenting styles also impact adult relationships of all kinds. I have a new level of understanding and can sit with those thoughts without being overtaken by them.

I wish I had people who told me life was shit because I was getting separated or my hormones were going crazy. Even more so, I wish I had someone explain why and how my childhood affected my adulthood and my relationship with my daughters.

I bet life would’ve been much different back then if they had told me. Thankfully, now I know, and I understand. Upside. I have the power to change it, and so can you!