How to Start an Open Minds Group in Your Community

By Keely Kolmes, Psy.D.

We started Bay Area Open Minds in the fall of 2009 and now have about 70 mental health professionals in our thriving group. We have an active listserv where we can seek consultation and referrals.

We’d love to help other communities to create their own groups. If you’re interested in starting one, here are our recommendations. We are also hoping that National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) may partner with us and consider listing state or community networks for clinicians to gather and connect.

1. If you are a student, find a Kink Aware Professional or Poly-Friendly Professional in your community and inquire as to whether they are willing to be a support/contact person to initiate group. It can be very stressful to take this on as a student but immensely helpful to have the support of licensed colleagues.

2. Our approach was to send the announcement to local LGBT therapy groups, graduate programs, local Kink Aware Therapists and Poly-Friendly colleagues who were known to Dr. Kolmes, founder of our group.

3. We got some more visibility through newspapers, at some graduate schools, through Good Vibrations magazine, and social media.

4. The first flyer was a blog post on Dr. Kolmes’s website and a paper announcement posted in public spaces. It read:

Are you a TADS? Please join our group: Bay Area Therapists Affirming of Diversity in Sexuality

This is a free group for mental health professionals in the Bay Area of California. We offer support, networking, and consultation for Bay Area clinicians and mental health trainees who embrace the full range of sexual expression of consenting adults. Our respective practices explicitly welcome and serve clients who engage in alternative sexual behaviors and relationships, including kink and poly folks.

We offer an email list (no consultation takes place on-list) and meet every other month at a member’s office.

We are especially interested in reaching out to students who may not have mentors or support in their clinical programs around working with sexually diverse populations.  Most clinical programs encourage students to explore their cultural identities and offer student groups organized around ethnicity, religion, LGBT-identity, disability, or other cultural affiliations.

But students who are kink or poly-identified or who want to work with these populations may have a more difficult time identifying one another and forming such groups. Many schools still don’t recognize these alternative identities as deserving of non-biased care and respect. We are seeking to bridge this gap. We offer a safe space to connect with other mental health professionals who are affirming of the full range of diverse sexual expression.

Contact me at drkkolmes@hushmail.com if you would like to get connected with us.

5. Our first meeting had 8 clinicians show up and the group evolved to monthly two hour meetings. Volunteer efforts started with naming of our group and we came up with Open Minds. After 3 years, we formed our Board of Directors and began collecting dues. At that point, we created a logo, website, and brochures.

Our aim was to keep membership fees low so as to make our group accessible to students.

6. Having funding became important because while our local queer therapist group was amenable to our sharing booth space with them at some events temporarily, we needed funds in order to be able to purchase our own booth space and have an independent presence at street fairs.

7. Towards end of the first year with Board of Directors (June, 2012) , we consulted with a Certified Public Accountant for pursuit of non-profit status and submitted forms to the Tax Board to become tax exempt professional organization. When we have funds in excess of $5000, will apply for non-profit status. One year and eight months after collecting dues we have about 73 members and are almost halfway towards non-profit funds needed.

8. We adjusted our schedule to have meetings every other month for 2 hours. In the last year, meetings became very business focused. However, we still feel that there is a strong need for a social and networking component to our group. Additionally, the email list has continued to be a good resource for seeking referrals and information. We are trying to get a social volunteer coordinator.

We hope we can encourage other communities to develop similar groups. It is clear that clinicians serving altsex and gender diverse communites can benefit from support and networking. Join us!