Open Minds at Folsom Street Fair 2014

Bay Area Open Minds had our second showing at the 2014 Folsom Street Fair this year. Thank you to member Christopher Corey, MA who made it all happen and organized all of our efforts.

Second, thanks to everyone who assisted and who sat in our booth and talked to passersby and gave them our brochures. Lots of folks took brochures and were excited to know we are here.

Thank you to: Daniel Clifford, MA, Jaclyn Lambe, PsyD, Joe Zarate-Sanderlin, MFC, Josie Valderrama, PsyD, and Karen Davison, PsyD who shared a shift with me, Dr. Keely Kolmes.

We intend to have a yearly presence at Folsom. It is such a joy to celebrate with our community and see how well-received our organization is.

Here is a picture of Daniel and Chris at our booth.

Christopher Corey and Daniel Clifford representing Open Minds at Folsom 2014
Christopher Corey and Daniel Clifford representing Open Minds at Folsom 2014

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 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!

Open Minds Debuts at Folsom Street Fair!

Victoria & Myles staff the Open Minds booth at Folsom Street Fair 2013

While it is the end of 2013, we are proud to note that on September 28, 2013, Open Minds had our first independent presence at the Folsom Street Fair. (Thank you to Gaylesta, another wonderful resource for LGBT clients and mental health professionals, for letting us share space with them last year.)

We thank our volunteers, Victoria Timpe who organized our volunteers, along with Myles Downes (who designed our beautiful banner and brochures). Thank you to Jesse Whittle-Utter, Cat Maness, and Cynthia Hoffman who staffed our booth.

We got to interact both with members of the the leather community who are looking for kink, poly, queer, and transgender aware psychotherapists, as well as with other mental health professionals who are interested in Open Minds and our mission.

Thank you to all of you who helped that weekend and to those of you who supported our presence.

Folsom Weekend Kicks off with Collaboration Between Open Minds and CARAS

By Karen Davison and Keely Kolmes

Folsom weekend started off this year with a couple of events important to the work of Open Minds.

On Friday, September 27th, for the first time, CARAS (Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities) and Open Minds co-hosted an event for Kink-Identified Clinicians. It included a social mixer, introductions and group discussion, and then thoughts on next steps.

Special thanks to Kirsten Beuthin and Alex Korsunskaya for heading up the subcommittee to coordinate this collaboration with Richard Sprott and CARAS and also to Myles Downes for giving a brief talk about Open Minds to those in attendance who did not know about our group. Approximately 25 clinicians attended this event.

The following day, the 6th Annual CARAS 2013 Alternative Sexualities Conference was held in downtown San Francisco, with 72 registered mental health professionals and clinicians in training from across the county. There were several Bay Area Open Minds members present.

The day began with a Keynote address by Dr. Amy Stone, contrasting the history of political advocacy for the LGBT community and the Alt Sex community. The closing talk featured Dr. Charles Moser addressing the logical flaws and clinical problems regarding the DSM-V’s paraphilia diagnosis. Attendees chose from multiple talks throughout the rest of the day that included themes related to BDSM, fetishes, open relationships, and swinging. Many of the talks were videotaped and will be available FOR FREE online at Kink Academy.

CARAS announced upcoming grants for research, prizes for research, and the next conference May 22, 2015 in Chicago.

Please Join Us This Weekend for Our First Winter Social – December 15th

We are excited to celebrate the end of a fruitful year with our members and potential new members.

Our holiday party will be held this Sunday, December 15th,  from 2pm – 5pm at Dante’s Table at 544 Castro Street. Come meet your Board members and network with other members of Open Minds.

This party is for current members and potential new members. If you are not yet a member and you want to join us, please fill out the membership form and join now!

Please note that our organization is only for mental health professionals and students in graduate training to become a mental health professional. But we’d love to welcome others to come and meet us if you’re in a complementary profession or a community member.

Our party is $15 for members and $25 for non-members.

If you are wanting to join us for our party, you can simply go to PayPal, Select “Send Money”, then enter your payment for $15 for members (or $25 non-members) to the following email: and select “I’m paying for goods or services”.

But if you were going to join our organization anyway, joining first is a great way to save some money.

Thank you to volunteer Daniel Clifford, MFTi for organizing this event.


How Bay Area Open Minds Began

by Keely Kolmes, PsyD, Founder and President of Open Minds

People are often curious about how Bay Area Open Minds came to be. To begin with, our group was formed in the fall of 2009. In the past few years, we have gained momentum and developed our lovely website (thanks to webmaster, Nick Venegoni, MFT), and our logo and brochures, thanks to the talented and dedicated member Myles Downes, MFT. We also created our name due to a small workgroup which included Myles Downes, MFT, Faith Freed, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, and me.

What was the impetus for starting the group?

In 2009, a psychology graduate student was referred by her Intercultural Awareness professors to me for mentoring. She had come out as kinky and poly in class, and the school had no support in place to mentor her (unlike other students of various ethnicities, cultures, or sexual orientations in which there are frequently well established groups and mentors to assist in professional development).

During our meeting, and after hearing some of the challenges the student was experiencing, I was struck by how much they mirrored the challenges I experienced as a graduate student at the same school eleven years earlier. I had been doing a dissertation on BDSM bias in mental health services to the kink community. But many of my professors thought I was referring to domestic violence, or at the very least, the relationships and behaviors I was describing were anti-feminist (regardless of the fact that many of my participants were in same-sex relationships).

It was stressful and isolating to complete my dissertation when researching a topic that was so at odds with people’s current understanding about sexual diversity. There has also been a long history of kink behavior being pathologized by the mental health community, including its inclusion in the DSM as a mental disorder. Doing my research felt dangerous, especially as an unlicensed student trying to educate my professors and supervisors. I believe it took me longer than average to complete my studies since it was such a stressful and politically controversial topic in our field.

Speaking with this student, she and I realized how helpful it would be to have a support, networking, and advocacy group for students and licensed clinicians who either self-identified with these communities, identified as allies, and/or provided services to sexually diverse clients beyond the LGBT umbrella. My goal was to help students and clinicians to feel less isolated, to have people to refer to and consult with, and to help us find one another.

Do you see the issues affecting kinky and poly clients different from those affecting vanilla and monogamous clients?

Not at all. Most of the clients, in my practice, at least, are bringing in the same kinds of issues as my heterosexual, vanilla, and monogamous clients. They simply don’t want to spend multiple sessions defending their BDSM play or explaining that their consensual polyamorous relationship is not cheating. The bulk of my practice is focused on anxiety, depression, career and relationship issues.

One thing I do see coming up that may be unique to these communities is the challenge when one person is kinky and their partner is not kinky; or when one partner is monogamous and the other identifies as polyamorous. That said, in many ways, I think we see these same issues in the non-altsex partners who enter our offices: One partner wants a certain type of sexual experience that another finds distasteful or otherwise difficult to enact, or has a fantasy they are afraid to share. Such intimacy issues are not the sole domain of altsex clients. So for the most part, the problems my altsex patients bring in are not necessarily related to their altsex identity. They are having regular, human problems. Of course, this can be different if someone is struggling with coming out to self or others about who they are and what they want. But this, again, is very similar to working with someone who is coming out about being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender or genderqueer.

Some clinicians worry that some sexual practices, including BDSM can be dangerous if they are re-traumatizing patients or reenacting past abuse. What are your thoughts about this?

My thoughts are that such concerns often fail to acknowledge the numerous safety mechanisms that are in place in BDSM relationships. Thus far there is only one known study (Nordling, Sandnabba, & Santilla, 2000) which in any way supports that BDSM individuals may have had more exposure to past abuse than non-BDSM individuals. In this study of 186 participants, 7.9% of males and 22.7% of females reported past abuse. However, Richters et al, (2008) completed a study in Australia of a nationally representative sample and found no correlation between sexual abuse or past sexual coercion prior to the age of 16 and later BDSM interests.

Regardless, I would offer the following: many individuals who are not into kink have experienced sexual abuse or attachment injuries in their past. Simple romantic or sexual intimacy can be experienced as triggering or re-tramatizing to these people, even without BDSM, power dynamics, or pain/sensation play. I cannot imagine any clinician who would tell such a client that they should simply give up on love, relationships, and sexual intimacy because it will re-traumatize them. Instead, we would typically work with the client on exploring healthy boundaries, processing issues that come up, avoiding dissociation, recognizing when they are disconnecting or not experiencing pleasure, helping them to self-soothe and communicate better with their partners, and stop activity when necessary. We would work on helping them have relationships that feel safe, nurturing, and connected.

The suggestion that kink alone should be avoided because it will re-enact abuse is asking people to segregate their sexual selves when further exploration may actually be a healthy and integral part of their sexual identity and experience. It may even help move a person towards healing and wholeness, even if trauma is a part of that person’s past.

Do you have future goals for Open Minds?

It’s encouraging to see that in four years, we have a membership of just about 70 clinicians in the Bay Area. We have a listserv on which we can ask questions, seek referrals, or find people to consult with. Sometimes, we can identify a need and ask if someone is able to offer such a service in their practice (such as recently needing an interpersonally focused therapy group that is open to queer, kinky, and poly clients). It is clear that this organization is filling a need.

My hope is that we can help other cities and communities to develop similar groups to help connect students with experienced clinicians and it would be wonderful if we could enlist the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (which houses an international resource for finding Kink-Aware Professionals) to help coordinate this effort.

We also offer a speaker’s bureau so that we can go into educational institutions and help future mental health professionals to learn more about the spectrum of sexual and gender diversity. And we have a Find a Therapist section of our site to help people who are seeking a clinician to find one.

My dream is that now that we have found a community of clinicians who have Open Minds and who can help the mental health concerns of altsex clients, that we can do more to open the minds of colleagues who simply need more information and education than they currently receive on sexual and gender diversity. Their practices and their patients will benefit from learning more.


Nordling, N., Sandnabba, N. K., & Santtila, P. (2000). The Prevalence and Effects of Self-Reported Childhood Sexual Abuse Among Sadomasochistically Oriented Males and Females. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 9(1), 53–63.

Richters, J., de Visser, R, Rissel, C, Grulich, A, Smith, A. M. A. (2008). Demographic and psychosocial features of participants in bondage and discipline, “sadomasochism” or dominance and submission (BDSM): Data from a national survey. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5, 1660-1668.