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The dichotomy of ‘them and us’ thinking in Counselling Psychology incorporating an empirical study on BDSM

Cannon-Gibbs, S. (2016). The dichotomy of ‘them and us’ thinking in Counselling Psychology incorporating an empirical study on BDSM. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Within the field of Counselling Psychology there is very little mention of Bondage and Discipline; Dominance and Submission; and Sadism and Masochism (BDSM). Given the wide range of activities that fall under the umbrella of BDSM (Weinberg, 2006), along with the associated stigma of BDSM (Wright, 2006), the exact prevalence of people engaging in it is unknown. However, the huge popularity of the Fifty Shades of Grey books and film (James, 2012, 2015) suggests that dominance and submission may be a common fantasy for far more people than was previously realised (Deahl, 2012). Previous research has concentrated on qualified therapists’ understandings of BDSM. To further improve training around this area this research explored the way in which trainees talk and think about BDSM.

The epistemological orientation of this work is social constructionist, and therefore acknowledges that findings arise from a particular time and place. Three focus groups were conducted with a total of thirteen participants. Transcripts of the data was analysed using the six step process of Thematic Analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006). The analysis generated seven major analytical themes in relation to the subject of BDSM. These included: ‘BDSM as unknown’, ‘BDSM and the parameters of consent’, ‘BDSM as abuse’, ‘BDSM as a pathology’, ‘Visibility of BDSM’, ‘BDSM occurring on a spectrum’ and ‘BDSM as a cause for concern’. Participants were tentative in their language about how they constructed BDSM, in particular within the theme of ‘BDSM as a pathology’. Participants delineated types of BDSM from ‘light, fluffy, playful’, to the more ‘murky, less sanitised and extreme’. Participants expressed their potential for shock if working with ‘extreme’ BDSM, which gave an insight into their thinking around the subject. These findings are discussed in relation to previous literature and their implications for practice. Further training in BDSM for counselling psychologists is recommended, in particular to enable trainees to engage critically in their own reactions to BDSM. Further research into the critical engagement of the wider field of sexualities is recommended.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
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