Caris Allen, peer support worker and mental health coach / Courtesy photo

Therapy for QPOC Embraces Nonmonogamy and Kink

Relationships are hard. When you’re queer, nonmonogamous, or kinky, stigma and lack of positive representation can make them even harder. Therapy and peer support can be crucial in making the navigation of your relationships easier to understand, but for queer people — especially queer people of color — the traditional therapeutic space may not be safe. At worst, your therapist may disrespect your pronouns, commit microaggressions against and belittle you, or disapprove of your identity. At best, they may simply not understand enough to offer meaningful guidance.

That’s where Therapy for Queer People of Color comes in. The organization works to make mental health aid more accessible by connecting queer and trans people of color with affirming, anti-oppressive practitioners. Caris Allen, a peer support worker and mental health coach, is one such practitioner. Allen sat down with Georgia Voice to discuss Therapy for QPOC and the difference guidance can make in queer people’s relationships.

Quotes have been edited for clarity.

How did you become involved with Therapy for QPOC?

I was a full-time nomad, predominantly abroad. I lived in Ecuador, Mexico, Australia, Hawaii, a few different places. Ecuador was the first place that I lived when I left the States, and I actually met my current supervisor in Ecuador. We crossed paths because we were both a part of a Facebook group that was for Black expats, and they were looking for some queer representation in that group and there really wasn’t any. So, I reached out to them and we started communicating and became friends. She shared her organization with me and said they were looking for someone to support folks who weren’t able to access typical therapy. I shared about some of the work that I had been doing and we agreed to work together.

How can discrimination and closed-mindedness prevent queer people from seeking therapy in more traditional spaces, especially those practicing nonmonogamy and/or kink?

Something that I get a lot from folks when they come into consultation is them telling me how they had been harmed in clinical spaces. Oftentimes, it was folks of color who had been harmed by white therapists who had invalidated their experiences, especially following the Black Lives Matter movement. I also have had queer folks who have had therapists misgender them or not understand their gender identity. What that ends up doing is discouraging people from seeking support if they don’t think that they can access support that actually feels caring and supportive.

How do you help queer people navigate relationships when there may not be a relationship framework for them to turn to?

Just for context and background, all of our practitioners are nonmonogamous and kinky; we all identify that way. So, it’s really helpful for our clients to see themselves represented in us. That is in and of itself beneficial for someone to be able to see a mirror of themselves.

All of our practitioners operate a little bit differently; I’m the only one on our team who operates as a peer support worker and a mental health coach. I don’t come from a clinical background, so I can’t necessarily speak to how that shows up for other folks. But we have offered support groups in the past for nonmonogamous folks and individual sessions with couples or with individuals to navigate relationship issues on their own.

A lot of what we’re thinking about is how to cultivate a relationship in the way that we want it to show up in the world. Does that look like altering the way that we’re communicating? Does that look like altering what we are perceiving what we’re wanting from this space? Are those needs best met in this relationship? Are they just met somewhere else? A lot of times when we’re working with nonmonogamous folks and polyamorous folks, our primary partner or this one person that we’re kind of thinking about communication with isn’t the only person that we’re communing with. So, we’re thinking about how we go about getting all of our needs met. How do we go about making sure that we know how to communicate, because that is what these relationship styles thrive on? A big part of what we’re thinking about is communication skills. We’re thinking about self-soothing when we are not able to get exactly what we need in a moment from our partner. How are we self-soothing? How are we understanding one another? How are we able to express our own desires and needs?

What benefit can queer people get from relationship coaching?

When we do anything intentionally, we’re going to gain a benefit from it. If we are actively working on something, then it is going to ultimately thrive if that is the intention that we set. Coming into a therapeutic space or support space of any sort says, “This is something that I am intentionally doing, this is something that I care about and I want to put energy towards.”

I call myself a partner in healing for folks because it’s almost like you get someone to kind of stand beside you and hold your hand to a certain degree. Of course, you still have to do the work, but you get someone to give you a little bit of a guideline. As long as folks are open, we see a lot of growth in how people are relating to other people and how people are relating to themselves.

Do you have anything you’d like to add that we haven’t yet covered?

Queer folks deserve to be able to relate to one on one another in a way that is sustainable, supportive, and loving. I think because we don’t get those frameworks, we see a lot of struggles — I mean, everyone struggles in relationships, but I see queer folks struggle a lot, especially in sexual dynamics. Sex therapy is a big part of our organization’s work as well, and we also love to incorporate kink as a healing modality.

Can you talk more about that, kink as a healing modality?

There’s a lot of expansiveness around what kink can be and what it can mean. I really like to use kink as a somatic tool. Talk therapy is great, but we are also our bodies, right? We are also our traumas and our histories and our experiences, and that all lives in our body. Everything isn’t logic; we can talk about things all day, but if we don’t feel safe in our bodies, if we don’t feel safe in relationships, then it’s kind of null and void. So, we have to give ourselves the experiences of also feeling safe. We encourage folks to, under whatever form of advisement feels comfortable for them, use kink as an opportunity to feel safe in the body, to develop and incorporate scenes that they have come up with that might be reflective of trauma. But the idea is to be safe and to feel safe in the body and to let your body experience a reconditioning of sorts — I’m safe here, it’s okay for me to feel these things, it’s okay for me to do this thing.

That’s a really cool diversion from, like you said, the more traditional idea of talk therapy that all our emotions and experiences exist solely in our mind.

Yeah, absolutely. And we want to center pleasure! Our goal is pleasure, that’s why people are here. That’s why people are coming to us, it’s because they want to feel good.

Learn more about Therapy for QPOC and book a session with Allen or another practitioner at