Trauma reenactment is when people recycle the events and relationships from childhood, repeating old wounds by placing themselves at emotional risk or in physical danger in a compulsive mimicry of the past. An example of this may be a man who was physically beaten by his mother, who finds himself in relationship after relationship with physically abusive women. This is obviously unhealthy and we work with clients to stop engaging in behaviors that put them in harm’s way.
Trauma play is when someone learns how to “play” with their childhood traumas without putting themselves in danger or stunting emotional growth. A person learns to transcend his or her past rather than having it inflicted upon them. Using the example of the man who was physically beaten as a child, he may have some sexual kink in which he becomes physically aroused by being spanked or whipped. This is possible in a non-abusive relationship between consenting adults. Just as an artist may use past trauma to express herself in her work, a person may use past trauma to express herself in the bedroom. Nobody tries to get an artist to stop expressing past traumas!
Many therapists will keep a client in therapy for years “helping” to get rid of unwanted sexual desires—especially if that client is non-normative and non-heterosexual. Let’s face it, for the unscrupulous therapist, sexual taboos can be an untapped goldmine. We have seen this with so-called conversion therapists, burying facts, and lying to clients (and desperately homophobic parents of clients) about changing sexual orientation from gay to straight. But while there is a strong consensus in the psychological community against conversion therapy, there is no such strong consensus against “curing” BDSM sexuality. This exists despite the fact that no credible scientific study has shown any trend of psychological pathologies in people drawn to BDSM.