Mental Health in Adult Entertainment and Taboo Subcultures

Recovery Unscripted banner image for episode 88

Episode #88 | February 20, 2019

Featured Guest: Samantha Nettleton

When society pushes taboo subcultures to the margins, how can clinicians do a better job of reaching out into these populations and helping them uncover the roots of their trauma?

We’ll cover this with therapist Samantha Nettleton, who specializes in treating women in the adult entertainment industry, members of the BDSM community and other taboo subcultures, on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

Podcast Transcript

Interviewer: I’m here with Samantha Nettleton. Thank you so much for being with us.

Samantha Nettleton: Thank you for having me.

Interviewer: Yes, let’s start by having you tell us a bit about your own personal story and the journey you took to getting involved in the world of mental health and recovery.

Samantha: Absolutely. I come from California, Ventura County area and I moved to Florida to go to school. I’ve been here ever since. Addiction has run in my family for a long time. My mother is a recovering addict and my father is in recovery as well. I’ve lost entire family to addiction. I’ve always been drawn to it. I’ve always been a natural counselor. Mediation was a big thing in my high school.

I actually got tricked into being a counselor and that’s– I went to the West School, my mom was teaching at and she’s like, “Come talk to the dean, see what you like it. If you want to enroll”, because I was still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, and she’s like, “You just talk to him and we’ll see if you like the place”. Within about 20 minutes, I was enrolled. He already had my schedule and I’m like, “What happened?”-

Interviewer: On a fast track. Yes.

Samantha: I think the guy could have sold me a broken down car. He was good. He was really, really good and he’s like, “All right, you’re going to start on Monday”, and I’m like, “Okay”. That was the addiction counseling piece and I got my bachelor’s within a year and then I just kept going. I said, “You know, I’m going to go get my masters in mental health”. I ended up getting my masters in mental health and went straight into private practice, found my niche and just kept going with it.

Interviewer: Yes. Then what led you to Florida? Because you are based in Florida now.

Samantha: Yes. My mom is in Florida. She moved here about 18 years ago and being in California, I love it. I miss it, but my mom said, “Come out here and go to school”, because it was a much better opportunity than being able to afford going to school with kids. They already had two kids at the time and it was such a struggle that [00:01:53] being going to college and actually accomplishing something. I wouldn’t be here in this field like I am now the way I was going in California.

Interviewer: Yes, yes. Now you’re working at Spring Gardens Detox and so evidently getting tricked into this has stuck and you’ve worked with it?

Samantha: I love it. I haven’t stopped since I’ve been going since school. I’ve wanted to learn more. I’ve found an extreme passion of program development. I love working with individuals. I’ve worked with really high case trauma, people who’ve lost everything, have endured things that were just horrible and they’ve gotten past it and I’ve found myself amazing niche. When I went to Spring Gardens Detox, I just found a facility that was just perfect for me.

Interviewer: Yes. Like you were saying, it’s not just detox, they do residential, they do something called intensive inpatient treatment. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Samantha: We started off as a detox we’re now Spring Gardens Recovery has now become our name. We wanted to expand into residential, so we started that about a few months back. From there we decided to try to expand more on that residential piece which became intensive inpatient. That’s more about medically necessary individuals that needed some help that not necessarily are equipped in a regular residential facility.

We have nursing staff that are around for 24/7, so they have somebody. We have to have somebody on staff up until eleven O’clock at night with these people. They have an insulin pump, we can take care of it. If they have a PICC line, we can take care of it. Something to help them out.

Interviewer: Yes, so they have some extra medical needs.

Samantha: Yes.

Interviewer: I know you have a long history in this field especially working with trauma survivors. What got you interested in that specifically?

Samantha: I’ve known a lot of individuals that have experienced trauma including my family. I’ve seen it go down in generations of trauma, from my grandmother being abused, down to my mom. I saw how it affected families and how it affected the children that were watching their parents and not understanding and how they would end up experiencing trauma on their own.

I ended up working with children of trauma and just kept going with that and then realizing my own past with trauma as well. Being the daughter of an addict, I experienced a lot of trauma in my early years and I just felt this need that if I can get through it, then I know that I can get anybody else through this. I started formatting into my practice the things that I did to help me and has now expanded into mind, body, spirit type of activities, which is now where I work with these people.

Interviewer: Yes, absolutely. Here at Moments of Change, you’re giving a presentation on trauma in the taboo. Trauma informed care for specific subculture populations that are maybe slipping through the cracks or just people have trouble understanding them, reaching them. Could you start by going over what are some of these subculture populations that you’re talking about?

Samantha: Subculture populations that are considered taboo can be anything from gangs, LGBT community, it could also be an addiction itself. Addiction is very taboo. We avoid those people that we know are using on the street. We don’t want anything to do with them. They have to go to a hotel that’s rundown and nasty and so, we’ve kind of segregated our lifestyle away from these taboo cultures, but Florida itself has a lot of taboo subcultures.

We have the Swinger communities out here, we have the Nudist communities, there’s a big BDSM community out here and adult entertainment is huge in Florida. We have a lot of strip clubs. Actually, at one time Tampa Bay was considered the strip club capital of the world for how many strip clubs there were. We’ve got back alley theaters. Sex Addiction is very rampant in Florida and it seems to be getting worse.

The clubs now that used to be where girls were doing stuff to try to pay for college, now they’re so bad that they’re actually doing things for drug money because they’re trying to cope with what’s going on. It used to be that, there used to be sex in there, but it’s not like that anymore where it was just one person. Now it’s the entire bunch and they’re being pushed into it more.

They experience a bad day on a frequent basis and to them it’s just a bad day. When it’s to us, we would say, “That’s assault, that’s rape”, that something horrible has happened to them. I work with specifically women of the adult entertainment industry and that goes into porn and also into the strip club industry. The ones on the prostitutes on the side of the road, I’ve worked with them as well. For this one presentation I’m also doing on the BDSM and people who live as animals.

Interviewer: Yes. We’ll talk a abit about that later. [laughs] That’s little teaser for some stuff to come, but let’s start with the adult entertainment industry. I’ve read that you’ve served a lot with them recently. You’ve done some studies. Starting there, because that’s a big one and I think we all know is a subculture. We all see that in whatever city we’re in. What are some of the unique challenges that they face, especially related to behavioral health and mental health?

Samantha: A lot of them are suffering from it. A lot of them have anxiety, depression, substance abuse issues. They’re almost forced into drinking there. At one club in particular that I went and worked with girls at, if they didn’t get a drink from the customer, they were fired. They were forced into drinking alcohol. I’m watching lines of coke being done with them just so they can handle the day. They’ve experienced substance abuse and trauma on a daily basis from not only the customers, but the actual employers there.

Interviewer: So it’s encouraged as part of the culture from the top down.

Samantha: I had one girl in particular that I will never forget. She was a wonderful girl. I’ve lost contact with her, but she started off very innocent young and I’ve watched over the years her turn into somebody who was such drug driven, is the best word to say. She needed that drugs to get a better high. She would tell me stories of where she would be tricked into going back with a customer and the owner knew that this customer wanted sex and she was forced and he raped her.

She told me, “It was just a bad night”. I’m “Honey, no, that’s not a bad night. That was not a good thing”. She actually became very agoraphobic. She wouldn’t leave her house unless she had to go to work and the only time she would ever leave the house, other than work, was with me. I would come over and we’d go and I’d coached her and we walk in the mall and we talk and she’d feel a lot better. It took a lot of work and honestly, I would be shocked if she’s not a true goreaphobia, staying in her house now and not living anywhere else.

Interviewer: Yes, because even if she’s saying or putting on a face to say that was just a bad day, that’s still trauma. That’s rape.

Samantha: Yes, and that’s what the girls feel like. They’re used to now, “Okay. All right I have a very handsy customer. He’s okay. I have someone who’s forcing me to do something hard and hurting me, but I’m just going to close my eyes and picture myself somewhere else and then I’ll be done soon. Almost done. 15 minutes we’re almost done. Please be almost time.”

I’ve had girls that were telling me about how other girls were undercutting them, “I’ll do it for $50. I’ll do whatever you want”. It used to be- you’d make $1,500, $2,000, $3,000, and now these girls are doing more for less and which is rising that mental health issue, that depression. Substance abuse history is rampant in these clubs. You do not walk into a club and see it clean anymore.

Interviewer: The substance abuse, do you generally see that where that was already a problem in their life or is it sometimes starting after they work there?

Samantha: I’ve actually seen it start after they work there. I had one girl in particular that she didn’t drink she didn’t do anything. I think she smoked pot a little bit when she was younger but had stopped. She just got a job there because she had nowhere else to go. She ended up starting in the industry. It was a bar and so she drank occasionally. This was a bikini club, so this wasn’t even the worst of the worst.

She went in there and she’s talking to people and the only customer she could ever get to talk to her were ones that were drinkers. She started drinking more and more until she actually became a full on alcoholic and it was not a like drink a couple of things. It was drinking till she was throwing up in the bathroom, binge drinking, just passed out constantly drinking every day, lost to herself pretty much.

Interviewer: This might sound naive, but I don’t even know, what are the laws around that? It’s still illegal to force a woman to do something that is not what the business is licensed for, right? Is that the right way to say that?

Samantha: Absolutely. Most places, other than maybe Nevada, is you’re not allowed to have sex and prostitution. It’s still considered prostitution in these clubs. These clubs a lot of times like one in particular out in Tampa has a lock on their main door. When you’re entering there, you have to go through one hallway and then there’s another door and that door is locked and she has to buzz you in. That’s so that if the cops come, everybody knows. The lights turn on. Stop doing whatever you’re doing and act like you’re doing something normal.

Interviewer: How do they get away with that?

Samantha: Sometimes they just know the cops. Sometimes the cops are even in the clubs themselves.

Interviewer: Yes, sure. I guess corruption goes all the way up then.

Samantha: It does. Or, “Hey, this club just got hit”. Everybody knows, let’s be careful. Another club gets hit. Okay. Be careful. Undercover cops. They almost train the girls of what to look out for. “Okay. Are they drinking?” If they’re not drinking, now I know that maybe there’s something up because you don’t go to these clubs and not drink unless you are an older man sometimes or some people are in recovery. But they watch. They look for mannerism. That’s why they’ll talk to you. They just won’t walk right up to you and say, “Hey, you want to dance? Let’s go have some sex.”

It’s more like, let me pro. Let me see how you’re doing. Let me decide whether or not this is a safe place for me to go because there’s undercover cops and Pascoe county is really big with that.

Interviewer: Is that where Tampa is?

Samantha: Yes. Tampa is Hillsborough County. Right above Hillsborough County is Pascoe and beside Hillsborough is Pinellas. Those three counties have a lot of clubs. Lot of clubs. A lot of back alley theaters. A lot of, I call them brothels, but they use lingerie shops, is their term. It used to be a huge hotspot and it’s now kind of died a little bit because people have the internet, we’ve got Twitter on our phone now that we can just go meet up with some random person and you don’t have to pay them. These girls–


Interviewer: Wait. That’s a real positive look at our culture. Right? Yes.

Samantha: Yes. We can just go, “Okay, this person wants to go meet up with me and have–” so they don’t have to pay these girls. Well, that’s making the girls do more for less. You’ve got guys coming in there that are literally telling these girls, “You look just like my granddaughter” and now feeling them up. How uncomfortable that is.

Or some guy that is old enough to be her grandfather is now telling her and doing stuff to her and making her think that, “This is sexy. You’re so sexy.” No, this is not how she wants to live. She doesn’t want somebody who’s her grandpa touching her like this. These girls are barely 18 sometimes. Sometimes they’re even younger and there’s 16 year olds that are in these clubs. They have fake ID us or the owner knows and wants to get her hired anyway. There’s many situations with that.

Interviewer: Wow, okay. I guess, the question I have is, how do you then get connected with these girls? Like you say, you’ve been to some of these clubs, what is your role in this?

Samantha: Well, it all started when I was in my master’s program. I decided I wanted to do something a little bit off and I wanted to be the shock value. I was the person who– Not that you haven’t noticed that already.


Interviewer: Yes.

Samantha: I was already making presentations that were about male bathhouses and scaring my little colleagues and my teachers. I went to a school that was very Christian based. Again, also, I was just trying to be a rebel. I’ve always thrown that piece in there. I went and talked to the dean and I said, “You know what, I’m thinking about doing an only adult entertainment industry.” and he’s like, “Well, I don’t think you’ll even be able to talk to them.” I said, “Okay, I’m going to prove you wrong now.”

I went all over the country and helping out in Cape Cod and I literally sat in these clubs with these girls. I helped them make money by talking to them, “Give that girl some more money.” And then I would talk to them and say, “Hey, okay. So, tell me your story. I want to hear your story.” A lot of them had some great stories and were happy to share with me. Then also, there’s a lot of good club owners out there. There’s a guy named Joe Radner out in the Tampa Bay area. He’s a really good guy and big in the activist community and I knew him from there, but he also took care of his girls.

His girls were taken to account where he wanted an addiction counselor on staff at one point. I knew a lot of good owners. No, there’s not. All of them aren’t good, unfortunately. But there is even an organization called COAST, which is club owners against sex trafficking, which is really big in the Tampa Bay area. It’s actually really big in the Miami area as well because that’s a big place for human trafficking.

Interviewer: Sure.

Samantha: I would go into these clubs and I’d talked to these girls. I would say, “Hey, give me a call when you need me.” I’ve even gone in and talk to the managers and said, “You give me your office. Let me talk to these girls. Let me make sure they’re doing this and this is going to look good on you too. You’re taking care of your girls. The law is going to be happy about that.” Especially with the sex trafficking up in Pascoe County is horrible. They wanted to be compliant. They have to hang signs up and everything now, so they were like, “Okay, let’s do this.”

There was a few clubs that actually let me go in. I knew a lot of managers and owners and organizations like the church organizations that would go in and give baskets or give gifts to these ladies. I learned my contacts through that way. Plus, also, you’d be shocked that there’s a lot of people that you probably know that have worked in that industry and they just don’t talk about it. There’s a lot of people, including some people on higher offices and politics that I know have been in the industry.

Interviewer: Interesting. You’d go in there and you’d tell them you’re a researcher, you’re studying this or what?

Samantha: I just tell them I’m a counselor. I’m a recovery coach, at one point. I use more “I’m a recovery coach” when I’m working with them because I want to not get them feeling a little bit more clinical. I want them to feel like I’m a friend. I’m coaching them and helping them through. There’s no judgment with me and they know that. I’ll walk in and the girls get really excited and they’re like, “Hey, I want to talk to you. I’m so glad you’re here.” It makes me feel like at least I’m doing my part.

Interviewer: Yes. Is that and this is just like a personal thing, I guess, a bit, is it uncomfortable for you to be in that environment?

Samantha: Not all.


Samantha: When I see the guy being a little bit too handsy or the grandpa that’s making a lot of provocative movements and touching a girl inappropriately or I see a girl that’s really, really upset and having to do this and she’s crying. Yes, that makes me upset because I’m human. I understand that, But the environment itself does not bother me. I feel like it’s part of our culture that we’ve created and we can put it aside and say it’s a taboo thing, but it’s so integrated.

You can’t look in a magazine without seeing some provocative image. It’s on our billboards everywhere. Sexy sells. This used to be a very booming industry, the sex industry, in the sense of the strip clubs, but it’s now become porn and it’s internet. It’s everywhere. You can’t go on the internet without running into it nowadays.

Interviewer: Yes, and that’s a good point. Like you’re saying, if no good people care about that, because these are still human beings. These are women who are going through this. If no good people go and care and make sure they’re getting taken care of and just act like it’s not happening, that’s not healthy, either.

Samantha: No, and that’s the problem too, is that these girls don’t feel like they can go get help because as soon as they say that they’re a stripper or they’re a porn star, all of a sudden, if they go to a male, they’re treated sometimes wrong. I’ve seen counselors who’ve been extremely inappropriate and actually try to engage in sex with their client. Also women are very judgmental, they said to me. They walk in, they tell them and they get that weird look. With me, I’m just like, “Oh, okay. That’s all right. If you chose to do that, that’s great. Whatever pays your bills, honey. As long as you feel good about yourself. I’m good with anything you choose.”

Interviewer: Yes, and so that’s getting into some of the social barriers between them and recovery, right?

Samantha: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. There’s a lot of girls in that industry that have trauma and they don’t talk about it. They had trauma long before they walked in those doors, from being mistreated when they were a kid, whether it’s physical, sexual or emotional or neglected. Most of them have had something happen to them. They found their ways. This is the only way to make money.

Some of them are single moms. They have no choice. They can’t work a nine to five job because there’s none or they can’t work over nights because they don’t have child care. They can only work three days a week and make thousands of dollars. Ridiculous amount of money. They make more money in probably a night than most of us make during a week. That’s a hard thing to quit, too. I try to tell them, you do not ever have to feel like you’re going to quit with me.

I’m going to try to make you happy and make you understand this is not going to be a long-term goal. You’re not going to be 80 years old up on a stage, but this is something for you to work towards. Save that money, stop using the drugs, stop putting yourself in this risk. Standing and putting yourself in a place where it’s not going to be putting you in a provocative situation that’s going to hurt you.

You know what club owners you don’t work for. You can literally drive down the road and go, “All right, that’s a dirty club. That’s not a good club. That owner there is really sleazy. Don’t go near that club.” They know which clubs are not good and what are. They’ll literally go from club to club to club to club to club because they want to be the new person so that they get the most business.

Interviewer: [chuckles] Yes, okay. There’s a lot to unpack there.

Samantha: [laughs]

Interviewer: I know you’ve also done some research and study on the emotional effects within this population. What can you tell us about those findings?

Samantha: I went and did some studies with them when I was doing my master’s and I found that a lot of them were having depression and anxiety issues. As I said earlier, I had that girl who had agoraphobia. They isolate themselves. Some of them don’t even want to be touched. They shut down when their partners touch them.

I have a girl that I actually see, she is fantastic. She got out of the industry. She’s doing really good for herself, but now when anybody says anything to her that she remembers like, “Oh, you’re so beautiful.” Just a random statement like that or her husband touches her a certain way, she all of a sudden shifts and clicks and she’s no longer her. She’s her persona. They all have a name.

They all have their persona name. Some of them are Ginger or Chloe or Stephanie. Some of them, whatever it is, they all have their persona which then leads them to the fact of where now they’re no longer whoever they were, they really are. They’re this stripper. They shutdown and they become nothing. They numb out and it’s almost degrading to them to even be with their own partners. They’re re-experiencing trauma over and over and over again with these triggers.

Interviewer: Yes. That just a different way that trauma affects them in that particular context.

Samantha: Absolutely, absolutely.

Interviewer: Yes. Let’s talk about some of these two other groups that you’re focusing on. Start with BDSM. How does that present differently with trauma and emotional effects in that group?

Samantha: Some of these individuals have had trauma in their life and this was a way for them to feel control or feel the way they can control others. I’ve had individuals who were sexually abused as a child. One of them in particular comes to mind, she ended up becoming a dominatrix so that she can be in control and dominate these men so that she’ll never have somebody treat her bad.

Interviewer: Sure, just like a coping response.

Samantha: It is. The only one she was a sub to was her husband. Everyone else, she was not. She would sit there and she would be– She’d have seven, eight guys that she was their dominatrix and she was in control. It was all a matter of control and aspects of feeling like I’m safe. She would tell me this and she was still very actively dealing with her trauma.

She didn’t understand why that she was feeling lower and lower every time she experienced this, but some people even say that these traumas that they’ve experienced and now taking BDSM, they’re healthier, they feel better, they were taking a natural way. When there was a study done not that long ago on the BDSM world and they were found that they didn’t experience any less anxiety or depression or anybody else as the normal population. They just have a better coping mechanism in their eyes. Their coping mechanism is, I’m going to dress up in latex and I’m going to have somebody whip me. That’s one way. Some people do stitching, some people-

Interviewer: What is that?

Samantha: Stitching is a little bit more provocative.

Interviewer: [laughs] Yes, don’t tell me, this is a family podcast.

Samantha: Yes, I was sitting here like no, I don’t think you want me to talk about that. I’ve had people who– They do self harm, non-surgical self harm and it basically–

Interviewer: As part of sex?

Samantha: Yes and it is. They’ll cut their back. Their partner will– One girl in particular, her partner would literally take a knife and dig in her back and write things in there. She couldn’t come to work because she was afraid of wearing anything that would show it. These women and men–

Interviewer: Which is just a form of self harm?

Samantha: It is and addiction is a form of self harm if we really want to go into it, but these people are doing anything they possibly can to cope. Sometimes it’s an escape from a world. There are CEOs that love being dominated because they’re so used to being in the dominant role at work and now they just want to take that role off and hang it up on the door and now have somebody else take care of them. We’ve got people who do lots of different roles in this BDSM world. Not all of it is like the 50 Shades of Grey kind of, that was a very real housewife’s kind of feel.

It’s more or less like people just wanting to escape a different world and it is a high. Sex is a natural high and so that is addicting itself to feel like you are being controlled by somebody or someone is controlling you in that sense. It is all about feeling safe. That is a peace and trauma that we tend to really focus on clinically is making our clients feel safe, well imagine how safe these people need to feel to do that. Have a safe word. I have one person in particular and he’s a very dominant male. He came into my office and he said, I’m going to share this with you that this is what I do and I got in trouble. My wife found out.

I said, okay, what exactly, he gave me details and I won’t share on the air because family podcast, but he definitely was trying to dominate me through– He would me interrupt me. I could see that narcissistic behavior that he was having. When after a while of me talking to him, I found out he had been sexually abused as a child. The first time he ever felt like somebody cared about him was this older woman that he found very attractive at a very young age brought him into this world of BDSM and he felt like she cared about him. He felt that relationship that this was about them together.

Interviewer: [crosstalk] That’s what he’d been looking for. Yes.

Samantha: A connection. That drew him into, “Okay, this is how I can cope with my feelings.” Now that we’re stripping away that BDSM because it got him in trouble, now he’s like, “What do I do now? How do I face my trauma. How do I face it I’m not going to be left by my wife?”

Interviewer: Yes. How would you describe the kind of barrier to treatment, social barriers of this group differently than the adult entertainment population?

Samantha: I’m more empowering with the adult entertainment group. In some ways, I am empowering with all my clients even the BDSM world, but the one thing that I do is breakdown that safety barrier with them of I need that to be feel safe and I try to create a safe environment around them in my office. Everything is strategically put in my office to make them feel like, “Okay, all right, this is safe sanctuary.” But also with the people who are like for that male in particular, I challenged him. As soon as he started to dominate me in the session, I threw out to him.

I said, “You know, I’ve heard this and I kind of believe this that subs are actually in control.” He just gave me the worst look ever and he’s like, “What are you talking about?” I said, “well, they control how far you’re going to go, right?” Well, yes and I said, “They have that safe word so you can’t go past that safe word. You can’t take complete control, they’re giving it to you. Technically, you’re the sub.”

Interviewer: You’re challenging his ideas?

Samantha: It was like hitting him with a brick. He sat there for a good minute staring at me and he even left and came back the next time. He said, “You know what? I hadn’t thought about that. That actually is really true.” Confrontational type counseling helps a lot in that situation, but you have to take everyone of those cases. Whether it’s the adult entertainment, BDSM or whatever subculture you’re working with and use an individualized approach.

You can’t do one-sized shoe fits all because the girl who walks in my office that has a borderline personality in the adult entertainment, I cannot treat her the same way as I treated somebody with just a substance abuse and addiction. I can’t. She will manipulate and control and push her boundaries. You’ve got to set boundaries with these individuals. You’ve got to let them know that they can’t shock you. That’s the hardest piece for clinicians I find is that there’s no shock value. You cannot make a face, “Oh my God. Really? You did that? What is it? Oh my God.”

Interviewer: That shutters the relationship, right?

Samantha: It does. You have to put on that face, like, “Oh, okay. Really? Oh, yes. I know exactly what–” and research that kind of persona. When I have a–

Interviewer: Be prepared? Yes.

Samantha: Yes. When a client comes in and I do an intake with them and I’m reviewing them and they may come out and say that to me in that time frame. I will go home and I will research the lingo. I will research everything because I want to know every single thing. When a customer comes in to the– a girl and says, “I want to go up” I’m just using an example, “I want to go up in the spaceship.” I know that meaning for where I live means that they want to have sex. When the guy comes into my office and says, “Yes, we just went up in the spaceship,” I know what that meant.

Interviewer: Because you’re on their level?

Samantha: I’m on their level and I call them out. That’s really really important for us as clinicians to become culturally competent with our client because our clients will throw shock value at us and try to try to see if–

Interviewer: To try to throw you off?

Samantha: Absolutely. Or to give them a reason why they need to close down. Sometimes these people have spent their entire lives closed off and as soon as they find somebody who is a little bit more open, they’ll say anything to shut down because they have no self worth. They want to kind of prove themselves right. It’s like, “Huh, see, look, I knew it. No, I can’t say these things.”

Interviewer: Yes, so in the end they’re trying to find a reason to leave, to say like this person doesn’t get me?

Samantha: Absolutely. I’ve only had one person who threw me completely off and I was like, I had the shock face and I feel bad afterwards, but it took me back. His wife had left him for a cult. That was a new one. That was a new one for me. Now, I’m like, “Okay, yes. Okay, cool. Cool.” You have to become numb and then when they leave the office, yes, relax calm on down and go, “Oh my God”. Release this out.

Interviewer: You got to take care of yourself and process what you’re hearing. For sure.

Samantha: Absolutely, because I’ve seen a lot of clinicians dealing with people and they’re dealing with their own stuff and maybe a controlling husband or a controlling partner coming in their office and they’re dealing with control issues. They’ll naturally even non verbally come out across them. I’ve had clients come in and tell me some really bad horror stories. They’re so thankful that they found somebody who actually is going to listen to them rather than judge them. You cannot judge because you don’t know their story.

Interviewer: Yes, all right. Before we move on, let’s talk about the people living as animals, subculture. This is a new one for me. I don’t want to act like I’m making light of it because this is somebody’s subculture. Tell us about that. Why do people get started doing that?

Samantha: That’s a really hard question to answer because why somebody does something is just like why did you become a talk radio?

Interviewer: Sure, yes.

Samantha: We all have our stories behind it of what brought us here. Whether it was somebody had a trauma in their life or they just found fascination with pets and they always love dogs. They really always felt like it. This was something that I didn’t even really know about very well until I found one. She came to me and she was a cat. She was absolutely a cat in every way, shape or form.

Interviewer: She did like change her appearance, change her behavior?

Samantha: She wore cat ears when she wasn’t at work because she couldn’t wear them at work, but she had a color around her neck all the time. Her owner made her sleep on the floor or on the end of the bed.

Interviewer: With her owner?

Samantha: Her owner, yes.

Interviewer: Describe that relationship.

Samantha: [laughs] What would you describe a relationship as a pet? She’s literally his pet and he pat her and give her rubs on her head and he was sexual with her. In this case, they did a little bit BDSM work, but in most cases, it’s really actually like, it’s an owner walking their dog.

Interviewer: Do most of these people have owners? Is that part of the dynamic?

Samantha: Yes. Part of the dynamic is finding that ownership and that’s where you find the piece of what they’re looking for. They’re looking for that connection. This woman in particular, she was neglected as a child and was really upset over the situation. She wouldn’t talk much about it. I kept trying to pull that out, but she really kept it tight knit when she was talking to me about that. But all I could get was her parents didn’t pay attention. She felt very isolated. Something definitely happened in her home and it shifted to where when she met this guy and she started wanting to do feline type things, he was accepting and he loved her unconditionally in her eyes.

With your dog, you love it unconditionally. It loves you unconditionally, no matter how mean or not nice you are to it. If you leave it for a day, it’s okay, “You’re back. Oh, I’m so happy.” That’s how these people feel that connection with that. It’s not always a bad thing. These people have created this lifestyle in order to cope. The society we live in is really hard to handle some time. Everybody has their ways of coping. Some people want to say the normal way is going to work, going to massage or going to the beach or go with activities, workout something.

Other people go out and they go to clubs and swingers and nudist beaches and go on vacations where they act out things. In the 70s, the big thing was the parties that you left the keys and the key bowl. That was a swinger thing. We’ve never gone away from these types of behaviors, but it’s how we cope with these situations as they get more stressful, because society is really stressful. You can’t even look at your phone without seeing something going on in the world that’s really affecting us. When these people want to live like animals, sometimes they don’t even have technology because they don’t want to deal with it. It’s easier to be an animal and not have to deal with life.

Interviewer: It’s simpler life?

Samantha: It is.

Interviewer: Yes. They’re not necessarily, or maybe they are, but it’s not just that they’re fascinated with whatever animal they choose. They’re fascinated with that relationship, being cared for and having that simple life.

Samantha: Absolutely. They just want to feel that connection that they don’t get. Sometimes as clinicians, we’re going to have to pull that judgment card that we might hold back there because we all have it. We all do and no matter how numb we’ve gotten to a situation, we have that ability to be judgmental. We have to find the root. The root is that they just want to be loved. They just want simple. They don’t want to be stressed out. They want to go home and feel a connection that’s unconditional. That they’re going to go home and be fed and loved and cared.

If they get to be walked too, that’s great. I’ve actually seen people on leashes being walked like a dog. I’ve seen people that really love horses and believe that. This isn’t, again, a new concept. This has happened many times in history. If you look back, we can actually see pictures of individuals dressed like cats. They were in the freak shows. They were in different personas of things. These were behind the hidden closed doors. Now, all the sudden, we’re starting to be more taboo, “Oh, no, let’s not talk about that.” When the reality is, is these things have been happening since the time of [unintelligible 00:37:57] man.

With the stress of life and the stress of the world around, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the traumas that they experience on a daily basis or how they’re coping with their traumas are sometimes the reasons why they’re doing what they’re doing. In particular, that one handled like a feline, she was actually a dancer too. The things that she had to endure when she was a dancer, so when she came home, she just wanted it to be simplified. She just wanted a–

Interviewer: Just wanted to check out.

Samantha: It made her feel connected. She longed for that connection. As soon as I gave her any attention of that unconditional, “Okay, I’m here listening to you. No matter what you say, I’m here for you.” She drove right in and she didn’t leave my side for a long time until she started working on her own stuff.

Interviewer: Yes. I really like the way you explain that because I think it would be easy to interact with someone like that and just write it off. Be like either this is a phase, you need to get over this or I don’t understand. I can’t help you because I don’t understand. That’s not going to help them. That’s not getting to the root like you said. Somebody has to get over that surface level, mass culture element of it and see that this is just a person and this is just how they’re coping with the stuff that we all have.

Samantha: Absolutely. Everybody has different coping mechanisms. I love to go to animal auctions. Most people may not like to do that. I love to.

Interviewer: You mentioned you have a farm?

Samantha: Yes, I have a farm and I go and I love just the atmosphere. That’s my coping mechanism. But you know what, everybody coping mechanism is different and changes rapidly too. I’ve seen people who started off with their coping mechanism like BDSM and then they move into more advanced stuff, where it is that these things that we don’t want to talk about in the family show.

It’s a high. The high of feeling loved. Love addiction is very real. Sex addiction is real because we always do things to get us to a point of feeling comfort and endorphin high. Whether it is a substance. Some of these people are using substances in order to cope with what they’re dealing with and the traumas in their life. Others are doing activities and process addictions to in order to cope. These three specific subcultures are doing things in order to cope with life.

The single mom who doesn’t know how she’s going to pay her bills, she’s dancing and feeling wanted and getting paid a lot of money to do it. She’s got to deal with some major bad stuff, but that happens in law offices. That happens everywhere. Everywhere there is sexual abuse. The worst kind is the ones you don’t suspect. Some of these girls have even told me that they’ve been treated poorly by a doctor that they work for because some of them are nurses.

They said, “I went back to the eclipse because I’d rather know that I’m going to be mistreated, and I’m prepared for it than have– caught off guard.” One in particular that she actually worked in a law firm before she became a dancer. She went and she knew this guy and they were friends. He pushed her against a corner and tried to rape her. She got fired because she denied him and she told me, she was,” You know what, I’m glad I’m a dancer now because at least I know that that’s going to happen. That hurt me and caused more damage to me that I will never trust anyone because he was my friend.”

He was actually the godfather of her daughter. That was what happened to cause her to go into the dance industry and to go into that. She’s like, “I make more money than I make anywhere else. Why would I want to go anywhere else?” They experience this trauma and they rationalize it. We do that too. Firefighters, police officers, they rationalize trauma. They numb themselves out. You can’t see things every day and just feel normal. They have to cope. That’s why addiction is very prominent with some types of cultures in order to cope, but also just mechanisms of power and control. Safety.

Interviewer: Yes, a lot of good stuff there. Thank you. We’re in a moment culturally and the MS culture where that is starting to– like, as a male, I’m starting to realize how prevalent that is. I thought, oh, I knew that went on, but I didn’t realize it was like, oh, no, every woman has to deal with this in context that you wouldn’t expect.” It’s just another thing that points to how trauma is such a big issue.

Samantha: Absolutely. I’ve seen women in every type of category being subjected to really nasty things. Whether they’re working and trying to make a living for themselves and then you have to keep up that persona of being beautiful. For example, right now we’re here in a conference. There are some very attractive women here because they have to. They sell products. This will get you to stop in their booth. These women in the adult entertainment industry are the exact same thing. They have to get that look up to show that, you know what, please come talk to me. That desperate need for somebody to engage with you and to make money and to feel wanted.

Interviewer: Then it’s reinforced by society.

Samantha: Absolutely.

Interviewer: Yes, I guess like here at this conference, you’re talking with treatment providers, therapists, clinicians who may not have a lot of experience dealing with these types of subcultures. I guess what do you hope that they take away? What do you wish that more of them understood about dealing with these issues?

Samantha: I just want some cultural competency taught to them that, this is normal and the look beyond the surface. We tend to look at these taboo cultures and say, “Well, I would never do something like that.” Well, what are you feeling? You feel loved by your husband? Do you feel loved by your wife? What would you do in desperation for that? When you’ve never known that, you may have to look at the person as a whole.

That’s the big piece that I do with trauma informed care is, I’m looking at the person as a complete whole. Mind, body, spirit. What happened, what brought them to here, where they’re going with us, what’s their story? Why are they doing this? What are they coping with? That’s what we need to focus on is that, treating underlying issue rather than what we only see on the surface. That piece could get us past anything.

There’s not one person that I really can’t counsel without going into having a diamond underneath the surface. Why would these girls or these males that I’m working with in these three subcultures be anything different? They’re just a person who needs to be helped. Clinicians need to remember that. Treatment facilities need to remember that. There’s somebody that is desperately seeking need and help and safety. Safety is important to these people. We don’t provide safety and don’t show them and reinforce that compassion that they need, these people are going to continue to do that behavior. It’s just basic.

Interviewer: Yes. All right. Just wrap up with this final question. Everyone who serves in this field has their own personal reasons for getting up wanting to do that every morning furthering this cause. Could you wrap up by summing up why making sure people from all backgrounds, all traumatic experiences, all subcultures are able to have that chance of recovery?

Samantha: Because I feel like people, in spite of where they’ve come from in their life, they all have come from somewhere. Everyone should get the same chance. If you want to get into my background, I come from a family that were hells angels and the biggest drug dealers in LA. You would look at me today and you would not know that my uncle was a major drug dealer in the LA area and had people killed probably.

We all come from a story that is radiated down and we have to look at these individuals as just somebody who needs help rather than the people that we are judging. “Oh, I’d never go into the swinger community. I’ve never would dress like a dog.” Why did they do that? What I want everyone to understand is that compassion is needed. That’s where we need to focus on that empowerment because people are going to treat themselves whether we want to help them or not. They’re going to treat themselves. Why can’t we give them the tools that treat themselves correctly?

Interviewer: Yes. All right. Well, Samantha thank you so much for your time and for sharing that with us.

Samantha: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

Episode #105 | January 8, 2020

In a culture that often encourages a toxic version of masculinity, how can treatment providers help men unlearn harmful stereotypes and uncover their own trauma?

We’ll answer this with SCRC clinical director Hedieh Azadmehr on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

Cultivating an Environment of Innate Listening

Episode #104 | October 2, 2019

As the healthcare industry evolves, how can treatment professionals turn off the noise and really listen – to emerging trends, to their patients and to themselves?

We’ll dive into this with speaker, coach and founder of human connection company BluNovus James Hadlock on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

The Realities of Self-Harm and Suicide

Episode #103 | August 15, 2019

What can behavioral health providers do to better understand the realities of self-harm and to know how to respond when they spot the signs in their patients?

We’ll discuss this with non-suicide self-injury specialist, author and counselor Lori Vann on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

For more about Lori’s work, visit

Integrating Buddhism and the 12 Steps

Episode #102 | August 8, 2019

How can ancient principles from Zen and Tibetan Buddhism integrate with modern treatment programs to help more people build lasting recovery?

We’ll discuss this with author Darren Littlejohn on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

For more about Darren’s book, The 12 Step Buddhist, visit

Can LGBT-Affirmative Therapy Help Re-Write Internalized Messages?

Episode #101 | July 17, 2019

In a heteronormative culture, how can providers use affirmative therapy to help LGBT individuals re-write the false messages they’ve internalized?

We’ll answer this with psychologist, author and activist Dr. Lauren Costine on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

For more about Dr. Lauren’s work, visit