By: José Ramirez, LMHC
For many people, the idea of traditional mental health therapy is mystifying. Not everyone knows what to expect or how it can help them. When we consider more niche or specialized therapies, like sex therapy, the unknown is even greater. So what is sex therapy and how do you know it’s right for you?
What is sex therapy?
Sex therapy is a talk-therapy that is used to treat individuals and couples experiencing a variety of sexual related issues.
Sex therapists are fully licensed mental health professionals who are trained to provide in-depth psychotherapy to clients experiencing sexual issues and concerns.
Sex therapists have an in-depth knowledge of human sexuality and use this knowledge, along with their clinical training, to help clients reach their goals. The focus is on sexuality and how it impacts an individual or a couple’s functioning.
Physiological, emotional, and psychological factors are all taken into consideration in sex therapy as these factors directly impact sexuality. If the issue is medical in nature, a sex therapist will recommend their client see a physician for a medical evaluation. Clients with medical-related sexual dysfunctions are still great candidates for sex therapy as clients can learn helpful skills to cope with the issue.
Sex therapy does not involve sexual contact between the therapist and the client.
How does sex therapy work?
Well, like all talk therapies, the issues are discussed at length. Education, exploration, skill building, coping skills, and homework are typical components of sex therapy. Therapists may suggest to clients to experiment or try specific assignments (in the privacy of their home) meant to target their problem area.
Couples, for example, may be assigned an intervention designed to improve their intimacy such as sensate focus to work on in between sessions. Individuals will be assigned homework meant to target the problem areas on the treatment plan, this may be solo work/exploration or it may involve their partner(s).
There is no in-vivo work done in the therapy room. Talking about sex can be very uncomfortable and feel awkward for some people. Sex Therapists are well aware of this and are trained on how to guide the conversation in a slow, safe yet effective manner.
Clients are always encouraged to speak up if they feel uncomfortable or need a break.
How do I know if sex therapy is for me?
If you struggle with any sexuality related issue, then it’s very likely that sex therapy is right for you. Remember, sex therapists are mental health professionals who have a speciality in human sexuality. They will be able to help with generalist issues like anxiety, depression, trauma, but they can also intervene when it comes to any problem related to sex.
An example of a good candidate for sex therapy would be someone who is depressed but also has diminished desire.
A sex therapist would be able to treat both the depression and the desire problem. If you struggle with a problem that is strictly sexual in nature, then your best bet is going to be a sex therapist.
Other problems sex therapists can help with include:
- Desire problems
- Sexual dysfunctions
- Pain disorder
- Sexual trauma
- Anxiety surrounding sex and intimacy
- Sexual identity issues
- Issues around sex and culture
- Sexual education
- HIV/AIDS & sexual wellness
- Mismatched desire between partners or any sexual issue affecting a relationship
As with any therapist, sex therapists should not practice outside of their scope, if they feel you would be better off seeing someone who is more specialized, they will make that recommendation.
Are all sex therapists created equal?
There are differences even within the speciality of sex therapy. There are people who have doctorate degrees in sexology and therapists who are certified by professional organizations such as AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists).
Florida is the only state in the US that requires a sex therapy certification in order to practice sex therapy.
That means that in every other state, any therapist can advertise themselves as a sex therapist. The only way to be confident that the therapist you are seeing has the adequate education and training is if they are certified by a professional association like AASECT.
Certification through AASECT requires:
- 90 hours of human sexuality education
- 60 hours of sex therapy training
- 50 hours of supervision by an AASECT certified sex therapy supervisor
- 14 hour Sexuality Attitude Reassessment
While the specifics of this may not be relevant to clients, you can see that becoming certified is quite rigorous and involves a lot of time.
When looking for a sex therapist, look for Certified Sex Therapist, or CST, in the person’s credentials, this way you can be sure that they have the right educational and training background.
I’m not saying that someone who did not get certified is not competent but, most mental health graduate programs have little to no instruction on sexuality.
Therefore, most therapists aren’t adequately trained in this subspeciality during their therapy training.
If you don’t see a CST credential but the person advertises that they practice sex therapy, it’s always a good idea to ask what experience the provider has. This is a totally ok question to ask, you’re doing your due diligence as a consumer. Therapists are used to questions about experience and training.
How to find a sex therapist in Fort Lauderdale
So now that you know if sex therapy is right for you, where do you find a sex therapist near you?
You can also use google to find therapist directories. Most certified sex therapists will have that CST credential after their name and license type.
The ASSECT directory is a great place to find providers that are currently certified and in good standing with the professional association. You can filter by country or state and hopefully find someone in your area.
What can I expect in sex therapy?
Sex therapy can sound like a mystifying practice. The most common question I get asked is what does sex therapy entail?
Hopefully you’ve learned the answer to that after reading this blog, but the long and short of it is: sex therapy is a talk therapy used to treat a variety of sexual concerns for both individuals and couples.
Here’s a few things to remember about sex therapy:
- Yes, there’s a lot of talking about and exploring issues and personal beliefs surrounding sex
- Yes, there’s a lot of education around human sexuality
- Yes, there’s often homework and assignments suggested based on the treatment plan meant to target problem areas
- No, you are not forced to do or talk about anything you are not comfortable with
- No, there’s no physical contact of any kind in the therapy room
- NO, sex therapists do not have sex with their clients!
If you struggle with any aspect of your sexuality, consider speaking with a sex therapist. They have the training to adequately assess the situation and develop a treatment plan which should get results.
They have the educational background to provide education on sexuality and they have the training needed to effectively work with this population.
I’m available for a 15-minute, complimentary phone call to help you determine if sex therapy is right for you. Simply call 954-488-2933 and ask our client concierge to set up a phone call with me.
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