What is Sex Therapy?
Written by: Valerie Richards, LMHC, CST, EdS
What is Sex Therapy?
Sex therapy involves a cognitive behavioral therapy approach to addressing issues related to sex and sexuality for individuals and couples. It is short term therapy that is very goal directed and can help with a number of issues including depression and anxiety. Sexual issues are often ignored or not thoroughly addressed in counseling sessions and it is my belief that sexual issues are often related to difficulties within relationships. When seeking a therapist or any mental health or medical provider, it is important to find professionals that you can connect with that are comfortable talking to you about sex and sexuality and who you can feel comfortable talking with about the relationship between sex, sexuality, relationships, moods and anxiety.
What is a sex therapist?
All therapists can address and discuss sexual issues with clients. However, a sex therapist has had specialized training in this area and is generally more comfortable and educated in areas related to sex and sexuality. Many therapists are uncomfortable discussing sex and sexual issues, even when talking about relationships. Sex and sexuality is a very important topic that often is not talked about or is ignored by therapists, doctors, families, etc.
What are some issues related to sex, sexuality, relationships that may come up in therapy?
All issues related to sexuality. Including:
Sexual dysfunction (a low or high sex drive, vaginismus, erectile dysfunction)
Pornography or other out of control sexual behaviors
Ways to spice up a relationship or marriage
Issues related to sexual abuse or PTSD
These are just a few of the many issues that could come up when working on sexual issues but almost everyone could be a sex therapy client. Sex therapy can be helpful in treating anxiety and depression. Sexual issues typically WILL NOT be resolved without talking about them.
Does sex therapy include watching the couple having sex or engaging in sex with the client?
Absolutely not. A sex therapist will work with the individual or couple through talk therapy to discuss how their particular issue may be impacting their sex life or their functioning and will discuss ways to work on improving their lives through working on their sexual issues.
What happens in sex therapy?
Sex therapy can involve many different techniques but primarily uses cognitive behavioral therapy as a way to address thoughts about sex and the impact on behavior. Please be advised that the focus is not on changing the individual’s preferences. For example, the goal is not to “change” someone from straight to homosexual or vice versa. The goal is to address HOW that individual’s sexual issues or sexuality may be affecting their lives and how to cope with that. For someone struggling with being open about their homosexuality, we would be focusing on how to cope with what this means for them in dealing with their friends and family, what anxiety are they feeling about this decision to come out, how to cope with people who may not understand or be accepting of their lifestyle, and relationship issues that may come up for them.
Some other techniques included in sex therapy sessions would include focus on attachment, psycho-educational activities (learning activities and discussion/education), reality therapy (in dealing with those who engage in out of control sexual behaviors and the potential legal consequences), and sensate-focused activities. Clients may be given homework that is sensate focused, meaning it would include focus on the five senses in dates with themselves or with their significant other. Other assignments may include things such as a sexual development timeline, body mapping activities, dates, social skills activities, progressive muscle relaxation or breathing techniques.
Can you tell me exactly what will happen in my sessions?
Everyone’s sexual experiences differ, therefore everyone’s therapy sessions will differ. No two clients have had the same sexual experiences or sexual development and treatment will be different for everyone. We call this individualizing treatment. You, the client, will be involved in your treatment and the course of treatment. The goals of therapy will be based on what you, the client, want or need to work on. Sex therapy sessions can include individuals or couples.
I don’t like my body, can we talk about that in sessions?
Typically, body image and self-esteem are a huge factor in sexual issues and/or can be the result of sexual issues. Low self-esteem can impact so many areas of a client’s life including contributing towards anxiety, depression, poor relationships, poor social skills, lack of self confidence in work or school, and contributing to sexual dysfunction. This can be a huge area of focus for you and your therapist during treatment.
What are out of control sexual behaviors?
Out of control sexual behaviors would be those sexual behaviors that a client feels they have lost control over. This could include things such as promiscuity, cheating, sex-drug linked behaviors (sexual behaviors that are related to substance abuse), pornography, exhibitionism, or any other sexual behavior that may be causing the client distress. Out of control sexual behaviors are often highly linked with substance abuse/use. This is an area that will often come up in sessions for individuals or couples. Sometimes, what one person may view as an out of control behavior may not be seen as out of control by their partner. We would consider it out of control if it is causing negative consequences for the individual.
What is the goal of the sessions?
Ultimately, the goal of all therapy is to focus on reducing the negative effects of these sexual issues on a client and to promote and focus on developing the client’s definition of healthy sexuality. There is no definitive term for a “healthy” sex life or healthy sexuality, rather it would be when the client is feeling comfortable and happy with where they are at in their sexual development.
Can we talk about other things in therapy?
Yes. In therapy sessions we will be able to address a number of issues based on the needs of the individual client or couple. Some clients may have a treatment plan focused primarily on sensate focused dates and improving their sexual relationships. For others, there may be many more issues involved and we will address whatever we need to as it comes up. I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, as well as a sex therapist, so we can address any issues that may be affecting you even if they are not related to sexual issues.
A LITTLE ABOUT ME
Vive Ut Vivas means to live life to the fullest. This is a motto that I try to live by and that statement is exactly what I want to help my clients to do. Through therapy, I want to provide clients with the tools that they need to live their life to the fullest and to discover the potential that they have within themselves. My goal is to work with individuals or couples to face challenges and move beyond those challenges in a supportive, positive and therapeutic way. I strive to provide an environment free from judgment where clients can comfortably address sexual and relationship issues in a completely confidential environment with a therapist who has training specific to the their needs.
I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (MH 12579) and Certified Sex Therapist in the State of Florida and completed training through The Florida Post-Graduate Sex Therapy Training Institute. I am also currently pursuing AASECT certification in the field of sex therapy. I received my Bachelor of Science (B.S.) from Florida State University in 2001 in the field of Psychology. I worked for a few years at outpatient mental health centers as a targeted case manager for adults with mental illness and then returned to Florida State University where I received my Master of Science (M.S.) and Specialist of Education (Ed.S) from Florida State University in 2006 in Counseling and Human Systems with a specialization in mental health. Over the years, I have worked with the Department of Children and Families and in a residential forensic inpatient facility working with adult males who were found Incompetent to Proceed or Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity through the courts. Most recently, I have worked as an outpatient mental health therapist in a community mental health center working with both children and adults on a wide range of issues. I have also had experience running sex therapy groups in an inpatient and outpatient substance abuse treatment center focusing on issues such as co-dependency and sex-drug linked behaviors. My specialties include sex therapy, anxiety, depression, parenting/co-parenting issues, relationship issues, parent/child relationships, any issues related to sex and sexuality including issues related to sexually acting out and working with victims of sexual violence. I have recently started a private practice in Florida to primarily work with clients on issues specifically related to sex therapy.
I utilize a variety of treatment approaches to therapy based on the needs of the client or clients. I primarily use CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and Sex Therapy but I also incorporate aspects of attachment theory, acceptance and commitment therapy, reality therapy, and other treatment modalities as needed. My sessions are client centered and client directed based on the needs of the client or couple.
I look forward to working with clients in a format that allows clients to be present in a session from the comfort of their own home or a location of their choosing without the demands of transportation or setting office appointments. This is a new frontier in the field of counseling and I am excited to be a part of the changing face of this field. If you are interested in improving your relationships or finding out what sex therapy is all about then contact me to set up an appointment today. It’s time to start living your life to the fullest!
Please contact me today to arrange a free 15 minute consultation or to book your first full session.
If you are having an emergency or if someone is in immediate danger, please dial 911 or call 1-800-SUICIDE immediately