As a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex educator, I get a lot of questions about being a sex therapist and how it manifests in my private practice. I see clients who are struggling to make sense of their sexuality and the world around them. Because let’s face it, we don’t live in a world that is accepting of anything different in the bedroom.
A sex therapist is someone who provides systemic and contextual psychotherapy services to individuals, couples, families, or groups of people who are suffering from psychological, medical, or social issues of sexuality; including the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions within the scope of their practice. Some topics range from erectile dysfunction, lack of desire/interest, and premature ejaculation to sexual trauma. And these are just a few of the topics a Sex Therapist deals with! Please note that a certified and ethical sex therapist will never ask to have sex with you or to watch you partake in the act. If you know of this happening please contact your governing licensing board (AAMFT).
In my own practice, I deal with many sexual issues in an open, honest, and educational way through a systemic approach meaning I look at a variety of factors and influences unique to my client’s life. I believe the best way to help create change is through education and frank discussion about sex without judgment.
So how do therapists bridge the gap between helping and hurting clients?
It’s easy: check your face and ask your question!
It can be hard to hear stories of situations that make us uncomfortable and half the battle is learning to ask the hard questions without judgment. The topic of sex is no different. If you are uncomfortable talking about sex, your clients will be too. Not only that, but if you can’t ask important questions surround taboo topics, are you upholding a therapist’s highest principle: do no harm?
I’m guessing that’s a hard no.
I encourage therapists to explore their own sexuality and, perhaps, past traumas or issues that make it difficult to have frank discussions about sex. There are several ways to overcome the anxiety. First, start by asking yourself the hard questions you want to ask your clients. If you can answer them confidently, it’ll show itself in the room. If you are still struggling or have unearthed something that is troubling you, it might be time to talk with someone you trust or a professional. That way if you can process your own sexual experience your issues will be less likely manifest in the room with your clients. Once you can become more accepting of yourself, your confidence and self love will show itself in the room making you more comfortable discussing the hard sexual stuff that worries your clients.
Just like we tell our clients it takes time to create change and to trust the process, we need to be kind to ourselves. Change does not happen over night and if we want to make the world a better place, we have to start with ourselves.
Samantha Heuwagen works as a Marriage and Family Therapist and Sex Therapist in Atlanta, GA. She is a graduate of Mercer University School of Medicine where she earned her second Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. Her first Master’s degree is in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of South Florida where she first realized her passion for sex education. She is a certified sex educator with the American College of Sexologists. When she isn’t working with clients, she teaches at Kennesaw State University sharing her knowledge about sex and feminism. Get in touch with Samantha via Twitter or visit SamanthaHeuwgen.com to follow her work.