Feature by Dr. Sara Schapiro and Nikita Fernandes, MHC-LP
Although sex therapy has been around for awhile, people still have misconceptions about what sex therapy entails. For example, what makes a sex therapist different from other therapists? For starters, sex therapists work with clients on a variety of challenges that range from sexual trauma to kink explorations. Sex therapists also collaborate with other sex and intimacy professionals such as surrogate partners or sexological body workers in order to offer clients a holistic framework for healing. Partnering with other health professionals enables sex therapists to understand the client better as the therapist gains a comprehensive view of the clients background both inside and outside the therapy session.
Who are sex therapists?
Sex therapists are professionals who have a degree in psychology, mental health counseling, or social work. In addition to their degree they have received additional training in sex therapy through institutions like the Modern Sex Therapy Institutes. Sex therapists are very knowledgeable in the areas of human sexuality and will not attempt to “fix” a “problem” if it is solely based on societal expectations. Sex therapists are aware of the many different sexual preferences and will support the client in their process of sexual exploration.
What is sex therapy?
The format of sex therapy is strictly talk therapy. The approach to sex therapy and the healing process can be addressed in various ways. Some therapists utilize a behavioral approach where the sessions focus on different behaviors that the client can implement in order to manage a dysfunction or to enhance their sexual pleasure. For example, the sex therapist and the client will explore thinking patterns that lead to specific emotions such as guilt, shame, or anxiety. Once the client understands their emotional reaction to their thoughts they can independently design a behavioral intervention. The client then practices the behavioral intervention out in his world and in therapy the therapist supports the clients process. This approach is collaborative rather than one sided and the client learns skills that they can implement in all areas of their life.
What is surrogate partner therapy?
Surrogate partner therapy was first introduced by William Masters and Virginia Johnson, in the 1960’s. Masters and Johnson recognized the need for more direct interventions with clients who had severe sexual dysfunctions, particularly erectile dysfunction. According to the International Professional Surrogates Association (IPSA), "The surrogate participates with the client in structured and unstructured experiences that are designed to build client self-awareness and skills in the areas of physical and emotional intimacy. These therapeutic experiences include partner work in relaxation, effective communication, sensual and sexual touching, and social skills training."
How does surrogate partner therapy work?
Surrogate partner therapy is often referred to as a triadic model. The relationship consists of the client, a clinical therapist, and a surrogate partner who collaboratively work together. The surrogate partner will have extensive training in sexual surrogacy through reputed institutions like IPSA. IPSA is internationally recognized as the leading authority on surrogate partner therapy. The client will see the therapist for traditional talk therapy and during the sessions the therapist will assess what interventions the client would benefit from. The therapist will then work with the sexual surrogate to create a plan that facilitates the client's sexual healing. The surrogate partner is the one who has physical and intimate contact with the client.
Does the surrogate partner have sex with the client?
The types of interventions practiced vary. Some surrogate partners focus on teaching communication skills and exploring personal somatic wants and needs. In these situations physical touch is often minimal. The surrogate partner might practice with client how to hold hands, kiss, or hugging. Other surrogate partners do involve more intimate physical touch depending on what the client want to work on. Consent and sex education are cornerstones of the work. The surrogate partner acts as a model of basic social skills, clear communication, and emotional honesty. The surrogate-client relationship provides opportunities for shared physical intimacy that assist in the improvement of sexual arousal and the development of a healthy sense of self.
Who goes to a surrogate partner practitioner?
Clients may seek out surrogate partner therapy for a variety of issues, from specific sexual dysfunctions to general social anxiety. Important steps in this process include learning how to establish healthy relationships, how to give and receive touch, and how to be more accepting of one's body and sexuality.
What happens after surrogate partner therapy?
The client may continue to see their sex therapist even after ending their surrogate partner relationship as they use their knowledge and new abilities in their personal life.
Antione Dupont, a surrogate partner, professional cuddler, and sexological body worker in New York City, shares that "Somatic practice can help people heal past trauma, grief, post surgery, sexual dysfunction, lack of intimate experience, sexual orientation issues, body image issues, or simply help people looking to explore and enhance physical and emotional intimacy in their lives."
Unfortunately, many people are still unaware of sex therapy and surrogate partner therapy. The misconceptions about these practices hinders many people interested in sex therapy and surrogate partner therapy from seeking out the help of professionals. More information on surrogate partner training can be found here.
Nikita Fernandes is a mental health therapist in New York City. You can contact Nikita at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more blog posts at www.mwr.nyc. Dr. Sara Schapiro holds a New York State Mental Health Counseling License, and an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist. You can contact Sara at email@example.com and read more blog posts at www.mwr.nyc.