PART 3 OF MY SEX THERAPY SERIES - AIMED AT ANSWERING ALL YOUR BIGGEST QUESTIONS ABOUT SEX THERAPY
What a wonderful question. Woman, am I excited to answer this one as a sex therapist!
Now that you have read what happens in a sex therapy session, it’s time to answer the question what does a sex therapist do to help you?
You know you have a problem. You understand that a sex therapist could help but the how feels elusive or unclear. I’m here to break it down from all that I’ve learnt in the last 6+ years of being a qualified sex therapist. This is what we do:
A sex therapist needs to ask questions. We can only help you when we understand why you have come to sessions and what it is you need to learn and what it is you want to change in your life.
We ask questions that you may not be expecting and that may not feel like they are related to why you are here but in my experience, no question asked is wasted. We look at all the pieces of your life so that we can determine if one (or more) factors are effecting your sex life.
This part is especially important for women. Our sex life doesn’t exist in isolation away from all the parts of our life. From my perspective, our libido and interest in sex is heavily influenced by our health, lifestyle and habits.
In the sex therapy process I offer, I ask the most questions in the first session because I am getting to know you. Sometimes clients end up speaking to questions I was going to ask so I don’t need to ask them in the end.
When a sex therapist asks questions, it will probably be a mix of open and closed questions – some you will give a one word answer and others you will speak for a bit longer to give the sex therapist context.
Now – a special request from us sex therapists. We know that it can be hard to open up and any good sex therapist will help you to feel comfortable when you come into the session. If you can give us as much information as possible, it helps so the session doesn’t feel like a tennis match. You’ll get more from the therapist if you share a bit more. It’s for this reason that I ask that clients really feel certain they are attending because they want to not because they have to. Not sharing or divulging can be a sign of resistance to being there – not fun for anyone!
And lastly, try to be patient. The questions help us to keep you safe with the suggestions we make. We can’t just go giving sex advice willy nilly because that has the potential to re-traumatise you. The reason why you are coming to see us is for a personalised approach where other advice or information hasn’t.
When you share something with us we are listening. I’ll speak for myself and say, as a sex therapist, I am listening intently. I want to catch everything you have to say because on my end of things, I am weaving a picture of your life. When you speak, I am seeing how all the pieces fit and what is getting in the way of you feeling good about sex and intimacy.
What a lot of people don’t realise is how much power is in the process of being heard. You haven’t come to sex therapy sessions to receive an hour-long lecture from an ‘expert’. You have come to feel better by getting the problem out of your head (and hopefully out of your life).
Being listened to in a respectful and present way is also a skill that not a lot of people have. Lots of people can hear other people but not a lot of people are actually listening. Big difference. A lot can happen when you say something out loud that you didn’t realise was inside of you or was a way of life that was creating a lot of distress for you. Being truly heard in that moment can create a lot of change, which is what you are there to do in sex therapy. Change.
The biggest part of sex therapy is actually education. When I am working with a client, I am frequently drawing upon my expertise through tertiary learning, self-directed learning, client contact hours and my experience as a sexual woman.
So many clients present not being exposed to adequate sex education and a lot of people didn’t have very good role modelling from their parents in the way of healthy communication and affectionate touch. If the conversation of sex was banned, if there was no discussion on bodily processes or puberty and everything was brief and straight to the point then it’s easy to feel left in the dark about A LOT.
A sex therapist can help you by giving you the sex education you never got. More specifically, it can be the education that you personally need.
As a sex therapist, I help women who are unclear about their bodies to learn about their anatomy and how it can be responsive to touch in different ways. It isn’t uncommon for women to have never seen their genitals and/or have self-pleasured (AKA masturbated) before. This part of the sex therapy process is important because if we don’t know our own bodies, we can’t expect another person to know and understand them.
Education also comes in the form of sharing a whole set of skills. Ways that I help my clients are by educating them to use new communication skills, to get clear on their consent (their yes and no) and learning how to get out of their heads and into their bodies.
This type of information doesn’t transfer from client to therapist by osmosis. It needs to be role-modelled and practiced in the session so that clients feel more confident to act on their new skills when they are at home and more specifically, in the bedroom.
A bit part of a sex therapist helping you is giving you feedback. Feedback is a way of reflecting something back to a client and inserting a new suggestion.
I have noticed that sex therapy is a process of educating and then re-examining how that information is working or being utilised. For example, if I give a client a home exercise, I then enquire about it at the next session and celebrate when something works and tweak anything that didn’t work so well. This is a normal part of the process – educate, attempt, tweak.
When I give feedback in sex therapy sessions, it is kind, encouraging and gentle. Feedback should never be criticism and attempts should be made to avoid it being interpreted this way.
Throughout all of your sex therapy process, a sex therapist should encourage you. They should be your cheerleader for change. Encouragement is a massive part of the work I do because without it, you aren’t going to be as motivated to take those steps to changing what is happening in your life.
It’s also especially important for sex therapy because often clients have never spoken to anyone about their problems. They are the most private problems after all. And we need sex and intimacy to start being associated with a positive experience rather than a negative one.
The other thing is, my clients often don’t encourage themselves and they need to learn how. They are high achievers that rarely give themselves a pat on the back and are very critical of themselves. I’m inadvertently teaching them to be so much more compassionate and more acknowledging of what they are doing.
Being critical, judgmental and hard on yourself is a sure-fire way to feel frustrated in and about sex. You can’t push yourself to achieve in sex. You need to be encouraging of yourself – that self-talk will open up new options to you that getting frustrated just can’t do anything for.
Bonus : Behind the scenes
Last but not least, a good sex therapist will help you by educating themselves where possible. Courses, conferences, reading the literature…learning shouldn’t stop even when people are really experienced. When sex therapists invest in themselves, you benefit!
I really stand by this one and am happy to share that I’m getting my bony butt to the US in June to attend the American Association of Sex Educators Counsellors and Therapists (AASECT) Conference! I really can’t wait to immerse myself in deep and diverse learning so that I can keep providing the best possible service to my wonderful clients. #alwayslearning
A good sex therapist should love their work. A good sex therapist should love helping and being helpful to their clients. A good sex therapist should be in a good state of health for themselves and should not be practicing if they are in burnout or are not engaged in the process anymore.
There are lots of wonderful things a sex therapist does to help you. Now, it’s just a question of whether you are willing to let us (or in this case, me) help?
Over to you…
P.S. If you couldn’t tell – I love to help. I provide an incredibly powerful process that combines all of what I mentioned and more. If you are a woman that needs to be heard, to receive feedback and above all, be encouraged, I may well be the sex therapist for you! Curious? Simply go to the sessions page of my site and I’ll be happy to help!