Sex can be wonderful, but it doesn’t always go smoothly. There may come a time when sex actually becomes a problem, and consequently less enjoyable. When sex becomes a problem, it’s time to call in the experts. The Cheat Sheet spoke with clinical psychologist Rachel Needle to learn more about when it’s time to see a sex therapist.
The Cheat Sheet: What are some of the signs that it’s time to see a sex therapist?
Rachel Needle: If you have considered seeing a sex therapist, chances are you should. If nothing else, it will be a safe place to talk about sexuality in a way you may not anywhere else. There are a number of reasons why someone might seek out a sex therapist. Individuals and couples come to sex therapy when they are struggling in their relationship or with any area of sexuality including but not limited to issues with sexual response (desire, arousal, orgasm, pain), gender, sexual orientation, desire discrepancy, compulsive or impulsive sexual behavior, sexual trauma, shame, guilt, confusion, or issues related to body image. If someone is experiencing distress related to one of the previously mentioned, areas of their life are being impacted (such as relationships or work), or someone else is expressing concern, then it might be a good idea to reach out to a specialist.
CS: What are some sexual disorders that warrant seeing a sex therapist?
RN: A therapist that specializes in sexuality can encounter problems with relationships, sexual desire, arousal, orgasm, pain, compulsivity, desire discrepancies, discomfort with their bodies and sexuality, gender identity, shame and guilt around sexuality, or sexual trauma.
CS: How can a sex therapist help?
RN: Sex is a difficult topic for many to discuss. Sex therapists can help their clients feel more comfortable talking about sex and their issues with sex by seeing the therapist’s comfort with the topic as well as knowing the therapists’ expertise in the area. As a psychologist and sex therapist myself, I strive to be open, nonjudgmental, and empathic. When possible, I normalize their feelings and experiences, while also helping them to understand how they got to the place they are that day and individualizing their treatment.
CS: How is a successful treatment outcome achieved?
RN: Personally, my success with clients comes from the client and my ability to facilitate understanding of how they came to be at the place they are with themselves and their sexual functioning. Sex therapists, as is the same with mental health professionals in general, have different views on treatment and use different theories and techniques to inform their practice. Sex therapy has typically been thought of as very cognitive-behavioral, involving a number of behavioral exercises including homework assignments and certain specific exercises. While I do sometimes utilize these techniques, I look at the client the way I would anyone else coming into my psychology practice. They are not merely their sexual issue. Understanding the person’s history both sexually and otherwise helps me to support the client build an understanding of themselves and their issue, so that we can begin to make changes in their thinking and behavior.
CS: How do you know if a particular sex therapist is right for you?
RN: As with any type of therapist, it is about goodness of fit or the right match. The relationship, good rapport, and feeling comfortable with a therapist are all critical. Of course a therapist’s knowledge, credentials, competence, and skill are also important. Therapists come from different theoretical backgrounds and subscribe to any number of therapeutic styles and techniques. Sometimes you have to “shop around” to find the right therapist for you.
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