Finding Sex Therapy

People continue to be misinformed and uneducated about sex therapy. A good therapist will tell you what they do, not what they don’t do. Following are some tips and questions you can ask a potential therapist:

Be sure to get a complete medical work-up if you sense your sexual problems might be related to hormones, physical illness, or drug interactions. If you sense your physician is uncomfortable talking about sex or dismisses your problem by telling you you’re OK or crazy, consider finding another doctor with more in-depth knowledge of your problem. Possibilities include a gynecologist with an intimate knowledge of women’s hormones or a urologist who understands erectile dysfunction. Realize that even though many physicians are excellent sources of referrals, some physicians have never taken a course in human sexuality. Others are uncomfortable discussing sex.

Beware of differences between sex therapists. The field of sexology is broad and includes academicians, outreach workers, educators, researchers, and social workers. Don’t assume that just because someone is involved with sexuality or sexology, that person will be able to provide psychotherapy or sex therapy. Also keep in mind that just about anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves a psychotherapist or sex therapist.

Look for a therapist much the way you would look for a physician. Just as you would pay attention to the medical school your physician attended, pay attention to the academic credentials of the therapist. Make sure the degree is legitimate, not one earned at a so-called diploma mill. Also make sure the therapist has appropriate credentials from a certifying body. Reputable therapists will be willing to talk about their background — from where they received their degrees to where they practiced. If the therapist has a Ph.D., you might want to ask: ” What did you do your dissertation in” or “How did you get a Ph.D. in sex research?”

Talk to several therapists before you select one. Choose the best therapist you can afford, just as you would choose any other professional — from an attorney to a mechanic. And make sure you’re completely comfortable talking with the therapist — even on the phone. If you’re not, keep looking.

Set specific goals and expect specific time frames from your therapist. Know at what point you will evaluate your progress. It may take two or three sessions to get past the awkwardness. If you don’t have a sense of momentum after five or six sessions, don’t feel like you have to continue.

Watch out for red flags. If you sense the therapist is coming on to you or acting inappropriately, leave and terminate the relationship. Don’t let the therapist touch you. If a physical examination is needed, it should be done by a licensed physician or nurse practitioner.

Get personal recommendations from friends, physicians, ministers and counselors. Just as with other medical practitioners, the best referrals often come from people who’ve been through treatment.

Don’t discount magazine articles, and radio and television interviews. If you like a therapist’s approach, style and credentials, call the person, advises Zilbergeld, who fields many of these calls after radio appearances. The therapist may be able to arrange for a session or for a referral to someone in your area.

Ask a family physician if they know anyone who provides sex therapy. Many credible sex therapists do continuing education programs for physicians or are somehow affiliated with a medical school or serve on the adjunct facility of a state university. Others will be part of programs sponsored by university — facilitated medical centers such as Loyola University Medical Center.

Get references. Credible therapists will give you a list of references and patients to whom you can speak.

Be careful about finding sexual preparations and devices and even professionals on the Internet. Remember, almost anyone can produce a home page or open up a store front.

Ask a sex therapist about their approach to therapy. A reputable sex therapist will discuss sex therapy in terms of talk therapy. If the therapist begins to talk in terms of show and tell or taking off clothes to rid yourself of your inhibitions, you know you’ve got a problem. The bottom line: Professional sex therapy — clinical sexology — typically doesn’t deal with direct body approaches.

Make sure you’re comfortable with therapist’s approach, personality and style. A credible therapist will understand the importance of interpersonal chemistry between client and therapist, why some therapists are more appropriate for certain clients than others, and why some therapists can only take clients so far in personal development. Credible therapists won’t be threatened by the absence of chemistry and will willingly refer you to another competent, ethical therapist. Finally, credible therapists are honest, periodically admitting to clients: “I’m not the person you need to see. I don’t know if I can help you.”

Make sure the therapist answers all of your questions. Credible therapists will usually be willing to talk to you before you schedule your first appointment. While most therapists will feel fairly comfortable telling you some details about their personal lives such as whether they’re married or have children, they’ll almost always avoid discussions of their own sexual practices.

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