I read the articles by the sex therapist every week and I have been wondering: what exactly does a sex therapist do? Do sessions involve sex? I just can’t imagine someone who isn’t my husband touching me!
The truth is that I get this question a lot! Just yesterday, I had a chat with someone who thought that sex therapists engage in sex with clients in order to teach them how to have better sex. That is not true! While I do not speak for all sex therapists, I will share with you some generalities in terms of what the profession entails and what you can expect from a competent, ethical sex therapist. They must be a qualified therapist. That’s the first order of business -- sex therapist must be a “therapist” first. This varies in different countries but, generally, mental health care can be provided by those who have studied mental health in its various forms, for instance clinical social work, counseling, psychology, psychotherapy and others. Specialisation happens at higher levels of Masters and PhD, per international guidelines available, so a sex therapist must have a Masters or a PhD.
Sex therapists must be licensed and/or registered which is an ethical obligation of the profession for any professional practice. It is also crucial because it keeps the therapist accountable to you — the client — and to themselves and the profession by way of a professional code of ethics that is more or less globally similar.
It also ensures that therapists are staying connected to others for your and their personal and professional benefit through continuous education, training, advocacy, clinical supervision, their own mental health support and so much more.
Before you work with someone, ask if they are licensed and/or registered, for your own physical and emotional safety, otherwise anyone can wear a badge, open an office and call themselves professional counselors or therapists.
In Kenya, there are two main licensing bodies I know of: Kenya Counseling and Psychological Association (KCPA) and Kenya Psychological Association (KPA). I am member of KCPA.
In Kenya, the area of sex therapy is new and ever evolving so a year or 10 from now, things are bound to be different. Still, a professional sex therapist should be academically qualified and registered. This will ensure that even as the field grows and evolves, they are in a position to evolve and grow with it. Let’s look at the technicalities and what to expect once you’re in the office.
What to expect
Just like in other professions, qualifications and registration are one aspect while the actual practice of the work are another, owing to factors such as the personality of the clients, therapists, clinical and academic approach and so much more. However, certain aspects should be the same across the board.
1. Confidentiality: This is one of the cornerstones of our profession; everything you say is confidential, that is private and not to be shared with all and sundry. We are however legally mandated to break your confidentiality in three specific instances: if you are a threat to yourself, to others or to property. This is because we are required by law and code of ethics to try and save your life, the life of another or property, if we perceive and believe that there is danger. Even so, we do this with your knowledge. 2. Empathy: Your therapist should offer you empathy and compassion. The terminology for it is Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR), which means that no matter who you are or what you’ve done, we must hold you in the most positive light with empathy at the core. In short, we don’t judge you or your actions. We recognise that you are in our office for a reason, and hold you in compassionate light. If we are unable to – because we are only human and may get triggered by certain issues – then we MUST seek out the support of our clinical supervisor (a professional requirement) to help us through it and/or refer the client to another competent therapist, for the benefit of the client. For your part, you will likely experience UPR by your own ability to share sensitive and personal information comfortably and feeling lighter and better afterwards. 3. Ethics. A professional sex therapist abides by a professional code of ethics. These are the rules that keep the sex therapist accountable to you and their professional mandate. So, for example, a therapist may NOT, under any circumstances, sexually touch or sexually engage with a client, even if it is thought to be for the benefit of the client. This would be highly unethical, not to mention unprofessional. This is serious enough to cost the sex therapist their license or good standing with the registration body.
There is much more that we could talk about but my hope is that this brief article has demystified sex therapy for you and you can seek the help that you need. Hannah, you deserve a happy and healthy sex life, so go for it!
Maggie Gitu is a marriage, family and sex therapist. Reach her on: [email protected]