Finding a good sex therapist isn’t easy. If you’re suffering from a sexual problem, it’s crucially important that you see someone who understands the difference between a sex therapist and a “regular therapist.”
Often a “regular therapist” will advertise themselves as a sex therapist, when they’re really not — which can lead to a lot of wasted time and money.
If you have a sex problem, don’t assume just any therapist will be able to help you. As a sex therapist, I see many individuals and couples who’ve spent years in conventional psychotherapy and not gotten any help at all with sex.
Here’s how to tell the difference:
It’s not enough to just hear someone describe their sexual problem. If you’re a woman who has pain during intercourse, it’s crucially important to know whether the pain is on initial penetration, or on deep thrusting. And whether it’s all the time, or only some of the time. If you’re a man with difficulty ejaculating, a sex therapist will want to know the details of how you masturbate.
A sex therapist wants to know everything that goes on in bed – and in your head. Who does what to whom? And how does that feel? Then what happens next, and why?
As a great architect once said, “God is in the details.” The tiniest details can sometimes contain the solutions to a couple’s sexual problem.
Your sexuality is clearly influenced by your experience in life – not just your sexual experience, but also your experience of being loved, appreciated, and listened to, going all the way back to childhood. Those experiences carry a lot of weight.
Unfortunately, most therapists, on hearing that you were abandoned as a child, will want to spend weeks talking with you about it. Sometimes that can be helpful, but often it’s not. And it can be particularly un-helpful if in the meantime you’re struggling with a sexual problem that’s not getting any better as the weeks go by.
A sex therapist appreciates full well the importance of the fact that you were, say, emotionally abandoned as a child. But a sex therapist also knows that if you don’t get help for your sex problem, you’ll soon feel emotionally abandoned in therapy as well.
The solution, as every sex therapist knows, is to deal first with the immediate causes of the sexual problem – then deal with other more “remote” causes later on.
Your sexual mind is very simple. It just wants to feel good. You can’t resolve a sexual problem if you keep having discouraging experiences in bed. The only way to heal a sexual problem is by having good experiences in bed. For most people, that has to come first.
Much of regular therapy, typically, is about pain. The therapy itself is often very hard work. But a couple can stay in pain for years in therapy, and still not resolve their sex problem.
As every sex therapist knows, sex therapy is not about pain. It’s about feeling good. Unless the therapy helps you feel good, nothing productive is going to happen.
Which brings me to the final way a sex therapist differs from a regular therapist . . .
Talking with someone in therapy, or with your partner in therapy, can be very important. But talking will only get you so far. If you’re not taking action in the bedroom, then chances are nothing much is going to happen.
After a first consultation session, a sex therapist will typically recommend that an individual or couple do something specific at home – both to get experience doing it a better way, and to gather more data.
After seeing a sex therapist for the first time, you’ll want to come away with a specific action plan – of things you can do right away, to get you on the road to feeling good again.
Sex problems — like loss of desire or sexless marriage — tend to make people feel terrible about themselves. As a sex therapist, I feel it’s crucially important that someone feel better when they leave my office, than when they walked in.
If you’re struggling with a sex problem, there’s never been a better time to get help. Just make sure you see someone who has lots of experience helping people with sex problems.
Make sure you see someone who can give you a sense of hope – and an actionable plan for turning that hope into reality.
Simple: Both the Society for Sex Therapy and Research (SSTAR) and the American Assocation of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) have search directories where you can search for someone in your area. They hyper-links above will take you there directly.
One you have some names, call each one up and talk with them about the 3 issues I mentioned above. Some therapists will have this information on their websites already, as I do on my Frequently Asked Questions page. And with some, you’ll need to specifically ask.
Don’t be afraid to ask a potential therapist whether they have particular experience with the specific sex problem you have — including how many patients they’ve seen with this issue.
And if you want to be a really informed consumer, check out my book, Love Worth Making. It’s not a substitute for seeing a sex therapist, but it will give you a fair idea of what goes on behind the office door.
Copyright 2018 Stephen Snyder MD
Love Worth Making launched February 13, 2018, from St Martin’s Press, and was immediately hailed by New York Times bestelling author Dr Christiane Northrup as “Hands down, the most practical, fun, and empowering book I’ve ever read on how to have a fabulous sex life in a committed relationship.”