Do You Need To Be A Sex Therapist To Treat Sexual Problems?

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be a certified sex therapist to help your clients with many of the sexual issues they will face.

Every therapist or healthcare professional should be able to provide people with useful information and suggestions about how best to resolve sexual issues. You don’t necessarily need to be an expert, but you do need to have good knowledge and understanding of these common issues yourself. For example, telling a couple who has a mismatched desire to have “date night” probably isn’t enough to help. Instead, letting the couple know that these issues are very common or generating empathy for each partner’s position (high desire partner experiencing frustration, lower desire partner experiencing guilt) can help to reframe the problem.

Sometimes, though, it is best to have a more in-depth understanding and training. For example, treating people recovering from sexual trauma, those who complain of compulsive sexual behavior, helping couples with different sexual interests, or working with clients questioning their orientation or gender require more than just foundational knowledge.

The analogy I use is that I know enough about substance disorders to determine if someone’s substance use meets the threshold for a diagnosis. If it doesn’t but seems to be contributing to problems, such as a couple fighting after a night on the town, then I feel competent to explore the role of alcohol in escalating their conflict. If I were to find out that one partner is drinking to excess every time the couple goes out socially, then I would explore further and determine if I needed to make a referral to a specialist.

Therapists and healthcare professionals can also decide whether they want to refer these cases to a certified sex therapist or counselor or instead undertake additional training and consultation, putting them in a position to offer treatment themselves. Some therapists are skilled couples’ therapists, for example, and they may want to check in regarding sexual satisfaction, helping the couples who feel unhappy with their sex lives due to readily treatable problems. Or a nurse practitioner in gynecology may want to know what questions to ask women who complain of low sex drive so that they can construct a practical and effective approach to treatment.

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