A lot of people that reach out to us want to know the differences between sex therapy and traditional therapy or counseling. To most consumers there doesn't appear to be a difference at all. However, this is not the case. There are many distinguishing characteristics that are important for consumers to consider when deciding on a therapist.
Lets begin by discussing formal education. Sex therapy is a very specialized form of therapy that is not taught or required in many graduate programs. When it is taught the sex therapy course is often an elective, one which many choose not to take. Still, a therapist that doesn't take a sex therapy course can graduate and practice sex therapy with a LMFT, LCSW, or CMHC license in the state of Utah. The designation of "sex therapy" is not a regulated profession in any state but Florida currently.
During graduate school clinicians are required to obtain a certain number of therapy hours. These requirements differ across discipline and accreditation body. Many are not required to obtain "relational hours" during graduate school. These are clinical hours where more than one person is present during therapy. For our purposes we'll call these couple therapy sessions. These students that are not required relational hours can go the duration of their graduate program and never meet with a couple. Still, upon graduation they can set out to do sex therapy without a single hour of couples therapy under their belt. Couples therapy theory and training are requisite for sex therapy. Those not required relational hours during graduate school could self elect to meet with couples and hone relational therapy skills.
I'd like to also briefly mention that many clinical graduate programs do not require relational therapy courses. This means that there are a lot of therapists that were not required to learn theory, intervention, principles of couple systems. Yet, these clinicians can set out to do sex therapy. A specialized form of therapy that is extremely relational and requires a high level of couples therapy knowledge. A therapist not required this formal education during graduate school could supplement their formal education with additional training, self-led education, and conference attendance that would better prepare them for the field of sex therapy.
To this point I have highlighted the formal differences between a sex therapist and a traditional therapist. Sex therapists have a professional proficiency in individual therapy, couples therapy, and sex therapy. These three disciplines of therapy are distinct from each other. A good sex therapist will be able to incorporate each into their treatment approach. The mere presence of couples therapy training does not mean skill and knowledge of sex therapy. Likewise, the proficiency of individual therapy doesn't mean there is proficiency in couples therapy.
A true sex therapist whether trained in-part formally or informally, as discussed above, requires superb sex therapy supervision. That's right, more is needed above and beyond formal or informal individual, couple, and sex therapy education and a few couple and sex therapy clients/cases. Unfortunately most supervisors do not know the first thing about sex therapy and are incapable of providing adequate supervision for such cases. To this point a seasoned sex therapist is needed to move a therapist truly into the sex therapy field. Many years of case after case sex therapy and supplemental sex therapy education allow a sex therapy supervisor to provide the therapist in training the needed supervision to become a sex therapist.
Sound theory and research are also defining characteristics of a sex therapist. There are models of therapy that are specific to individuals, couples, and yes sex therapy clients. A true sex therapist will have a working knowledge of one such model and know how to proficiently use it. These sex therapy models are distinct from couples therapy models. Additionally, a good sex therapist will know about research in t
The last thing I would mention that differentiates a sex therapist from any other therapist is their ongoing clinical work as a sex therapist and continuing sex therapy specific education. A sex therapist will have met with at least a few dozen sex therapy clients and will be participating in ongoing continual sex therapy training and education through individual reading, conferences, supplemental supervision, consultation, etc.
Post graduate clinical experience.