Qualifying the Professional:
One must realize that with any new field, a variety of definitions and expectations will exist for a time, and that a wide variety of people will claim expertise in accordance with their own definition of the field. The expectations presented here might be criticized by some as too rigid, but it is purposefully intended to present a fairly strict set of guidelines for selecting a sex therapist. Very few states license sex therapists, so the client must exercise caution and must choose wisely!
Five criteria need to be met in choosing a sex therapist. First of all, the therapist must have a sound knowledge of the anatomical and physiological bases of the sexual response. The sex therapist may, therefore, have a basic medical background or may come out of another non-medical profession but with post-graduate education in the biological aspects of human sexuality. A qualified non-medical sex therapist will usually work closely with physicians or may function as a non-physician in a medical clinic or university school of medicine.
Secondly, the qualified sex therapist must be skilled in providing counseling and psychotherapy, and most sex therapists will be found to have a sound background in psychology, psychiatry, psychiatric social work or psychiatric nursing. This background in the behavior sciences is essential to the understanding of the total individual and to the planning of an individualized treatment program. There are, however, some notable exceptions to the rule that sex therapist should have a traditional mental health training background, in that there are also highly respected and well trained sex therapists who began as clergy. These clergy, however, need to demonstrate specific post-graduate training in pastoral counseling or in equivalent psychiatric mental health areas.
The third criterion is that the sex therapist, having both biological and psychological sophistication, must be able to demonstrate extensive post-graduate training specifically within the areas of sexual function and dysfunction, sex counseling, and sex therapy. A weekend workshop or possession of a few sex therapy films does not meet this criterion, and the prospective client should feel free to ask for a list of specific training experiences in these specialized areas.
The fourth requirement to be met is that of having expertise in relationship counseling. That is, the sex therapist should also be a skilled marital, family and/or group therapist. In order to work effectively with sexual problems, the sex therapist must be able to work effectively with non-sexual relationships as well. Sexual behavior does not occur in a vacuum – it occurs within a relationship! The total relationship must, therefore, be accurately evaluated and treated.
The fifth requirement is the therapist’s adherence to a strict code of ethics! Prospective clients have the right to request a copy of the therapist’s ethical code before agreeing to any treatment.