When you are looking for a sex therapist to help you overcome a difficult issue, you want to be sure that you are hiring someone that has the knowledge and experience to get the job done. Hiring a sex therapist shouldn’t be much different that hiring an attorney, CPA, or other professional: You ask around from friends and colleagues who they might recommend. Unfortunately, hiring a sex therapist isn’t so easy. There aren’t a lot of them; you don’t know who among your friends has sought therapy; and you may be too embarrassed to ask around.
Today, most people turn to the Internet to find a sex therapist. How do you judge from what you see on a website whether or not you are making a good choice? Here are some things to look for as you study up on your options:
Licensure. By law, anyone calling him- or herself a psychotherapist must be licensed in the State of California. The possible licenses in California are psychiatrist (medical doctor [M.D.] who can prescribe medications); psychologist (doctorate in psychology [Ph.D. or Psy.D.]); licensed clinical social worker (master’s degree in social work [MSW or LCSW]); or marriage and family therapist (master’s degree in marriage and family therapy [M.A., MFT]).
A person who is a “sex coach” or “sex educator” may be able to offer some types of help, but they are not licensed. This may be an issue if you decide that you want to seek reimbursement from your health insurance for mental health services, as insurance will only pay if the practitioner is licensed.
A sex therapist’s license type and license number must, by law, be displayed in any type of advertising. They are also supposed to display their degree. If you are unsure whether someone is licensed, you can check with the Board of Psychology or Board of Behavioral Sciences.
Interns must tell you that they are working under someone else’s supervision and that information also must be displayed on the website.
Education. Where did the person go to school? Someone who has attended an accredited university that they are proud of will display it prominently somewhere on their site. The sex therapist will have, at minimum, a master’s degree. There are sex therapists with doctorates and even medical doctors who conduct sex therapy.
Training. You should be aware that there are a couple of organizations that rather easily grant someone the title of “sex therapist.” It’s easy because only one state, Florida, requires a person to show they have specialized training.
The primary organization that certifies people as sex therapists is the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. Even if a practitioner is not yet certified, membership in AASECT is a good sign that they are serious about getting trained to provide such services to the public.
Experience. It can be hard to tell how much experience someone has from looking at their website. Someone newly licensed and someone who has been practicing for a decade or two—or more—can advertise their services in the same way. It may be a good idea, if you are interested in someone’s services, to ask how many years they have been licensed, as well as how many years they have been offering sex therapy.
Another thing to look at is whether or not the person is active in organizations related to sex therapy; whether or not they have published academic or popular work; if they offer continuing education; and if they speak or write about their field in order to educate the public.
Success rate. This may sound a bit strange, but psychotherapists are ethically not supposed to tell people about a success rate. That’s because
Fee. You may notice that many psychotherapists do not publish a fee. Even a referral site like Psychology Today has psychotherapists advertise a fee range. That’s because by law and ethics, psychotherapists are not supposed to discuss their fee with other psychotherapists, as this can lead to price fixing. In general, most psychotherapists charge from about $100 to $200 an hour, depending on degree, experience and philosophy. At least for psychologists, fee is to be discussed as soon as possible so that there is no misunderstanding.
Also, most sex therapists will offer some kind of sliding scale. Sometimes the sex therapists may tell you that they cannot offer such an arrangement, and that may be because they already have filled as many sliding scale slots as they are able. Other sex therapists may only offer a sliding scale based on proof of income, or only if you are able to come in at certain times of day. If fee is a major consideration, just call to ask.
Rapport. The most important ingredient in psychotherapy may be whether or not you like the therapist. A website is only one way to decide if a sex therapist is right for you. Most sex therapists will chat with you for 5 to 15 minutes on the phone to see if there is a good “fit” in terms of communication and ways of thinking. If the conversation doesn’t go well, the sex therapist may recommend someone else that they think will be better for you. Also, you may choose to tell the sex therapist that you want to continue the search for the right therapist. All psychotherapists understand that they cannot possibly be the right fit for everyone who seeks treatment.
If you live in Orange County, California you have quite a large number of sex therapists from whom to choose. If, however, you live in a remote part of the state or a less populated state outside of California, you may have trouble finding a sex therapist. In that case, you can look for someone who is experienced in marriage and family therapy who may have an interest or training in treating sexual disorders. You can contact AASECT or your nearest university hospital for referrals.
Deciding to seek help is just one part of the journey. Finding the right guide is another. Just take a bit of time and care to find the right sex therapist for you, someone who is enthusiastic about their work and helping you to make changes for the better.