About every month or so I do a “vanity search” on the Internet to find out where I am ranking when people are searching for a therapist. Fortunately, I’ve been a sex therapist for a lot longer than many other people in my area, so my website ranks high. But lately, I’ve noticed a lot of newcomers into the field of sex therapy, and looking at their credentials has me concerned.
Here’s why: Anyone in the state of California who is licensed can call him- or herself a “sex therapist.” It is the same as calling one’s self an eating disorders or panic attack specialist; no special license is required. So then how do you know that the person you’ve selected to help you has the right training?
First of all, you can see if the person is certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. The requirements for certification are actually pretty stringent. You have to have at least 90 hours of education in sexuality, see a good number of cases, and have your work supervised over the course of 1-2 years by a certified supervisor like myself. Besides myself, there are two other certified sex therapists in Orange County: Michael Smith, MFT and Francesca Cancian, MFT. Each of us have specialty areas within sex therapy, too. Michael Smith works with sexual compulsivity and addictions; Francesca Cancian with survivors of sexual assault and abuse, as well as sexuality for mature adults; and I see people with mental disorder diagnoses such as ADD, plus women with sexual pain disorders. In addition, I supervise two interns working with me who are also becoming certified, one in my Newport office and one in my Riverside office. We are all very committed to what we do.
Second, you can ask the person how long they’ve been licensed, and then how long they’ve been seeing sex therapy clients. If they haven’t been in practice long, like my interns, then they should be able to tell you that they are in the process of learning sex therapy, and are taking coursework and getting supervision.
Third, you can find out if they are actively involved in the community of sex therapists. There is a lot of work to be done in terms of educating the public about sex, reading research, reviewing research for journals, writing books, reading books and writing reviews, and providing continuing education to peers.
Just because someone comes up on a search when you are looking for a sex therapist doesn’t automatically qualify him or her to treat you. Don’t be shy about asking. I personally never take offense when someone asks about my credibility—but maybe that’s because I have no doubt in my ability to help someone with a problem of a sexual nature!