Is There a
Sexologist in the House?
Tuesday, June 15, 2004;
What does it mean to be a sex therapist, sexologist or sex
coach? Different things to different people, since the field of sex
therapy is largely unregulated.
Florida is the only state to license sex therapists.
Licensed mental health professionals there can obtain the additional
specialty license by completing 120 hours of training and 20 hours
of supervised clinical practice.
Outside Florida, sex therapists are generally licensed in
such fields as counseling, social work or psychology. Some receive
additional training and certification from organizations such as the
American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists
(AASECT) and the American Board of Sexologists (ABS). However, no
such certification is needed to practice sex therapy.
Even practitioners have conflicting views about their
occupation. Some consider sex therapy a distinct profession; others,
like San Francisco clinical psychologist Lonnie Barbach, see sex
counseling as simply one aspect of a standard psychology practice.
"I don't think there's anything that should be called a sex
therapist," said Barbach. "If you could do sex therapy and that was
it, you would be too limited to do a good job with most of the
clients you're going to get."
But William Granzig, founder of ABS and dean of health
sciences at Maimonides University in North Miami Beach, Fla.,
disagrees. He said the model for sex therapy, created more than 30
years ago by William Masters and Virginia Johnson, calls for
therapists to refer patients to sex therapists when sexual issues
arise. Granzig said that sexual matters cannot be addressed by just
any therapist, so it is beneficial to train people to deal with them
Within the field, titles of sexual health professionals
sometimes offer clues to their philosophies but are not reliable
indicators of their educational background.
Among those claiming the title sexologist, for example, are
people certified as such, alumni of the few schools with graduate
programs in human sexuality and people who have taken a few classes
-- or maybe none.
Sex counselor, the term preferred by groups such as Planned
Parenthood, describes a person trained to dispense information about
sex, and who works with clients on a short-term basis, according to
Sex coach -- a term whose use AASECT's president-elect,
Barnaby Barratt, said has grown substantially in the past five years
-- suggests someone who helps clients navigate their lives the way a
personal trainer helps clients through a gym regimen.
Despite uncertainties about titles and credentials, many
sex therapists are legitimately educated and trained professionals.
Thomas Nagy, a psychologist and sex therapist who teaches at
Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., says consumers can best
protect themselves when choosing a sex therapist by considering the
• the therapist's primary profession;
• affiliation with a university or hospital;
• membership in a professional organization, such as
AASECT, that dictates ethical guidelines;
• education and training;
• any complaints with state licensing boards or consumer
-- Jason Feifer
© 2004 The Washington Post