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Sex Whisperers: How to Select the Right Sex Therapist

By Dr. Neil Cannon, certified sex therapist
A dear friend called me yesterday and asked for help with a complex sexual concern.  I told him I couldn’t see him professionally since we are personal friends; however I stressed the importance of selecting the right counselor. Decisions made in therapy can affect the rest of your life. “Well then,” he said, “Help me find The Sex Whisperer.” Yikes, how’s that for pressure?

The first thing we discussed was his big picture needs. There are five main categories of mental health professionals. Most can potentially be a good choice as your sex therapist.

PSYCHIATRISTS: Not many psychiatrists are sex therapists; however, they are medical doctors and can therefore prescribe medication. I encourage my clients who are candidates to be treated with medication to see a psychiatrist rather than their family physician. I have nothing against general practitioners; however, this is a world of specialization. Remember – the person who allegedly administered that lethal dose of anesthesia to Michael Jackson was a cardiologist. Whoops!

LICENSED PSYCHOLOGISTS (PhDs): Psychologists cannot prescribe medicine but are highly educated mental health professionals who can be particularly effective working with people who have complex mental health issues. Many leading sex therapists are psychologists.

LICENSED CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKERS (LCSW):  Despite the connotation that often goes with that of a “social worker,” many brilliant sex therapists come up through the ranks of social work, so don’t let that label scare you.

LICENSED PROFESSIONAL COUNSELORS (LPC): As you might surmise from their title, some of the best sex therapists in the business are LPCs.

LICENSED MARRIAGE & FAMILY THERAPISTS (LMFT): All things being equal, an LMFT can be an excellent choice. In most states, marriage and family therapists take at least two additional years to obtain post-graduate certification after they obtain their master’s degree. Perhaps most importantly, the training LMFTs receive focuses on helping people with relationship issues.

Now for the specific criteria to consider as you drill down….

  • First and foremost, select a therapist you feel comfortable with. Outcome studies indicate that up to 50% of the benefits people receive from therapy is dependent on how comfortable they feel with their therapist.
  • Secondly, look for a sex therapist that is certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). The AASECT certification process is demanding with rigid requirements in terms of both education and clinical experience.
  • Next, make sure the therapist you select has specific experience with your particular concern. You don’t want your therapist learning about the nuances of delayed ejaculation on your dime.
  • Lastly, make sure the finances of seeking help work for you. Most certified sex therapists don’t accept insurance; however, many do accept credit cards. Some offer sliding scales while others offer discounts for clients who pre-pay sessions.  In any event, all therapists should be perfectly willing to discuss the economics with you.

To sum it up, if you want to find your own Sex Whisperer – select one, don’t settle for one!

(c) 2009, Neil Cannon, Ph.D.

About the Author
Dr. Cannon is a certified sex therapist and couples counselor who holds a master’s degree in public health, as well as a doctorate in Human Sexuality. In addition to leading his practice in Denver, Colo., he teaches sexual diversity, attitudes and behavior at the post graduate level; serves as an expert witness; provides diversity training to corporations and is the co-host of The Sex & Intimacy Show – a weekly radio show in Denver. You can view his website at www.doctorcannon.com or reach him directly at neil@doctorcannon.com.