How To Become A Sex Therapist
How to become a sex therapist: So you want to become a sex therapist (sexologist, sex counselor) , but how? There are four components to becoming a competent sex therapist, as well as an optional 5th component. These are: 1) become a therapist; 2) specialize in sex therapy; 3) get plenty of supervised training; and 4) get licensed in your field (e.g. become a licensed social worker, licensed counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed psychologist, licensed psychiatrist etc). The optional 5th component is to seek certification from a professional organization. Keep in mind that these components reflect pieces to a puzzle and may happen linearly or concurrently, and not necessarily in the order presented.
1: Become a Therapist
You’ll need a master’s or doctoral degree in any of the following areas: social work, psychology, marriage and family therapy, counseling or a related field. While each of these disciplines is unique, all will teach you the basic tenets of how to practice therapy in that discipline. If your goal is to emerge a sex therapist, be sure to choose a graduate program that includes sexuality coursework and couple’s therapy training, and also can provide an appropriate field placement/internship/externship experience.
2: Specialize in Sex Therapy
Sex therapy is concerned with much more that sex and encompasses the much broader concept of sexuality. Well-trained sex therapists have taken academic courses in the following areas:
- the biology of sexual development & reproductive health
- marriage counseling
- sex therapy
- cross cultural perspectives in sexuality
- sex education
- famous sex researchers
- other core topics include: sexual behaviors, skills, choices, decisions, body image, gender roles/identity, relationship power dynamics, sexual orientation/identity, sexual abuse / sexual perpetrators, sexual addictions, prostitution
- lastly, all sex therapists need to have taken some courses, or done their own therapy to help them understand their own beliefs, feelings, values and attitudesabout sexuality so that they can better separate their own beliefs from their clients
3: Get Plenty of Supervised Training
After all the coursework and all the studying and all the exposure to the material, you need to switch from the theoretical to the actual: you’ll need to put all your knowledge into practice. There’s no better way to learn sex therapy than in the trenches. Find a find placement, externship, internship, training program, or volunteer or paid position in which there’s a sex therapist willing to supervise you closely and teach you how to assess for, diagnose, and treat the myriad of issues clients will present. Ask to have all of your sessions video-taped. Your feedback will be much better. Actually working with people struggling with sexual function / dysfunction is the most important step. All the book learning in the world without the practical experience is problematic.
4: Get Licensed
Each state has its own licensure requirements that include some combination of graduate education and clinical experience. Your license will be in your therapeutic discipline (social work, marriage and family therapy, etc.) and not in sex therapy itself. To date, there is no such thing as a licensed sex therapist, but instead there are licensed therapists who specialize in sex therapy.
5 (optional): Seek Certification from a Professional Organization
While having a license to practice is sufficient to call yourself a sex therapist, some seek an additional credential from professional organizations dedicated to sex education, counseling or therapy. This credential is optional, but adds another level of credibility and indicates that, at the very least, a certified sex therapist has met the minimum requirements the professional organization believes are essential to competent practice. That said, there are excellent counselors who practice sex therapy who are not certified.
Remember that sex therapists are therapists first. To use an analogy from the medical profession, all medical specialists attend medical school first. It is in medical school that they learn the basics. Only after learning the basics do they seek additional training through residencies and fellowships where they can focus exclusively on the specialties of their choice. Sex therapists are therapists first. Only after (or at the same time as) learning the basics do they seek additional training where they can focus exclusively on sex therapy.