As a unique form of short-term, complementary and alternative modality (CAM), clinical sexologists are largely under-recognized and under-used. Though it’s said we specialize in studying “what people do and how they feel about it,” sexology touches on everything from erotology to anthropology, law, medicine, psychology, anatomy and physiology (naturally!), gender studies, public policy, history, and so on. That’s because human sexual behavior is pervasive, it affects everything we collectively do and create. As a sexologist, my interests have included Asperger’s Syndrome and sexuality, Native Hawaiian sexual traditions, objectum sexuality, parenting transgender children, the effect of sensory dysfunction on sexual behavior, and the use of hypnosis to address sexual concerns. Almost anything can provide delightful grist for a perpetual, intellectual mill and this has been my joy. Sometimes useful clinical insights emerge from regarding artifacts or incidents through a sexological lens. However, even when there is no immediate clinical application, the overall effect is a deepened respect for the unstoppable and endlessly creative human engagement with eros.
For some, this process accelerates during a “unique baptism by fire” known as the Sexual Attitude Restructuring (SAR) process. At the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco (which pioneered SARs during an earlier incarnation as the National Sex Forum), this is no mere weekend of “Sexuality 101 and 201”. At IASHS, you are immersed for eight days in everything you always wanted to know about sex and possibly a whole lot of things you may wish you’d never seen. Explicit media and small group processing are integral aspects. The experience is intense. Even seasoned sexologists have been known to melt down. But a good SAR results in a near-unconditional acceptance of one’s own erotic quirks, and those of fellow human beings. One goal of SAR process is to discover exactly what aspects of human sexuality are personal turn-ons or turn-offs, so that clients are not harmed by the reactions of untrained clinicians. I can say, after having experienced two eight-day SARs, that my ability to hear just about anything is pretty good – and I know when and how to gracefully suggest a referral when out of my depth. For this reason, the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) requires a (briefer) SAR experience of everyone seeking certification through the organization.
AASECT certifies the separate categories of sex educator and sex counselor, but not the hybrid practice of clinical sexology, which does both. Though I have recently completed requirements for sex counselor certification, I am sorry my own professional category is invisible within an organization that has so many of us as members. However, I recognize the reasons for this. For one thing, standards for clinical training in sexology are not as defined or generally agreed upon as they should be. For another, right now in the public mind a “sexologist” may be anything from Masters & Jonson to a woman in lingerie groped in a darkened room during an episode of The Pick Up Artist.
However, clinical sexologists practice with Annon’s PLISSIT model: permission (P), limited information (LI), and specific suggestions (SS). We make referrals for intensive therapy (IT) if necessary. Our understanding of human sexual behavior is fostered by our training, which exceeds the sexuality education requirements of other professions. This depth enables us to attend to clients seeking techniques for sexual enrichment and/or short-term management of non-medical sexual problems. As complementary specialists, we work well in consultation with a range of licensed professionals. Within the ethical scope of our practice, we support sexual health, function, self-esteem, and the intimate capacities of our clients.
© Copyright 2011 by By Amy Marsh, Sexologist & Consulting Hypnotist (EdD, DHS, CH). All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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