What is a Sex Therapist and What do They Actually Do?

What is a sex therapist and what is sex therapy?

Sex therapy is a specialty within the mental health and counseling field that focuses on helping clients with problems and concerns around human sexuality, relationships, and intimacy.

What is a a sex therapist and what does a sex therapist do?

A sex therapist is a specially trained professional who is qualified to help you with your sexual health and intimacy or relationship concerns.  Sex therapists are licensed mental health professionals with a masters degree in counseling or mental health related field. 

Sex therapists work in much the same way as other mental health professionals and counselors.  The primary difference is that a sex therapist is trained to work specifically with a diverse range of sexual issues as well as treating general counseling concerns such as anxiety, depression,  etc.

An example of issues a sex therapist might work with are things like sexual dysfunction, lack of pleasure or desire, anxiety and body image, changes in sexual identity,  health sexual functioning, communication between partners, intimacy issues,  gender and identity issues, non-traditional relationship dynamics, sexual addiction, fertility concerns, etc.

Do sex therapists have sex with their clients?

No. Sex therapists do not have sex with their clients and should not be confused with sex surrogates. Sexual surrogates are trained professionals who may have sex with their clients as part of a carefully designed therapeutic intervention. However, despite what many people believe about sexual surrogacy, sexual intercourse is not always a part of sex surrogate therapy, if at all, and it is certainly never the first step a surrogate will take with a client.  If it occurs at all during the course of treatment with a surrogate,  sexual intercourse is usually the final step and typically signifies the conclusion of the therapy.  While sexual surrogacy is a valuable and yet largely misunderstood profession, it should not be confused with sex therapy.

Are sex therapists licensed professionals?

Most sex therapists are licensed mental health professionals, either Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC),  Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) or Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW).  However the term "sex therapist" is not a protected term and may be used by professionals who do not hold one of these professional licenses. 

Most unlicensed sex therapists will use the term "sex coach" in lieu of the term sex therapist, but not all.  If you are looking for a licensed professional be sure to look for the professional license demarcation of LPC, LMFT, or LCSW.  

Sex coaches and other unlicensed helping professionals have fewer restrictions on how they may work with their clients and may be able to offer a different dimension to the treatment of sexual issues.  Many sex coaches and unlicensed professionals will work closely with a licensed sex therapist to ensure a comprehensive and effective treatment approach.  If you choose work with an unlicensed professional be sure to choose one who has undergone appropriate training and holds adequate certifications to ensure quality care.

In addition to their mental health license and training most sex therapists also have additional training and certification in human sexuality and sex therapy.  Organizations such as the the American Society of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (ASSECT) provide continuing education and professional certification for professionals wishing to specialize in sex therapy and sex education.