This is a great and important question. I’m passionate about people being educated on what sex therapy and other mental health therapies are so they can better understand all of the options available to them.
There are SO many credentials (LCSW, CSW, CST, LMFT, CMCH, Psychiatrist, APRN) that it can be really difficult to know who to turn to for what your specific needs are.
Knowledge is power my friends, so hopefully this post gives you information and insight into the world of sex therapy and marriage counseling so you can make more informed choices. I’m not going to delve much into the general of all of the professions but I would like to do that in the future at some point.
While many people can become a therapist and a sex therapist at the same time, most sex therapists have gone to school to be a general therapist and then added additional training to become a sex therapist. Most commonly, they are trained to see a variety of mental health issues AND issues related to sexuality.
In my case, I was a therapist specializing in maternal mental health and couple’s counseling before becoming a sex therapist. Sexual health issues inevitably showed up regularly in my office so I felt like it was incredibly important to get this additional training.
It’s important to know that most mental health programs through universities don’t require any courses in sexual health. Most social workers, marriage and family therapists, and clinical mental health counselors don’t have courses available in human sexuality and if they DO have a course available, it’s often an elective.
Another thing that’s important to know is there is NO title protection for therapists to advertise that they are sex therapists and/or couple’s counselors. What this means is any professional mental health therapist can advertise these services without taking a single training or acquiring a minimal amount of training. Florida is the only state that requires you to have training to be a sex therapist to advertise that you are a sex therapist.
If you went to Psychology Today, and searched Sex Therapist in Utah, you will find over 200 professionals advertising this service. However, there are less than 20 certified sex therapists who have acquired the additional training. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t therapists out there who aren’t incredibly capable and trained to address sexual health issues but what it does mean is it would be wise to ask what their specific training has been. Being comfortable to talk about sex isn’t the same as being trained to deal with sexual health issues.
The credentials I received as after becoming certified as a sex therapist were CST. They stand for Certified Sex Therapist. I was certified through AASECT (American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists) after a LONG process of over 200 training hours, 250 clinical hours, and 50 supervision hours. The letters CST also stand for Christian Sex Therapist which has a different theoretical perspective and certification process. When you see CST behind a therapists name, now you can know that they have a couple of meanings.
As for marriage counseling, at my clinic, The Healing Group, therapists cannot work with couples unless they (at a minimum) have done training through Emotionally Focused Therapy and or The Gottman Institute. Unless you are a Marriage and Family Therapist, you may have not received training to work with couples either.
Couples counseling is not the same as individual counseling with an extra person in the room. Like sex therapy, couple’s counseling takes additionally training and supervision to do it ethically and do it well.
Oddly enough, you have marriage therapists with little training around sexuality and sex therapists with little training around marriage counseling. If you are looking for a therapist who is trained to do both, be sure to ask what their training has been in both areas.