I am constantly reminded that many couples who need help with a variety of issues such as poor communication, conflict and sexual problems do not know what type of therapist to seek for help. They often wrongly conclude that a couples counselor is trained to address sexual problems.
The truth is that couples counselors are not qualified to deal with sexual dysfunctions, and a lack of sexual rapport. Only couples counselors who are also board certified as sex therapists are prepared to solve sexual problems such as discrepant desire, arousal disorders, lack of orgasm, premature ejaculation, delayed ejaculation, painful intercourse and a host of other sexual issues.
Similarly, not all sex therapists are trained to do couples counseling. If a professional is only trained as a sex therapist, he or she may not be ready to deal with non-sexual problems. Most have these skills, but some do not. There is a far better chance that a board certified sex therapist can deal with other relationship problems than a couples counselor can develop and enact a treatment plan for sexual issues.
There is a movement amongst couples counselors to attempt to integrate sex therapy with couples counseling, but the truth is that most couples counselors have not had the rigorous training to become a board certified sex therapist, and most will probably not do so. This movement claims that only couples counselors can fully address sexual issues, but this is untrue. In fact, I often have to undo sexual advice given by a previous couples counselor. These counselors often advise couples based on their own biases, rather than any legitimate training or certification.
There is also a movement among marriage and family therapist organizations to feature “sex addiction” speakers at conferences, with the clear message that MFTs can address “sex addiction,” which is a complete fiasco.
Similarly, so-called “sex addiction” counselors may be confused with sex therapists and couples counselors. These counselors are not trained as sex therapists, and their approach has not been supported by research, or by the DSM Manual. I would avoid them.
Couples seeking help for sexual problems should seek a sex therapist with couples counseling experience. They should avoid couples counselors without board certification as a sex therapist. Beware! Psychology Today and other websites commonly include counselors who claim to do sex therapy who are not certified to do so. These unqualified therapists often claim they have had rigorous training to do sex therapy, but when you research their training, you find they took a workshop or two, but are not certified as sex therapists.
Anyone searching for an appropriate therapist should ascertain their certifications and training, which should be fully transparent on their website. Never hire a therapist without such a public display of their credentials! Going to a therapist without a website is like buying a car without checking it out first.
I do both sex therapy and couples counseling. Some couples do not have a sexual problem, but they have other issues to deal with. They may differ about money, childrearing or in law relationships. However, if these other problems are severe, they may also impact the sexual relationship.
Anyone seeking counseling should compare the credentials and accomplishments of each therapist being considered before choosing one to work with. Such comparisons are more productive than engaging in knee jerk reactions to therapists based on media-fueled disinformation about “sex addiction” and sex therapy.
No therapist should take on problems beyond their scope of practice. Unfortunately, many therapists operate beyond their training and scope of practice—which is an ethical issue. Again, buyer beware!