There are so many words that people type into search engines when they are looking for some extra help in their sex lives (sex coaching, sex counseling, sex therapy), and sometimes when I am looking through my website data, I am surprised at what people search for, and how many different spellings of sex therapy people can create (sex therpy, sex thrapy, sexthreapy, sex theropy, sex terapy, sex thearapy, sex thearpy, sex therepy, and on and on).  People search for services like sex counseling, sex coaching, sex therapy, sex advice, and sex education and search for a professional like a sex counselor, sex therapist, sex educator, and sex coach.

I also get a lot of questions what the difference is between a sexual therapist, a sexual counselor, and a sexual coach. Then some of the questions go even further on if I am a surrogate partner therapist or provide any hands-on instruction/sex services.  To be clear, I am not a surrogate partner or a sex worker.  Most people realize they have made the wrong call pretty quick but if they stay on the line long enough, they usually realize that they could use my services!

As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Sex Therapist, I often get asked if I do sex coaching and what the difference between sex coaching, sex counseling and sex therapy are.  These are important questions because it will matter how you proceed in seeking out the services you are looking for and what professionals you work with.  I will start by addressing what I do.

I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the states of Maine, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, and Texas, and an American Association for Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) Certified Sex Therapist, I provide sex counseling and sex therapy to individuals and relationships.

Sex Counseling vs. Sex Therapy
While counseling and therapy are used interchangeably in the mental health world, in the sexual health world, the certifying body for sexual therapy, sexual counseling, and sexual education, the American Association for Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) delineates a sex therapist from a sex counselor.

AASECT Certified Sex Therapists are licensed mental health professionals, trained to provide in-depth psychotherapy, who have specialized in treating clients with sexual issues and concerns. In the absence of available licensure, they are certified, registered, or clinical members of a national psychotherapy organization. Sex therapists work with simple sexual concerns also, but in addition, where appropriate, are prepared to provide comprehensive and intensive psychotherapy over an extended period of time in more complex cases.

AASECT Certified Sexuality Counselors represent a variety of professions, ranging from medicine to the clergy. Examples of sexuality counselors are Planned Parenthood counselors, nurses and other health professionals, school counselors, and clinical pastoral care and counseling providers. Counselors assist the client to realistically resolve concerns through the introduction of problem solving techniques of communication as well as providing accurate information and relevant suggestions of specific exercises and techniques in sexual expression. Sexuality counseling is generally short term and client centered, focusing on the immediate concern or problem.”

A sex therapist does sex counseling and sex therapy.  A sex counselor is more limited in their scope.  For more information on the scope of an AASECT Certified Sexuality Counselor and Therapist, click here.

So when you are searching for general counseling or general therapy, you would essential be searching for the same thing, but when it is sex specific, you may be looking at something different.  An interesting point, however, is that the word counseling is often more searched on the internet than therapy, which can also provide some insight that more people refer to”counseling” than “therapy” (and might make the language even a little bit more confusing around what direction to take), but as an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, I provide sex counseling AND sex therapy.

It can be a little confusing when discussing the different professions practicing sex therapy.  There are social workers, mental health counselors, pastoral counselors, art therapists, psychologists, etc.  Psychology Today, a great online directory for mental health therapists, has a wonderful link to the differences between the professions here.

It is important that anyone seeking out sexual therapy or sexual counseling is an educated consumer and knows the credentials of their therapist or counselor.  Don’t be afraid to ask your counselor for their credentials, what fields they specialize in, and their training and expertise.  You wouldn’t go to a orthopedic surgeon for a skin rash, so don’t go to a sex therapist that isn’t trained in your presenting problem (but keep in mind, what you define your presenting problem may not actually be the problem at all).

And there is something to be said about this fact: that there are some excellent sex therapists and sex counselors out there that are not “certified”.  However, there are way MORE therapists out there that say they “do” sex therapy or sex counseling, but don’t have the adequate training, knowledge, and experience to work with your sexual issues.  As mentioned above, be an educated consumer and do your homework about the qualifications, experience, knowledge, and training of your sex therapist or sex counselor.

What is sex coaching?
Sex coaching gets a little more complicated as there isn’t a lot of regulation around what the term “sex coach” is.  A dear colleague of mine feels very passionate about sex coaching and her, along with her competent team of experts, have created a training program for Sex Coaches.  Since there isn’t a lot of regulation around sex coaches, although last time that I checked with her, she was trying to get AASECT to recognize coaches as a certification level, it may be hard to determine who is actually a qualified sex coach and who isn’t.

I am a sex therapist but do sex coaching.  Sex coaching is about providing educational and instructional methods for sex and intimacy.  However, since I am also a sex therapist and counselor, I will always operate with that ethical code in mind regardless of the service I offer.  That means that where some sex coaches who aren’t regulated by a licensing or certification board may engage in some interventions or recommendations, I would not if it violates my code of ethics or my professional boundaries.  Coaching often aims to stay in the here and now and the future, and doesn’t specifically focus on any past or current traumas or intensive work.  In general, I find that most people benefit at first from counseling and therapy and once issues that are contributing to/creating the sexual issues are addressed, if their sexual issue remains, then a coaching approach may be the next step.  That transition can be easily made with my clients and it isn’t necessary to delineate the approach within the work since even if we are working with coaching techniques, my professional identity and integrity is always as a sex therapist.

I believe the word “coaching” attracts people because it implies that they will just be told what needs to be done and as long as they follow it their lives will be better.  Sexual therapy or sexual counseling seems like hard work or very “deep” so people are attracted to coaching because it is more about behavioral change.  As a therapist and counselor, I caution those that look to sex coaching and not to sex therapy or sex counseling.  A good sex therapist will help construct new solutions with their clients, not direct or provide advice based on their own experiences to a client.  A good sex therapist will leave their own experiences at the door (unless therapeutically relevant) and understand that their clients experiences are independent of their own.  Also, sometimes a course of sex therapy or sex counseling can greatly improve the situation or completely resolve the situation, whereas coaching may not have because it did not attend to the causal/maintenance factors that required therapy.

While I am not trying to fault coaching, after all, help comes in many different forms and if it works for you, then keep doing it.  I am just trying to caution those clients who seek out sex coaching when they really need sex counseling or sex therapy.

If you feel like you are unsure of which route to take, contact me at the information below  to talk more to a sex therapist about your goals and which route would be best for you.