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‘How is your sex life?’: Certificate program addresses need for sex therapy training

University News | 01.29.24

Editor’s note: Adler University offers a variety of unique learning experiences that train socially responsible practitioners across its three campuses. In the coming year, the new series, This is Adler, will highlight these unique programs, courses, and people that help the University educate the advocates of tomorrow.

This is Adler series logoThere are more than 258 million people over the age of 18 in the U.S.

Of the 1 million mental health workers providing services to individuals across designations, only about 5,000 are sex therapists, according to Karen Caffee, Ph.D., program director of sexology in the Couple and Family Therapy Department.

“Considering how many people experience sexual dysfunction, sexual trauma — either historically or currently in their lives, sexual pain, post-natal sexual issues, there is genuine need because there are so few certified sex therapists,” said Dr. Caffee.

Researchers have also found that more adults are seeking mental health providers with sex therapy training — especially those with more inclusive practices.

Even if providers don’t choose to become sex therapists, Dr. Caffee added, having some knowledge on matters involving human sexuality can be beneficial.

“If you’re going to call yourself a couples or family therapist, you’re going to need the ability to ask, ‘How is your sex life?’” she said. “And at the very least, you need to know who they can go see who can better help them.”

These are some of the reasons why Charlie Kimball, a student in the Master of Arts in Couple and Family Therapy program, decided to pursue the Certificate in Sex Therapy, which prepares socially responsible clinicians with core knowledge of human sexuality and sex therapy training.

“One of the virtues of the certificate, which isn’t offered everywhere, is it’s really designed for someone like me,” said Kimball, who wanted to learn more about issues involving human sexuality. “I’ve learned a lot from the program. And I know as a counselor, I will now have the skills to help clients who want to discuss their sexual health.”

The certificate program includes courses that challenge students’ perspectives around people’s identities and sex and, using provocative content, facilitate students’ understanding of their biases, prejudices, and beliefs.

As Dr. Caffee highlights the genuine need for more mental health providers with sex therapy training, she offers some insight on the program’s student outcomes, what makes it a unique opportunity at Adler, and the career options available for graduates who earn the Certificate in Sex Therapy.

Can you provide a brief overview of the Certificate in Sex Therapy program?

The certificate program at Adler is comprised of four courses that cover the entire 150 hours required by the American Association of Sex Educators Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), the certifying body of sex therapists in the U.S. The courses total 10 credit hours and can typically be completed within one academic year. Three courses are available in a hybrid learning model, including weekly virtual meetings and one in-person residency weekend scheduled during the term. One course occurs during one weekend in person. The courses are offered year-round.

Are there similar programs in the country? What makes Adler’s certificate program distinct?

There are similar programs, but the program at Adler is unique. First, Adler is the only school in the Chicagoland area offering this certificate program, and it only requires students to attend one in-person residency per course. There are a few other similar programs across the country, with the closest being at the University of Michigan. Adler’s certificate program can be taken individually or in conjunction with a licensable degree program at Adler. The courses are all taught by local certified sex therapists who are practicing licensed marriage and family therapists.

What are some of the student outcomes or program objectives?

The program has four goals. They are:

  1. To provide students with core knowledge on human sexuality education, including diverse identities and experiences that people may have.
  2. To create the opportunity for students to self-assess and understand their attitudes and values, i.e., self-of-the-therapist, through a social justice perspective.
  3. To train students in the ethical practices of sex therapy, preparing them to engage in the required clinical component and supervision.
  4. To graduate socially responsible practitioners of sex therapy sensitive to social justice and diversity with a goal of inclusion and advocacy consistent with Adlerian principles.

What are some of the career options that become available to someone who earns the Certificate in Sex Therapy?

The obvious career option is working as a sex therapist in a clinical setting. I sit with clients and work with them on various issues they may be having.

Interestingly enough, sex therapists don’t just see people who have sexual issues. Sometimes, people come to us because we tend to be more aware and affirming of certain identities. For instance, someone who may identify as consensually non-monogamous may not be having any issues in their relationships. Still, sex therapists tend to be more knowledgeable of the relationships’ dynamics versus someone who has not gone through this training. Similarly, kink-identified folks may prefer to see a sex therapist. They don’t want to see a therapist who may misunderstand that what they may participate in consensually is not a problem, and they don’t want to be pathologized for their interest.

Providers with this certificate may also work in hospital settings, and some doctors are looking to partner with sex therapists. There’s a doctor in Chicago who runs a trauma-informed OBGYN office who hired a sex therapist to be on staff to work with anybody needing their expertise. Also, hospitals in the area hire sex therapists on staff.

Graduates of the program can also work in academia as lecturers or faculty. They can go into research. There are no limits.

What are some of the courses that students can expect from this program?

The course that really challenges our perspectives around people’s identities and sex is our diversity and sexuality class. It highlights sexuality at the intersection of various identities, including race, ability, and relationship configuration.

In this course, we talk about older people who are still sexually active. We often desexualize older people. Sure, no one wants to talk about Grandma having sex, but guess what, grandma is having sex whether you want to talk about it or not. Another very desexualized population is folks who are not seen as typically able.

We have discussions on how difficult it is for Black women to be seen as sexual beings when they are bound by hundreds of years of stereotypes. We talk about what it means to have a sexual identity as a Latinx or Asian person when you’ve been oversexualized.

Another course is our Sexual Attitudes Reassessment, which uses intentionally provocative content to facilitate students’ understanding of their biases, prejudices, and beliefs. It teaches them how to process their feelings so they can be with clients who have a variety of interests and behaviors without causing harm.

From your perspective, why should students consider earning a Certificate in Sex Therapy?

I could go on all day with this question. Truly, there are very few certified sex therapists in the U.S. I once did research that involved 105 respondents who went to therapy. None of them went for sex therapy purposes, but all 105 talked about sex. So even if that’s not their presenting problem, they will need to discuss it, and therapists need to know how to handle that.

Clients don’t always have positive and supportive experiences with their therapists because not all therapists have the education that makes them capable or confident when discussing sex with their clients.

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