Do we therapists have an ethical duty to attend to our own sexual needs?

I recently delivered a training day on working with erotic transference and counter-transference. I must confess that teaching is one of the ways in which I learn best. I research the subject, sometimes masochistically, torturing myself about not knowing enough thus reading even more. When in fact I reflect and process the material over and over and over… And keep this reflection alive in me when supporting supervisees or working with clients. Then eventually I reflect some more to come up with my own understanding and my own experience. I gain further learning by hearing the students’ reflections on the material. This time what came up strongly was around therapists’ self care.

 

I find the subject of erotic transference to be a vast one: it encompasses so many aspects of human relationships like love, intimacy, attachment, attraction, choice of partners, sexuality and of course SEX. Yes sex, a subject that appears to still be the great taboo in our generic counselling and psychotherapy training. Of course there is a lot written about it, not a lot talked about and even less taught. Erotic transference and counter-transference can be unique means to work at depth with the therapeutic relationship, a delicate work of accepting the invitation for intimacy without shaming or acting out and working within safe boundaries.

 

When considering the many dynamics of erotic and sexual feelings in the therapy room, it occurs to me that erotic counter-transference can be happening if we, therapists have not been listening to our sexual needs and attended to them in our private life. It can be very difficult and demanding for therapists to hear the sexual exploits, joys, hopes and/or distresses of clients, for all these can resonate and interface with the therapist’s own erotic world. This is why, in the various training events I facilitate, I invite my students (often very qualified therapists) to explore their own sexuality and relationship with sex. But let’s not kid ourselves, this work can be a long and slow process that includes exploring our shadow and other uncomfortable territories. I find this work on self essential in order to be aware of our erotic templates, core themes, fantasies, desires and needs. Of course, some of it can be looked at in therapy, couple or relationship therapy and possibly supervision. I therefore raise the question and pose that the sexual part of our selves needs to be nurtured as well as nourished. Without this we will risk addressing our needs within our consulting rooms and getting our own sexual gratification via the client’s material or transference (sometimes outside of our awareness) and THAT is unethical.

 

So here it is: as part of our self care, do we have an ethical duty to be sexually ‘fulfilled’ in our private lives so we can be safer when exploring (amongst other subjects) the erotic in the consulting room?

 

PS: This thoughts may appear to be irrelevant to certain asexual, demi-sexual or post sexual therapists on a personal level, yet be useful in their supervisory capacity.

Olivier Cormier-Otaño mBACP Accred
Counsellor, Psychosexual therapist and Supervisor

olivier.counselling@hotmail.com

 

 

Authentic sexual needs

Our work as therapists can at times be about helping our clients discover, explore and express their needs. Like the need to be loved, supported or understood for instance. And so, we stay in the moment, with what it means to have needs and to acknowledge their authenticity and realness.

When it comes to sexual needs, how can we stay with the authenticity and realness of what the client brings? Indeed have we confronted our shadows around sex, or do we jump into trying to determine what makes sexual needs appropriate, moral, pathological… Have we found the special ruler to measure a piece of string? Who can establish that one’s sexual needs are problematic but the person themselves (sometime after long exploration).

Yet hypothesis or “diagnosis” of sexual addiction are becoming main stream and money earners for some ‘specialists’. Whilst diagnosis of hypo sexual desire disorder are undermining and patronise the asexual population. How helpful or accurate are these formulations?

Looking at couples, infallibly their own level of sexual desire will differ and may vary with time. Which one has the right level? The one who wants more sex or the one who wants less? ‘Sex specialists’ state that a six months period with no sexual activity is problematic. Peer pressure to have sex is also rife, specially within sexual minorities where a sense of identity and belonging is often built upon ‘sexual identity’.

So we are trapped between a cock-measuring attitude (who has the most of it) and a normative approach (average, statistics and research).

How can we affirm our clients authentic sexual needs, whether they’d rather hold hand and cuddle their partner in front of the TV with a nice slice of cake or have fun in sex clubs and saunas twice a week?

Dominic Davies and TIm Foskett explore the misconception of sexual addiction in Gay and Bisexual men in their training day “I am too sexy” (16 November 2013) whilst on the following day I will explore our understanding of low sexual activity and desire across sexual preferences on a day called “Asexualities: intimacy and desire” (17 November 2013).

So why don’t you join us in this learning, get your rulers out and break them.

Olivier Cormier-Otaño MBACP Accred, AASDT
Clinical Associate