On Becoming a Sex and Relationship Therapist

When I started my psychotherapy training, I imagined that I would specialise at some point in infertility. Infertility was something that I had personally experienced so I fully understood the agony of desperately wanting a child and not being able to conceive. Consequently, I wanted to know enough about human sexuality to be of professional help to people going through this experience. 

Infertility was something that I had personally experienced so I fully understood the agony of desperately wanting a child and not being able to conceive.

This led me to apply for a post graduate course in sex and relationship psychotherapy, once I had completed my four year UKCP general psychotherapy training. I was accepted onto the specialist course but decided to defer my place for a year, to concentrate on my research into anxiety. Since starting to work with clients, my clinical practice had been dominated by anxiety related conditions, particularly obsessive compulsive presentations, and I had immersed myself in learning as many ways to effectively treat these issues as I could. I had all but forgotten my plans to specialise in infertility when the first day of the diploma course finally arrived.  

On that first weekend I heard and used the words vagina and penis more than I had in my whole adult life and I learnt the names, (and saw the pictures), of a painful range of sexual ‘disorders’, most of which I had never heard of before. My ideas of myself as liberated and sexually well informed soon dissolved into the realisation that I was actually very heterosexually married and, relatively speaking, really quite ‘vanilla’. 

Training in psychosexual and relationship therapy is inevitably and extraordinarily personal. Nothing in my previous training hit this close to home, and I mean that literally. My learning was filtered through and understood in the context of my own intimate relationship, my own sexual experiences, and my own life values. I found that I could face the horrors of sexual abuse and imagine working with both perpetrator and victim.  I was ok with so called paraphilias, within the context of informed consent. Although the subject of STI’s is not inherently appealing, my only concern was how to accurately remember treatment protocols.  And yet I burst into tears when we studied affairs. Affairs are the ‘bread and butter’ of relationship therapy and I could not tolerate the idea of them, never mind imagine how I could work therapeutically with them. A perfectly timed self-reflective assignment allowed me to work out why affairs terrified me when paedophilia didn’t, providing me with much needed insight and allaying my fears that I wasn’t cut out for this work. What the assignment had facilitated was the essential acknowledgement of the subjective and intersubjective nature of sexuality and, thereby, of sexual therapy, reducing the risk of this being brought unconsciously into my clinic room.

Once I started working clinically in this field everything shifted. It took a little time to lose the self consciousness that came with talking about orgasms and masturbation before the watershed and the nervousness of working with two people in front of me rather than one, but, gradually, the richness of the work overtook the inhibition. At the start of my specialist course I struggled to remember why I wanted to do it. Now I wonder what would have become of my clinical work if I hadn’t taken it. My long-term interest in anxiety and obsessions has stood me in very good stead for the treatment of sexual disorders and compulsions. My two main professional trainings seemed worlds apart when I started the specialist training and now I can see that they are both essentially connected in enabling me to work with the human totality of the individuals and couples that come into my clinic room, whether they come with specifically psychosexual and relationship issues, or indeed fertility problems, or not. 

My interest in sexual and relationship themes has now developed to the point of establishing the Cambridge Institute of Clinical Sexology (CICS) with my esteemed colleague Dr Alireza Tabatabaie and our own two year diploma course in Clinical Sexology will launch in January 2017. Our vision is to improve the quality of sexual lives through high quality, interdisciplinary education. Our diploma closely follows the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapist’s course syllabus and will qualify our students to work with sex and relationship themes with individuals and couples with a pathway to COSRT accreditation. 

If you are ready to enrich your clinical practice or even to specialise in sex and relationship therapy contact me for a course brochure and application form julie@theinstituteofsexology.org

Blog Post written by:
Julie Sale
CICS Course Director and Psychosexual Psychotherapist