I receive so many requests for information and guidance from students of all ages about becoming a sex therapist that last week I created an impromptu FAQ to address the most common questions. If you see any mistakes, have more resources to add to this, or want to contribute other questions/info to the FAQ drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll include 'em in future revisions.
Dr. Brame's FAQ on Sex Therapy as a Career
Sorry for the impersonal nature of this form, but it is the only way I can respond to everyone. If you'd like to suggest more questions for the FAQ, please email me and I will add them to future revisions of this FAQ.
Q: I'm graduating high school and was wondering what kind of college classes I should take to become a sex therapist?
GGB: Relatively few colleges offer sexology as a major (or even as a minor). Instead, your best bet is to take psychology or social work as a major, and then sign up for all the sex-related electives that your school offers. This can range from art courses about erotic art, to biology classes about reproductivion and sexual behavior, to literary courses about sex in literature, to anything offered by the social sciences dealing with sex attitudes or behaviors. If you attend a college which allows you to create your own major, you can create one in sexology, as long as the school offers enough courses for you to build a degree.
Q. I am in college. I am interested in Sexual Therapy as a profession and am trying to see what road would be most beneficial for me to follow, Psychology or Social Work?
GGB: Sex therapists come from a variety of backgrounds. Most typically, they are psychology or social work graduates, but no matter what your college major, to become a therapist you will have to take either graduate training (in an accredited sex ed graduate program) or sexological training in addition to your degree. I myself come from a liberal arts background (an M.A. in English). If I knew back in college that I would one day want to be a sexologist, though, I would have been a psychology major. This is because work as a therapist does require basic knowledge of human psychology. Any training you receive, and any insights you gain into human behavior, will help enormously when you pursue your sexological education.
Q; I was wondering if its possible if you could give me any advice as what to do after graduation from college to achieve my goal as a sex psychologist?
GGB: There are a number of paths you can take towards becoming a sex therapist or a clinical sexologist. You could be a psychologist who also offers sex therapy; or a social worker who counsels on sex and relationships; or you can specialize--as I do--in sex therapy. Typically, after completing your bachelor's, you attend a university which offers graduate degrees in sexology. For a list of schools which have degree programs in sexuality, click this link to the on-line "Guide to Graduate Study in Sexology":
There are different certifications and degree levels you may obtain, ranging from a certificate program which permits you to work as a sex educator to Ph.D. programs which prepare you to work as a sex therapist or scholar. You can then obtain further credentials as a licensed clinical sexologist from a professional organization. Obviously, the further you go with your education, the better your potential income (someone with a PhD, for example, usually will command a higher fee than someone with an M.A. or an MSW).
Q. What would those possible jobs be and what are those duties?
GGB: Here is a quick and dirty breakdown of sex-therapy-related professions.
A sex educator is someone who goes into communities to lecture and teach about sex/relationship issues.
A sex counselor or a peer counselor usually takes some training in sex, and offers non-professional counseling. They may not legally describe themselves as therapists (depending on the state they live in), and generally they will not be allowed to work in clinical settings.
A sex therapist is somewhat like a regular therapist, except all the focus is on sex and relationships. Therapists receive professional training at the graduate level (Masters or Doctoral). Again, rules about whether you may call yourself a therapist or not vary from state to state. In some states, it is illegal to call yourself a therapist unless you have been approved by a state-level professional board which inspects your credentials. This is hard for sexologists, since most state boards only review psychologists and social workers' credentials and don't even have a category for sexologists.
A clinical sexologist is someone who has achieved the highest level of education in sexology (usually a Ph.D.), and who has submitted credentials to a professional sexological organization and been licensed or certified by that organization to practice. Some of the bigger ones are: The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Teachers (AASECT); The Society for the Scientific Study of Sex ("Quad-S"); and the one I belong to, the American College of Sexologists (ACS). A clinical sexologist may open a private practice; or he or she may work in a clinical or hospital setting.
Q. What is the general pay for a sexual therapist?
GGB: As in the field of psychology, there is no "general" pay range. If you work in a clinic, hospital, senior center or other institutional setting, then you will likely be paid in line with psychologists who have the same level of education and experience that you do. Most sex therapists open private practices, and that is where the real variety in pay occurs. In 2005, a beginning therapist may not be able to charge more than $65-$75 per hour. An experienced therapist, with solid credentials, who is in high demand, may charge $150 per hour. Most of us offer sliding scales to patients in need. What you'll earn will depend on a combination of market demand, overhead costs, and your business philosophy.
Remember that, in private practice, it is the rare therapist who sees more than a few clients each day. $75 an hour may sound like a lot of money, but if you only have four or five patients, who see you only once a week, it's going to be a struggle. So the key to making a great living as a private therapist is to know how to draw and maintain clients. (If you work in a clinical setting, you may see as many as 8 patients a day but are paid on salary, not by patient.)
It is very difficult to build a practice at the beginning, unless you have the contacts, fame, or following to ensure that you will have clients. But since sex therapy is a small field, your earning potential is much greater than as an MSW or a beginning psychologist. The competition in those fields is intense, and jobs scarce, because there are tens of thousands of people who hold those degrees. There are far fewer trained sexologists, so you have less competition and clients tend to seek you out.
One thing to keep in mind: running a private practice requires some of the same skills you need to run any business. That means you need to keep careful records, maintain books for the IRS, be in compliance with FEMA and other workplace laws, plus market, advertise, pass out your cards, and so on.
Finally, a personal comment: if you're in this for the money only, you probably are not cut out for it. The earning potential is there but it's not Silicon Valley where you can expect to walk into a high-paying job right off the bat. Like all helping professionals (doctors, psychologists, etc.) you will have to work very hard at the beginning for only modest financial rewards, in hopes that you will build up to a successful practice one day that will compensate you very well. Many sex therapists teach or write to supplement their income.
However, if you are genuinely excited about the idea of working with people on their most intimate issues, seeing their lives change for the better, and knowing you helped them get there, the rewards of being a sex therapist will thrill you right from the start.
Looking for more info? Visit my alma mater, the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, and see what they have to say about sexology. The URL is:
IASHS is not for everyone. If you are just out of college, the loose structure may be too confusing for you. However if you are a HIGHLY motivated adult, a returning student, or someone who needs long-distance educational opportunities (and has the self-discipline to work his or her tail off without teachers breathing down your neck), the school is one of the best places in the world to learn about sex in a relaxed, free-thinking, non-judgmental atmosphere.
Revised: July 19, 2005
copyright@ Dr. Gloria G. Brame, all rights reserved
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