We’re Coming Back. Here’s What We’ve Been Busy With 10/5/2011

The Institute for Personal Growth, the premier outpatient mental health organization with three offices in New Jersey and New York City, has launched a Postgraduate Sex Therapy Training Program. The Program, based in Highland Park, NJ, currently has fourteen residents, seasoned psychologists and social workers who are participating in intensive training to become certified sex therapists.

Dr. Margaret Nichols, founder, President and Executive Director of IPG, is an American Board of Sexology Diplomate and Certified Sex Therapist of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). IPG is an official training facility for AASECT, and Dr. Nichols runs the new AASECT-sanctioned program with the help of the four other AASECT Certified Sex Therapists on the IPG staff.

As the ‘Age of Viagra’ makes it more acceptable for the average person to acknowledge and seek help for sexual problems and dysfunctions, sex therapy is becoming an increasingly important specialization. In fact, IPG has not been able to keep up with demand. AASECT, the international certifying organization for sex therapists, lists only thirty sex therapists for the entire state, and five are at IPG. The Postgraduate Sex Therapy Training Program increases the number of IPG’s sex therapy specialists to nineteen, covering all three New Jersey offices as well as the newly-launched New York City satellite office. For the first time, IPG will be able to offer expert sex therapy to the large number of people seeking help, and even be able to make some fee adjustments for people with limited resources.

Many people expect all psychotherapists and counselors to be able to treat sexual dysfunction and difficulties. But in fact, few graduate schools incorporate course work on human sexuality and the specialized techniques developed by sex therapists since the pioneering work of Masters and Johnson in the 1960’s. A relatively young discipline, sex therapy has evolved to incorporate the breakthroughs in medical knowledge of sexuality and pharma/medical interventions. The contemporary sex therapist can draw upon a vast body of information about sexuality that is unknown or poorly understood by the non-sex therapist. Consumers who rely on untrained practicioners are often given misinformation or simply find their sexual concerns ignored.

Says Program Director Margaret Nichols: ”Sex therapy is very different from other counseling. For one thing, the treatment for most sexual dysfunction is very behavioral – less talk, more ‘homework’ exercises. There’s also a big educational component – many people don’t realize, for example, how the medications they take may interfere with sex, or that male and female sexuality is fundamentally different. And many sexual problems have a medical component, and sex therapists know how to detect this and refer to appropriate specialists. It’s not unusual to see a sexual dysfunction that requires information-giving, behavioral interventions, treatment by a medical doctor, and even at times physical therapy.”

Certification in sex therapy is done through the American Association for Sexuality Education, Counseling, and Therapy (AASECT). The certification is rigorous, requiring, in addition to a graduate degree and licensure and experience in general psychotherapy, a specialized course of study and practice that includes 90 hours of sexuality education, 60 hours of specialized sex therapy coursework, at least 250 hours of casework, and 50 or more hours of supervision by a sex therapist who is AASECT certified for at least three years.

“There’s really a need in New Jersey and even in Manhattan for trained, certified sex therapists.” says Nichols. While Manhattan is better served than New Jersey – there are a couple of dozen in the boro- many have closed their practices dues to overwhelming demand. “That’s why we have opened a satellite in the Chelsea/Union Square area, staffed by two certified sex therapists and two residents.” In New Jersey the shortage of trained sex therapists is so severe that the IPG training program will increase the state-wide total by fifty percent and make IPG by far the largest sex therapy provider in the state.

“Another advantage of our training our own therapists in sex therapy is that we have always provided service to the L/G/B/T, BDSM, and polyamory communities. Now we’ll be able to provide sex therapy to these populations as well.” Dr. Nichols has written extensively on sex therapy with sexual minorities, including the chapter on this subject in the primary sex therapy textbook, “Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy.”

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