How Therapy Benefits Emotional and Sexual Growth in Young Adults

A lot of anxiety and hesitation about beginning therapy is connected to a social stigma that expresses itself differently at different times in our lives but has a similar theme: “I should be ‘over’ this by now.” This sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth. Because each of our psychological profiles is literally unique, there’s no time that’s too late to begin therapy; that’s like saying, “It’s too late to start exercising”. Not only does this sentiment lead people to delay seeking a therapist or ending therapy prematurely, but it also prevents people from solving problems in their lives. This delay can often lead to those problems getting worse.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to post about why starting therapy is beneficial for emotional and sexual growth at different stages of life, roughly defined by decade. So don’t worry: we’ll get to your age group soon! And if any of these situations describe you, feel free to speak out in the comments or to reach out to me personally. Without further ado, continue reading to find out how therapy benefits emotional and sexual growth especially during the 20s.

 

 The Twenties

Therapy Benefits Emotional Sexual Growth
Erik Erikson

During our late teens and early 20s, we begin to separate from our family and primary caregivers – we become our own individual people. According to Erik Erikson’s paradigmatic psychological model, we begin establishing our autonomy between 18 months and 3 years of age, and it is a process that continues as we become more psychologically mature, through adolescence and early adulthood. We might call this process ‘differentiation’, where we come to see ourselves as different from our families though still part of them.

It’s Time to Fly! Wait…Don’t Let Go!

In family systems therapy, I view differentiation as creating physical and emotional independence while remaining part of a family system. As we grow and as our parents become conscious of our separating, it can be a difficult time for both parents and children, leading to conflict especially between parents and teenagers. The negative effects are especially notable in unhealthy family systems with poor boundaries. A healthy family system allows this process to naturally occur and its members are individually supportive of the process. An unhealthy system, such as one with poor physical and emotional boundaries, will try to prevent the process, leading to stunted emotional growth for children and unresolved conflicts. Unresolved conflicts and resentments between parents and children can last decades and have effects that are difficult to predict.Therapy Benefits Emotional Sexual Growth

Therapy benefits emotional and sexual growth of children raised with healthy or unhealthy differentiation systems.  But in either case, it can be vital to seek therapy in your 20s, because the process of differentiation often hasn’t ended yet, meaning that there is still time to improve how it concludes. For children from healthier family systems, this can mean working on communication techniques that allow children at the last stages of dependency on parents to transition to an adult-adult communication pattern that can be especially difficult for any family to master. Children from less healthy family systems often benefit from deeper psycho-analytic insights into why they continue to have significant conflicts with their parents, and why some of these conflicts may have negative effects in seemingly unrelated parts of their lives.

 Leaving the Nest (and have Great Sex!)

Therapy Benefits Emotional Sexual Growth

Emotional development and maturation in adolescence is related to physical and sexual development, as well, all of which is complicated by significant changes in our social, romantic, and sexual lives in our 20s. Sexual development begins during infancy through exploration of the body through touch. Infants and babies also explore other people’s bodies through touch as well. However, the shame and stigma associated with sexual development could stunt the growth of a sexual identity or create confusion in early adulthood, an issue (not surprisingly) related to how families discuss and think about sexuality. I work with many clients experiencing anxiety or confusion around sexual identity. Many of these clients are in relationships or marriages that are unconsummated or sexless due to lack of understanding the self, how to communicate about sex with others including a partner or spouse, and/or differing ideas and preferences about sexual activity. This is, yet, another reason how therapy benefits emotional and sexual growth.

Whether you come from a healthy or unhealthy family system, therapy in your 20s can support your growth as functioning adult and help you recognize the impact of your Therapy Benefits Emotional Sexual Growthfamily on your growth and relationships with others. The therapeutic work is different depending on each family, but this shouldn’t surprise you. Just like no two individuals are exactly alike, no two families are exactly alike either. Therapy can help you determine just how your family has helped (and hindered!) your growth, and how you’d like that process to continue into adulthood.

 

Is Your Online Behavior Ruining Your Love Life?

If you’re in the dating world, you’re likely no stranger to online dating. From my personal life to my professional life, I hear and experience how people lose manners once a screen is between them and other people. At one point, my best girlfriends and I joked about creating a blog to record online dates-gone-bad.

 As a therapist, I want my clients to feel comfortable going online to find a potential partner. Part of our discussion involves understanding how their actions impact the dating experience. As a person, I would love to report more positive experiences with online dating, and as a therapist, I want hear many more success stories. Without further ado, here are a few things to keep in mind with online dating:

 

  1. Politeness: If you wouldn’t do it in person, why would you do it online? In other words, if you called someone on the phone, and they did not answer, would you call back five minutes later and continue with multiple phone calls? Would you walk up to a stranger and state something perceived as obscene or rude? If you answered “no” to those questions, then why is it appropriate to exhibit this behavior online by sending multiple messages back to back to the same person or to engage in rude conversation with a stranger? If you’ve listened to my podcast, you are aware of my experience with online dating (and if you haven’t listened, then head over to sexandrelationshiptherapist.com to take a listen!). Just recently, I began talking to Chris, who first started out very respectful. After brief conversation, Chris began calling me “sexy” such as “good morning sexy,” or “Are you sweaty and sexy” after I told him I’d been at the gym. I’m thinking (and praying!) he would not greet a co-worker, friend, or other non-romantic partner in such a way!

 

  1. Honesty and Directness: Going back to Chris, after his change in behavior in our conversation, I created theories including: 1) he had no understanding of appropriate and respectful conversation with a stranger, 2) he learned this was how you talk to some one he met on a dating app, or 3) he had an underlying motive. It turned out Chris was only looking for a hookup, which was not my intention for dating. After this discovery, our conversation ended. Now, why couldn’t Chris be up front with me in the beginning? If he had informed me that a hookup was his intention, we could have saved time and ended that conversation sooner rather than later. There are plenty of men and women who only want to hookup and plenty who are looking for dating or a relationship. One of my best dating experiences was with a man who was upfront with his intention for a non-serious relationship. I encourage people to be open and honest about their desires early on in conversation or meeting, and for each to respect the desires and wishes of the other person.

 

  1. Mindful and Awareness: Our prior discussion on politeness correlates with mindfulness and awareness. I have experienced many interactions with different men where it appears they believe I am constantly monitoring my inbox or receiving notifications of new messages. When I don’t respond in a timeframe these men deem acceptable, I receive additional messages ranging from rudeness for not responding to multiple annoying messages asking if I’m going to respond or reminding me they are waiting for a response. Let us keep in mind that 1) some people may not check their messages daily or more than 1x daily, 2) some people may not use the phone app, 3) people could be doing other things such a working/hobbies/social engagements/sleeping and the list goes on, and 4) a person just might not be interested in you for any number of reasons. In regards to number 4, please don’t take this personally. As I discuss with clients, we aren’t going to like or be attracted to everyone we meet. The same goes for other people meeting us. This is not a reflection of who we are as a person though a preference.

 

  1. Grammar: Face to face communication is ultimately the most important as one gives and receives different forms of communication from verbal words, body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. With electronic communication, you lose all but verbal words and your grammar becomes your first impression. These days, emoticons enhance our electronic communication though it won’t ever compare to in person interaction. How many times have you received a text message or email from a friend where the grammar or writing was so bad you couldn’t figure out what your friend was trying to relay? This happens all the time in online dating. As I’m write this blog, I just received a message stating, “Dhali Llama?” That’s it, though I think he might mean “Dalai Lama…” This is not mindfulness or awareness in action. Is this person asking if I am the Dalai Lama? Is he asking do I like or know anything about the Dalai Lama? Could he be asking about my religious preference or if I am Buddhist monk? Is he trying to make a joke about my profile although my profile contains nothing to my knowledge about the Dalai Lama, India, Buddhism, or even lamas or farm animals! Your grammar doesn’t have to be New York Times quality writing, though please know complete sentences and spell check will greatly improve your chances of getting a response.

 

These are only few tips to improve your online dating experience though ones I feel are very important. Remember, your messages may be the first impression you give to another person. Stay tuned for a future blog (or podcast) talking more about how to make your online dating experience successful.

“What’s on Your Relationship Bucket List? Tips to Improve How and Who You Date.”

How many times have you gone on a date thinking, “THIS will be it! This person sounds great!” Then, you leave the date wondering, “what the heck went wrong…AGAIN?’ and “Why is it so hard to find a match!?

Did you use your five non-negotiables and your relationship bucket list for this potential match, OR did you choose someone who SEEMED a great fit for you?

A relationship bucket list is similar to a life bucket list, but for qualities and characteristics you want in your partner. Many times, one creates a list of “don’t want” characteristics versus “do want” characteristics. As a good friend so wisely stated, “How the hell do we know what we WANT if we’re only looking at what we DON’T WANT??”

Bucket 4

How do you create a relationship bucket list? There are many ways, but this is what I recommend to clients:

First, create your list of characteristics you WANT in a partner. This may be hard at first as you are used to creating a DON’T want list. If you find yourself coming up with more “don’t want” characteristics, ask yourself “what is the opposite of that characteristic?” or “Instead of this quality, what quality do I want?” It becomes easier as your list gets longer!

Second, take a look at your list and make each characteristic more specific. If you said you want an “athletic partner,” does that you mean you want someone who goes to the gym after work? Someone who cycles? Someone who plays a specific sport? Someone who will enjoy the same athletic hobby as you, or someone with his/her own athletic interest, or both? It’s “ok” to be very specific if that’s what you WANT. It’s also “ok” to be broad on characteristics. If it helps, create a scale of importance (i.e. very important to not important at all) to help complete your list.

Finally, identify your “five non-negotiables.” I must give credit where credit is due; I’m borrowing this term from Patti Stanger, the Millionaire Matchmaker and host of the Bravo reality show by the same name. I thought it was great, and I use it with clients all the time. Your “five non-negotiables” are the five characteristics that you will not make ANY exceptions. Your “five non-negotiables” will decide whether you even go on date number one with a person. If a potential match does not meet even ONE of those five characteristics, politely decline a first date. Why waste your and the other person’s time if you know that one characteristic is a deal breaker?

The last part is FINDING your potential match! Where do you start? Take a look at your list! Based on your “relationship bucket list,” create a list of places in your area that you’ll most likely meet potential matches. If you want an athletic partner who enjoys swimming and hiking, go join a local swimming pool or join a hiking club! Looking for someone who enjoys craft beer and football? Check out local craft beer classes or find out where other sports fans watch the game.

Having trouble creating your list or finding matches? Give me a call and let’s figure out how to get you on the right track!

“You’re a Sex Therapist? Does that Mean You have Sex with Your Clients?”

Part 1: What Does that Lingo Mean?

Many times friends, family, strangers, and clients have asked me, “What is a sex therapist?” and “What is it you do?” Many times the facial expression says, “Do I really want to know her answer?”

I decided to write a blog about not only the practice of sex therapy and how one can find and chose a therapist, but also how I became a sex and relationship therapist.

First, no, I do not have sex with my clients. A sex therapist is a trained and licensed mental health professional. These professionals are either a master’s or doctor’s level clinician or has obtained a medical degree with a focus in psychiatry. At some point, they decided to narrow their focus of treatment to sexual disorders and sexuality and have obtained further education and (possibly) certification.

grad photo op

In the United States, any professional claiming to be a therapist MUST be licensed by the state where they choose to practice or see clients. For example, I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in Georgia. In Georgia, you may also see Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), or LAMFT/LAPC/LMSW, who are licensed therapists under supervision. Each state has the equivalent of the above licenses though different terminology may be used.

A Certified Sex Therapist (CST) is certified by a national organization called the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (this blog will focus on the “therapist” part, but visit AASECT.org for more information about educators and counselors). NOTE: Some states require state certification in order for a therapist to claim they are a sex therapist though most states do not require any additional training or certification. Please contact your local state board to determine if this is a requirement in your state.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog series, which will provide tips to find a sex therapist in your area.

For more information about Courtney Geter, LMFT, please visit www.SexAndRelationshipTherapist.com


Achieve Your Goals the SMART Way!

How many times have you made a New Year’s Resolution and mid-year realized you made no progress and the resolution is now forgotten? (If you could see me, my hand is raised.)  Yes, I am a therapist and I’ve failed at my own resolutions and goals.  I can’t say how many times this has occurred, but I remember the feelings of guilt and shame for not succeeding at a resolution, which we might also call a goal.

Let’s talk about goals and why we either succeed or don’t succeed with them.

Many mental health professionals use a common format, SMART, when creating goals with clients.  Why?  It prevents clients from feelings of failure and becoming overwhelmed with expectations.  There are various definitions of a SMART goal, but here is a snap-shot of what to aim for. When creating a goal, ask yourself the following:

Is your goal Specific?

Is your goal Measureable?

Is your goal Attainable or Action oriented?

Is your goal Realistic?

Is your goal Time-sensitive?

If you answered “no” to one or more of these questions, you may then face greaterdifficulty meeting and following through with your goal.

Many of us create goals around weight loss or improving a part of our lifestyle.  However, these goals are often too broad and not defined very well.  When this happens and we have not achieved the goal, we feel defeated and ultimately “give up” on or lose interest in the goal.  For some people, it might not be realistic to loose 20-30 pounds or “go to the gym” every day. Did you give yourself enough time to lose 20-30 pounds?  Is going to the gym all that is needed to lose those pounds?  I’m starting to feel defeated just writing about this goal!

Besides the SMART format, here are a few other ways to aid you in achieving your goal:

  1. Motivation– Why are you creating this goal and what is the ultimate purpose? Typically, goals are created due to the current fad or trend or because someone suggested the change.  The question, is do YOU want the goal and outcome associated wit the goal?
  2. Knowledge– Let’s go back to our prior weight loss example. Sure you know you need to lose a few pounds (or at least that’s what your wife/husband/partner/doctor/best friend/current TV personalitysaid), but do you know HOW to lose that weight? Just because you saw a 20minute segment about a current trend does not mean it will work for youwithout the knowledge of WHY or HOW it works.
  3. Individuality-Unless you are a human clone, you are a UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL.  That means you are not the same as any other person on this earth. What works for your best friend might not work for you. Again, knowledge and resources will help you here too.

 Don’t give up on those past resolutions, but make them work for YOU!

 

Photo Credit: PhotoPin.com