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.

 

How to Get the Most Out of Your Therapy Part 2: Committing to Therapy…

Committing to Therapy…

In my practice, one of the biggest reasons therapy is not ‘successful’ is that people don’t commit the time or to making the process a priority. For many, this means attending the

Tips to Improve Therapy: Committing to Therapy
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

session as scheduled and reflecting on the therapy outside of session. My time recommendation for new clients is a weekly appointment, as this allows time for you and your therapist to learn about each other, to develop a rapport, and to begin the therapeutic process. If time or cost is a barrier, every other week is an option to discuss with your therapist. Once a client is established or has achieved the goals for initially seeking therapy, we discuss sessions monthly as “well-care” or as needed. I have many clients in my caseload who schedule as needed because they used therapy to develop skills to keep them healthy, one of which is understanding when they need a professional’s unbiased thoughts. In terms of “how long therapy will last,” I don’t put a timeframe. Again, therapy is your own personal journey, aimed at working with your psychology needs, and this journey may not have an obvious or definite end. That all depends on you and your goals – which can change as therapy progresses.

 

… the Therapeutic Relationship…

Another reason therapy doesn’t work out is a lack of connection in the therapeutic relationship. Although your therapist is not your best friend or family member, a potent bond still forms. This person may be one of the only people who knows the most intimate and vulnerable details of your life. It’s important to feel safe and comfortable with them! But therapists are still human, and this means we may not click with every other human in the world. It happens and it’s ok to be realistic about this and seek out a new therapist. Instead of ghosting on your therapist, have a discussion to properly end the relationship. In these cases, professional therapists will understand where the client is coming from and can recommend a colleague who may be a better fit.

Tips to Improve Therapy: Committing to Therapy
Image courtesy of everydayplus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Addressing Outside Factors…

Another reason I see clients reporting dissatisfaction with therapy (either with our sessions or past therapy with another therapist) is focusing on other aspects of the process. These can include costs or pricing, insurance issues, and rapidly switching therapists before change can occur or is about to occur. Yes, the cost of therapy is an important factor (we don’t want you going broke in order to grow or heal!) but is your growth and healing less important than finding someone with a lower rate or being able to use your insurance benefits? It’s important to answer this question in the best way for your situation, and also, to discuss this concern with your therapist.

In the past insurance plans were more consistent and changed less frequently than today. Now, the majority of plans could change in a year or a provider may leave your state or network. For instance, your employer may contract with company A this year though next year contract with company B, altering your network and your coverage significantly. Even private plans through the insurance company may change each year, resulting in a change of your benefits including mental health coverage. Before beginning therapy and choosing a therapist, I suggest exploring what is most important to you about therapy and then choose based on those options. If seeing a person with a specific niche or knowledge area is important, then choose a therapist based on those criteria. If using your insurance is most important, then choose a therapist who accepts your insurance with the possibility that this could change at any point during your treatment. And as always, discuss these issues with your therapist. He or she is invested in your success as well, and will often be able to find workarounds and compromises for insurance, coverage, and billing difficulties.

 

…And Embracing Unintentional Change

As I tell clients beginning therapy, be open to the process involving change you

How to Get the Most Out of Your Therapy Part 2: Committing to Therapy
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

aren’t expecting. Therapy is a journey and, at times, our path may take us down an unintended route. You may begin therapy with a specific goal in mind, but the could open other possibilities or provide insights you’d never considered. These can be some of the most moving and helpful sessions, even though neither I nor my client anticipates them when therapy begins. Much of my work with clients is not only symptom management but also helping clients learn about themselves (and learning along with them) and the systems impacting their development. Being too rigid with goals and expectations of therapy can lead to dissatisfaction and lack of growth. For those concerned about too much flexibility, a good therapist won’t let you flounder around and will help keep you and the process on track by reviewing the reasons you started therapy and reviewing the progress and change. And of course, therapy is grounded in communication: if you think your progress is slowing or something is not working for you, tell your therapist, who can help work out new strategies.

 

Tell us your thoughts about how you choose a therapist and what is most important to you…

 

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

Part 2: What IS Sex Therapy and How to Find a Sex Therapist

ID-100202496

Part one explained what those letters mean and how to obtain sex therapy certification. Part two will focus on how a certified sex therapist differs from a therapist with no additional training. (Please note that many therapists may be completing training for sex therapy, but cannot use the letters CST until they complete the requirements for certification.)

Again, no, I (or other sex therapists) do not engage in sexual relations with clients.

A certified sex therapist (or sex therapist under supervision/in training) has completed specific training with workshops and supervision devoted to sexuality including but not limited to:

  •             sexual orientation and behaviors
  •             medical conditions impacting sexuality
  •             ethical practices
  •             anatomy
  •             sexual functioning
  •             sexual practices and lifestyles
  •             sexual health

Next, we’ll look at tips on how to research and find a sex therapist.

Tips to Finding a Sex Therapist for YOU:

  • Ask your doctor:

            Many times, sex therapists will network with local doctors, and many doctors like referring patients to therapists. Medical doctors can treat medical problems, but they typically don’t the emotional or long-term effects of a medical condition. Also, many times, a suspected medical condition is really related to emotional health. In my own practice, I always rule out medical concerns before working with a new client. I gain written permission to speak to the client’s doctor or I review paperwork sent from the doctor. I want to ensure that all possible medical conditions have been addressed to ensure proper treatment planning of the client. For example, many times men will present with erectile concerns whether they cannot maintain or achieve an erection or there is trouble with orgasm. I need to ensure that all infections, medication side effects, other medical conditions (high blood pressure, diabetes, etc) have been evaluated, treated and resolved. If the concern continues to peID-10066526rsist, this indicates a behavioral or emotional cause that can be treated with therapy or other behavioral interventions.

  • Ask your therapist friend/family member:

            Although your friend or family member cannot provide you treatment, he or she can refer you to other therapist colleagues! One of my greatest compliments is when a therapist colleague refers a client to me. I know many therapists from various jobs, networking events, and professional organizations, but there are some therapists I will NOT refer clients or potential clients. On the other hand, there are many therapists whom I highly respect and will refer a friend, family member, or stranger to without hesitation!

  • Search the Internet:

            My first recommendation when using the Internet is The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT.org). This is the national organization listing certified sex therapists. As stated in part 1, not all qualified sex therapists are certified though they are in training. These therapists can be found through other websites that offer a broader search options like PsychologyToday.com. Again, sometimes the best referral is from someone you know who practices sex therapy or education and can provide you a list of two or three therapist to research.

  • Ask for a complementary phone consultation:

            One of my rules of thumb before scheduling to meet with a new client is arranging a brief and complementary phone consultation. I want to ensure I can provide the services a client is seeking and answer any other questions from a new client. On that note, INTERVIEW your potential therapist. Create 3-5 questions you would like to know about the therapist or the practice. I know it can feel ID-100100975embarrassing or uncomfortable disclosing personal information over the phone, but this helps the therapist begin to understand you. Use whatever words/slang/lingo that is comfortable for you. My job is to listen and understand what you are telling me. Don’t forget, I wouldn’t be a sex therapist if the ever-growing sex terminology made me uncomfortable.

Look out for part 3 of “You’re a Sex Therapist…” where I share how and why I became a sex therapist.

Image 1 courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image 2 courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image 3 courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Rules in a Relationship: Building a Foundation for Success

The other morning, I was driving to the gym flipping through morning talk show stories to find actual music. Yes, I’m THAT person who doesn’t care about the talk, but just wants music to wake me up. On this particular morning, one segment caught my ear. A female listener was recently engaged. Her best friend, who lives out-of-town, was coming to visit and had never met her new fiancé. Apparently, an idea was concocted to have the best friend flirt or hit on the fiancé to test his reaction. My disclosure is that I only heard ten minutes of this segment and that I may not have received all the details of the story, nor do I actually know this woman or her family. What I gathered, from the part of the segment I heard, is that the majority of listeners did not agree with or condone this plan, and people wanted to know WHY one would test their partner in such a way.

couple back to back

The question now is not WHY would one want to test a partner, but what is the STORY behind this behavior? As a relationship and couple therapist, I don’t just look at the two people sitting in front of me. I look at the two people and the two different families that created each person. I also look at each person as a unique individual that (hopefully) developed his/her OWN beliefs in life. My question would be, “Does this relationship work for you both?” If so, you don’t have a problem. If not, then let’s look at how to make the relationship work for both of you. Couples can create rules in their relationship that others might not agree with or support. This is not a problem. The problem is when both people in the partnership do not agree. Continued use of behaviors that create tension can lead to many problems in a relationship, including but not limited to, loss or decrease of:

1. Sexual desire

2. Communication

3. Time spent together

4. Shared decision-making

5. Intimacy (not to be confused with sexual desire). The list could go on.

What one should take from this radio segment is not judging this couple before knowing the rules of their own relationship, whether you would incorporate this into your relationship or not. What one should think about is “Am I happy in MY relationship?”

holding.hands

 

Photo 1 Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net from the portfolio of “David Castillo Dominici”
Photo 2 Credit:  FreeDigitalPhotos.net from the portfolio of “arztsamui”

Spice Up Your Date Night! Part 1

I don’t care what anyonmedium_5984718411e says, but you are never too old to add a little spice to your life!

A common concern I hear from many couples (and individuals too!) is their romantic and intimate life has become boring.  After hearing story after story, the common pattern for relationships is falling into the “same old” routine. Here are just a few reasons I’m told:

  •  “We only go to the movies for dates.”
  • “We can’t go out during the week!  We have kids!”
  • “We just stopped doing the things we did when we were dating.”
  • “Only attractive and sexy people/couples do those things!”
  • “We just don’t have time during the day.”

When was there a law created that said couples, after a certain time together, can only sleep, work, run errands, clean house, and maybe go to dinner or a movie once a week?  Who said that parents aren’t allowed to go out during the week?  Again, who created a law that only “attractive” people can have “spicy” lives together?

This is my two cents (ok, maybe three cents…),

First, MAKE TIME FOR SPICE!  Before you can actually ADD spice to your life, YOU MUST MAKE TIME FOR IT!  Schedule a date night and make it just as important as your cardiology workup, afternoon gym session, or holiday dinner with the family!  Put it on your schedule and in your budget if you must.

Second, think about what USED to excite you or what you looked forward to on a date with your partner.  Think about activities you never tried, but WANTED to try. Create a list of activities or dates. Call it your “Date Night Spice Bucket List.”  Put that list in a place you will remember and see often so it is a constant reminder of what you need and deserve.

Third, forget about what others will think!  This is for YOU and your partner (or just you if you so choose!).  If we were talking about paying your bills or fixing dinner or your next vacation, would it matter what your best friend/cousin/sister/mother in-law thought?  Right.  Then why are your intimate Spice up date night imageor romantic activities any different?

In Part 2 of this blog, Courtney will give you ideas to create your own “Date Night Spice Bucket List!”

 

 

 

 

photo credit (photo 1):  PhotoPin.com

A Therapist is a Person too…

It’s been one of those weeks where things aren’t going my way. Earlier in the week, I was at the point of throwing my hands up in the air and crawling back into bed or under my rock (whichever was closest was the best option).  Instead, I decided on my motto to get me through the week:  “patient people wait for good things to come…and kick ass while doing it.”  I realize this is not a completely original quote, but more of a spin off of an old time favorite.  However you look at it, it did the trick for me. I’m still waiting for my good things to come, but I’m not going to let the negative drag me down in the meantime.

Oddly, my pity party earlier in the week is not what inspired this blog.  In fact, I was watching the recent movie “Beautiful Creatures.”  At the end of the movie, one of the main characters recites a poem by Charles Bukowski called “no help for that.” This resulted in my searching the web for this particular poem and coming across various other quotes including a quote by Joyce Meyer, “I’m not where I need to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be,” and a quote with an unknown author, “Sometimes you have to look back in order to see how far you’ve come.”

These quotes triggered a lesson I learned in therapy school, and which I continue to use in my own life and share with clients: the roller coaster. Life and therapy are like roller coaster rides. At times, you may move forward, whether it is a painstakingly, slow pace or a quick as lighting pace.  At some point, you will fall back, but eventually you reach the point to move forward again.  Although we all experience “falling back” throughout life, the goal is we gain the skills to keep our forward momentum longer than the fall back. At those times when we fall back, and we may begin to feel defeated, it is important to remember how far we have come from the past and use that to gain your momentum to move forward and keep moving forward.

 

desert photo