Working With Sexuality Practitioners



The sexuality industry as a profession, outside of long-established & highly regulated professions such as psychology & psychotherapy & more recently clinical sexology, is mostly unregulated, and working with a practitioner that's outside of these regulated sectors is what  this article is addressing.

There are less than a handful of bodies worldwide that regulate &/or monitor the training or work of practitioners, and those that do exist are mostly peer-founded & led, in other words they are not externally evaluated, the evaluation of the skills & knowledge of the members is not assessed by someone outside that organisation or community - in other words it's groups of people policing themselves. Usually, if there is any assessment of the practitioner it is by the people or organisation the person has paid to train them - which is far from objective.


~

In reality, anyone can set themselves up as a sexuality, consent, tantra or relationships ''teacher'', facilitator or practitioner with little or no education, training or experience which, obviously, may put potentially vulnerable, & sometimes traumatised people, at risk of further damage.

The absence of regulation can work to the advantage of some professionals & clients, leaving them free to explore a wide range of methodologies, tools & experiences that would not otherwise be acceptable if they were members of a tightly regulated professional body, but, it also leaves the door open for unscrupulous practitioners as well as abusive & inappropriate behaviour, which unfortunately we hear about on an increasingly regular basis.
Also, it leaves the door open for practitioners to be unfairly defamed too, of course, which also happens.

~

Given the very sensitive & delicate nature of sexuality work, it's potential to both ecstatically liberate & deeply damage people, it behooves those who come from a strong background in professional study, training & practice to inform potential clients, both of one-to-one sessions as well as workshops & other events, of some of the issues worth considering & some questions worth asking in order to both be safe from abuse & have the experience they wish or get the information they want.
~
Before engaging the services of any individual or group, it's important to ensure that the client is working with the practitioner best suited to their needs & one who has the right training to be able to appropriately & professionally support the client or, if necessary, to refer them on to another appropriate practitioner if what the client is seeking is outside their realm of expertise.
~
Here, I've drawn on 30 years of experience of academic study & work in the sexuality field as a professionally trained counsellor & psychotherapist, psychology graduate, educator & service manager working in many national & international organisations where my work was regularly supervised & externally assessed as well as being involved in the assessment & supervision of staff under my management.

The intention in offering this information is to empower clients, who may feel nervous & anxious about this step, to make enriching & informed choices, it's not a comprehensive guide & should not be treated as such. This article is meant to serve as something to encourage a 'pause for deeper reflection' rather than a step-by-step detailed guide which wouldn't be possible or appropriate in this space.
These are designed to be points of references & questions to reflect on rather than something set in stone, and, crucially, they are just the opinion of one practitioner, at all times, exercise your own discernment, including in relation to what you read here!

It is also something that is evolving & being added to over time, you can see the date of the most recent update at the bottom of the page.

If you feel you can add to this article, which aims to be of service to clients & participants as well as practitioners, then please email contributions & suggestions to info@bethwallace.org


*********

First, what about medical advice?
If you are currently or have in the past experienced mental health difficulties, particularly in relation to sexual trauma, if you have been taking medication for a mental health issue or have been hospitalised in relation to your mental health then I strongly recommend contacting your current, or most recent, care team to discuss any plans you may have about seeing a sexuality practitioner or attending a sexuality related event, regardless of the training or education of practitioners or the nature of the event.

Equally, if you've experienced significant mental health challenges then I also recommend avoiding working with those who are untrained in how to best support you; which are professionals with mental health training, at a minimum. 

~

TOP TIP: Ask what training practitioners have done, training that was assessed & accredited by an individual or organisation other than those who were paid to deliver the training, and, consider for yourself what training you deem to be necessary for you to feel like you are in expert competent hands - this is important work & you deserve professional treatment and/or services.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Many events & practitioners 'talk a good talk', their marketing is poetic prose, their services & events make big promises about transformation & healing, but do they have the academic knowledge & professional expertise necessary as a robust & solid foundation for those promises? and will that work be effective in supporting long term sustainable change rather than just a transient & pleasurable peak experience?


* * * * * * * * * * * * *

TYPES OF PRACTITIONERS & EVENTS

There is a wide variety of people to engage with outside the established professions of psychology, sex therapy, sexology, psychotherapy etc; from 'tantric' massage to Taoist teachers, from sexual shamans to Sexological Bodyworkers, from coaches to cuddle workshop facilitators and many more.

The most important thing for clients to understand here is what the terms a practitioner is using mean to them, and, not to assume that because a person calls themselves, for example, a ''certified tantra teacher' that it means anything in particular. It could mean, for example, participating in a weekend course where they received a certificate just for participating. The key here is to ask the practitioner to tell you what they mean by the terms they use, then use that information to make your decision.

There are week long retreats, experiences, rituals, play parties, weekend workshops, one-to-one sessions in-person & online and so much more - the very broad field offers almost anything one could want depending on where you live or are able to travel to & the amount of money you can, & want, to spend as well as what you're looking to experience & learn.

The terminology used to both describe events & practitioners is often terminology used in small communities & not understandable, or at least easily so, by those outside those communities so asking for clarity about exactly what the event entails, what methods & techniques will be used, what will be expected of the client/participant & what they can expect from the practitioner in return, what the after-care or follow-up support services are etc is all important information.

For example, something that calls itself a ''training'' should promise to teach you skills that you can then apply going forward in your life, if there's no skill or technique to learn then it's an ''experience'', a retreat, a workshop but not a ''training''.


Definitions & language are important for many reasons, including so that you can be clear about what exactly it is you're investing in, so the participant can be clear about what to expect & so that if you don't receive what's been promised that you also can hold others to account for that, as we would any other service we spend our hard earned money on.

It can be easy to feel romanticised & caught up in the mystery of vague language but it's likely you're investing significant time & money in an experience or event & so you want to be sure it's the right one for you & see past the poetic promises of marketing to what the substance of it really is.



TOP TIP: Ensure you're speaking, or at the very least understanding, the same language as those you're communicating with, make sure you understand the meaning behind specific words & instead of assuming you mean the same thing, if you're not sure always ask, a professional practitioner will not mind explaining terms so that you feel empowered in your decision making & choosing an event or practitioner that is really right for you.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *

HOW DO I CHOOSE WHO TO WORK WITH?

Deciding what the best type of practitioner to work with might involve many emails, many visits to many websites & perhaps some 'phone or video calls as well as seeking out the recommendations of others, including friends & colleagues. You might choose one & realise it was the wrong choice & then go on to seek another.

It's important that you feel confident of your choice, any practitioner who is worth investing your time & money in will be happy to answer your questions with openness, if they are not willing to be transparent with you about their education, training, how they work or what will happen in a session or at an event, and why, then ask yourself if this is really someone you can entrust with this very important part of you & your life, is this someone worth investing your time & money with? In that event, I would say not.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *

There has been a big surge in the number of sexuality related practitioners offering services & events in many countries the past few years &, like any industry, there will be huge variety in their education, training, experience, professionalism, integrity & credibility. There are a number of factors to consider to help you narrow it down to finding the practitioner that’s just right for you.


Hands-on or Hands-off?
Do you want to work with someone where there is touch included in the session or not?
If there is touch, do you want & are you permitted to bring a chaperone? How is consent discussed & negotiated? What hygiene practices & Universal Precautions are used? (Universal Precautions are the standard procedures used by medical practitioners in relation to the handling of body fluids - these should be in place for both your & the practitioner's protection if there is any contact with body fluids) If there are no precautions in place (if there will be any contact with body fluids), if there is no procedure for the discussion of consent or the option to bring a chaperone, then I would recommend not working with that practitioner.

Evidence or belief-based, or both?
Most psychologists, sexologists & psychosexual therapists will work from an evidence-based perspective, this means that the approaches & techniques they use have been researched, studied & shown to be effective in terms of supporting clients reach their desired goals. It means that the knowledge they have is rooted in robust research conducted over years, if not decades, & it's research that has been peer reviewed, meaning that peers of the researchers, with little or no vested interest in it's success or failure, have reviewed it and said it passes muster in terms of how it's been done & the results found.

A belief-based approach is exactly that, it's rooted in personal beliefs, often religious or spiritual, as opposed to research based evidence, and sometimes people operate from a place of blending the two. It may be important for you to know where the practitioner or organisation you're working with is coming from as this will alter, sometimes significantly, how they work as well as the content of events & private sessions.

Female or Male?
Is the sex &/or gender of the practitioner or facilitator important to you? You might feel more comfortable either with a practitioner of the same or opposite sex to you; it may be an important factor to consider, also, if you're doing 'hands-on' work, to ask if you're permitted, & do you want, to bring a chaperone with you? if you want one this should absolutely be possible. Pay attention to how your request is received, if it's received with any hint of incredulity, such as ''why would you want to bring a chaperone, don't you trust me?'' etc, then move on to the next practitioner on your list.


Supervision
It's common practice, & indeed compulsory in most organisations where practitioners are employed, to have monthly supervision with a colleague, this can be with someone who is the person's manager but more usually is a colleague with whom the practitioner can bounce professional ideas off, can share their current professional struggles & questions & receive advice, suggestions & the reflection of someone with similar experience. The purpose is not to agree with the practitioner, but to support them to be better at what they do & that can sometimes involve disagreement & constructive criticism.


The purpose of this is so that the practitioner can better support their clients. It's worth asking practitioners, facilitators & therapists if they are in supervision & how often, how they respond to this, from ''I don't need a supervisor, I trust my own intuition'' to ''yes, of course, I see someone once a month'' will tell you a lot about their willingness to be accountable & open about their work. As professionals we are never finished learning, growing & advancing our practice - be wary of those who say they're finished learning!

Practitioners who belong to professional bodies will have codes of ethics they adhere to, these are not legally binding, the largest sanction, presuming a law hasn't actually been broken, that a practitioner can face is the removal of their membership, but, they can still continue to practice. If a practitioner is not a member of such an organisation ask to see their own code of ethics if it's not on their website & make sure that it sits well with you & that you fully understand it.


Professional Training & Education
Research the training & education a practitioner has received & participated in, especially if you are looking for support with specific issues or trauma, making sure that their education is relevant to the work they're doing; for example, a degree in English or history, while interesting, isn't relevant to working with people in relation to their sexuality.

Equally, looking at education & training history is no fool-proof method of ensuring quality or expertise. There are some wonderful self-taught practitioners & of course some not-so-wonderful yet highly professionally trained & 'qualified' practitioners. The difference, usually, between those who are self-taught, those who have taken workshops & informal courses vs someone who is professionally trained & qualified is that there is recourse if a practitioner who is a member of a professional body behaves inappropriately, and, you can trust that someone who is professionally trained, with their skills assessed by a body outside the one that trained them, has at least passed such an assessment.

Values & Transparency
Do you need to know what your practitioners believe or think about issues that aren't relevant to your work together? Do you need to know what their personal values are in relationships, for example? Do you need to know their stand on sex with clients or who your practitioners vote for? For some people these are important issues, for others not. Some personal values are irrelevant to the work, if we were only to work or converse with those we agree with we'd have few conversations, we'd struggle to find a plumber, lawyer or doctor, perhaps. If the issues relate to the work most professionals will be happy to answer your questions, but if not then most, in all professions, prefer to keep most of their personal values & opinions private & separate from their work.



Areas of expertise
Some practitioners will specialise in working with people of a certain gender, sex or working with specific themes & issues. For example, if you are wanting to work with sexual trauma, it is important to find a practitioner who has relevant  appropriate professional training & experience in this.

Many Sexological Bodyworkers, somatic sexologists as well as certain tantric massage therapists & hands-on coaches will be able to support their clients in working with sexual difficulties such erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, vaginismus & orgasm difficulties - just make sure this is coming from an evidence-based foundation. 

Bare in mind also that there are no externally evaluated trainings for any of the above, you are placing your trust in someone whose work is not professionally recognised nor is it likely that person is professionally & externally supervised.

Equally, practitioners who don't touch their clients, which will include those from a psychology, psychotherapy & sexology background, will also be able to help with these issues, often being able to prescribe ''homework'' to complete outside of sessions without touching their clients.



Chemistry & Trust
You’re going to be in an intimate situation with this practitioner, whether the work is hands-on or hands-off in private or in a group, the subject matter is intimate, so it’s important the chemistry is right between you & that you feel a sense of trust in the practitioner, trust also in their knowledge, skill & expertise.

That said, it's not necessary to particularly like the person you work with, though it can help, the work you do together isn't about your relationship with them, you're not 'friends', it's about your relationship with yourself - can they help you understand yourself more deeply, in a professional & supportive manner, or not?

Does the language they use on their website, resonate with you? Do you feel like their approach offers a solution to something you are searching for? Do you feel you can be open & honest with this person?


Look Out For - feeling some nervousness is normal & to be expected when we embark on something new & when we feel uncertain, but if that nervousness tips over into something deeper, perhaps even a fight, flight or freeze reaction, then it's worth paying very close attention to.

Equally, if you're feeling overly excited & drawn to, or even sexually attracted to this person, that's also worth paying attention to as the mind has a funny way of creating difficult situations for us in this regard! If this happens then take a look at something psychologists & psychotherapists often call transference & when the work is specifically in relation to sex & sexuality then erotic transference may also be worth paying attention to. If your practitioner is a good one they'll recognise it & want to talk about it but won't push it, equally, if your practitioner is a good one they will never allow erotic transference to become a reality.


Booking Your Session or Event
Before you contact a practitioner, make sure you’ve read all the information on their website.
The amount of information a practitioner or event organiser will want to know about you in advance varies, but they should definitely look for, at a minimum, a brief outline of what you'd like to achieve or experience & why you want to see them, some will also want to know if you are currently taking any medication or are currently under the care of any medical practitioner & they may ask for the phone number of a next of kin in case of emergencies. 

If you don’t feel comfortable emailing sensitive information, most practitioners will be happy to have a short introductory phone call with you. If they are not happy to answer any questions you have then question if this is the right practitioner for you.

Once you’ve initiated contact with your practitioner of choice, how do you feel once you get a response? Do you feel reassured & in good hands, or wary & unsure? It’s OK to feel nervous & apprehensive, but if you really feel uncomfortable at this early stage, it's wise to look elsewhere.

Feel free to ask them exactly what may happen in a session or at the event, & what the boundaries are that they work within, if this is unclear to you.

A good practitioner should give you clear answers on their approach, exactly what it is they provide, how many sessions would be advisable, whether they feel you would be a good match, & if they feel they aren't a good match they should be happy to refer you to a colleague. 

Also, financial issues should be clean & clear, it should be clear how much sessions are or the event is, how payment is to be made, when & what the cancellation policy is, any blurriness in relation to the cost of sessions, or indeed talk of free sessions, is sufficient cause to look for someone else.

Be wary of anyone who makes big promises for miracle magical solutions!
If you are seeking transformational work change often takes place over a longer time & it is common for a practitioner to recommend a series of sessions over a number of months for this reason, I would be highly dubious of anything that can deliver sustainable long term change in a weekend or a week - a peak experience that feels like huge transformation, sure, but how long that 'transformation' will last & how deeply it will penetrate & percolate into the person in the long term are a different matter.


HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR SESSION & ENSURE YOU HAVE A VALUABLE EXPERIENCE

Although often we’d love for our teachers, facilitators & guides to be perfect & infallible, they're all human, every single one. It’s really important as a client, that you maintain a sense of self-responsibility, self-care & trusting your own gut instinct throughout the process of seeing a practitioner or attending an event. No good practitioner would want you to give away your power & put your total trust in them & act as if they know what's best for you, if they do then it's a clear indicator to discontinue your work with them immediately.


Preparing for a session or event
If the session or event involves hands-on touch, you’re going to want to make sure are freshly showered & you should expect the same from others. Some practitioners will have a shower available to use - check with them. You’re also going to want to make sure you have a clear head & are not under the influence of any intoxicants, a professional practitioner won't see you if you are.

You might want to spend some time prior to the session or event, tuning in to what it is you want to experience or what you are seeking guidance with, so you can communicate this clearly to the practitioner. You could write some notes & take them with you, if you find this helpful - a good practitioner will appreciate your clarity, but equally if you're not completely clear that's OK too, discovering what it is you want & need can be part of the work.

Remember though: while it can be powerful to have an intention for a session, having too many rigid ideas & attachments as to how the session is supposed to go can get in the way of how it will best go!


First Impressions
Once you arrive, how do you feel? Is the space clean, warm & comfortable, professional? Does the space reflect a sense of care & consideration for you? Do you feel like you are being treated with respect & being listened to? Is all as it was promised it would be? Make sure to speak up if not - again, you are likely investing significant time & money in the event or session so make sure all is as it was agreed to be, while also bearing in mind that sometimes unexpected things happen that are outside a practitioner or event organiser's control.


Self-empowerment
It is important that the practitioner value your thoughts & ideas & encourages you to connect to your own wisdom & intuition, rather than give you the impression they know what’s best for you. The best practitioners will encourage you to move towards greater self-empowerment not towards dependence on them.

Although working with a practitioner may involve going outside your comfort zone (as this is where the growth & transformation mostly happens) & often dealing with challenging emotions, it is important that overall you feel safe & in good hands & do not feel you are being coerced into doing something that does not feel right to you.

If something doesn’t feel right, you are perfectly entitled to say something, to take a break or indeed to stop the session or leave the room if at an event - feel free to ask about the approach, methods & techniques being used, many good practitioners will explain these beforehand which can be a great way to calm any anxiety.

If there is any kind of touch involved, this should be agreed with the practitioner in advance & should never come as a surprise nor be agreed or renegotiated during a session when emotions are heightened. If this is something that feels right to you & the practitioner is willing & competent, then touch can be re/negotiated for the next session.

Remember, you are never obligated to do anything you do not want to do, nor are you obligated to stay for the full duration of a session or event if something doesn’t feel right to you, you can pause or end a session at any time & are not obligated to give the practitioner a reason, although a good practitioner will most likely want to hear your reasons & discuss this openly with you.


After The Session Or Event
Everyone’s needs are different & there will be variance in what will feel right for different people after a session or event. It’s generally a good idea not to plan too much for afterwards, so you have time to rest & digest your experience.

Often learning or transformation takes place in ways that are beyond the comprehension of our rational, conscious minds, so allow your brain to rest, & give your self time & space to feel & allow the experience percolate through you.

Some practitioners will offer a follow up via email or 'phone call just to check-in & see how you are if the session was a one-off, if the event was a weekend or longer then some follow-up should be offered in proportion to the length & intensity of event. A good practitioner will appreciate feedback not reject it.


And so, in brief!
Have you checked out any medical issues, if appropriate?
Have you decided what type of practitioner/event best suits your needs right now?
Are you clear on what the practitioner or event is offering, their boundaries in terms of what will happen, costs, cancellation, their training & education etc?
Do you feel confident & trusting in the practitioner's education, training, skill & expertise to do what they've committed to do?
Are you comfortable with the agreements in relation to consent, boundaries, money, time etc?
Have you considered what it is you wish to achieve or experience & communicated this?
Have you prepared for your session or event & considered aftercare?


~

If you think that anything should be added or removed please mail info@bethwallace.org with suggestions.
~


Last updated 14/02/19


Beth is available to practitioners seeking one-off consultations as well as ongoing mentoring or supervision; email info@bethwallace.org to inquire. If you'd like to keep informed of Beth's workshops, seminars, retreats & other news sign up to the newsletter by clicking here.