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Certification Types: Distinguishing Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists

AASECT Certified Sexuality Educators teach and train about a range of topics, including but not limited to sexual health; sexual and reproductive anatomy and physiology; family planning, contraception, and pregnancy/childbirth; sexually transmitted infections; gender identity and roles; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues; sexual function and dysfunction; sexual pleasure; sexual variation; sexuality and disability; sexuality and chronic illness; sexual development across the lifespan; sexual abuse, assault, and coercion; and sexuality across cultures. Sexuality educators may teach in the classroom at the elementary, secondary, and higher education levels. They may also provide education for groups of children, adolescents, or adults, training for professionals, and outreach and education in community-based, healthcare, corporate, and faith-based settings. Sexuality educators also may design and conduct workshops, courses, and seminars; contribute to the sexuality education literature, develop curriculum; plan and administer programs; deliver lectures and provide one-on-one client education sessions.

AASECT Certified Sexuality Counselors represent a variety of professions, ranging from medicine to the clergy. Examples of sexuality counselors are Planned Parenthood counselors, nurses and other health professionals, school counselors, and clinical pastoral care and counseling providers. Counselors assist the client to realistically resolve concerns through the introduction of problem solving techniques of communication as well as providing accurate information and relevant suggestions of specific exercises and techniques in sexual expression. Sexuality counseling is generally short term and client centered, focusing on the immediate concern or problem.

AASECT Certified Sex Therapists are licensed mental health professionals, trained to provide in-depth psychotherapy, who have specialized in treating clients with sexual issues and concerns. In the absence of available licensure, they are certified, registered, or clinical members of a national psychotherapy organization. Sex therapists work with simple sexual concerns also, but in addition, where appropriate, are prepared to provide comprehensive and intensive psychotherapy over an extended period of time in more complex cases.

Using the P-LI-SS-IT* model for Sexuality Counseling, sexuality counselors are trained to perform the initial three steps (P-LI-SS), while sex therapists can provide all four steps (P-LI-SS-IT).

The P-LI-SS-IT Model for Sexuality Counseling:
Permission (P): The practitioner creates a climate of comfort and permission for clients to discuss sexual concerns, often introducing the topic of sexuality, thereby validating sexuality as a legitimate health issue.
Limited Information (LI): The practitioner addresses specific sexual concerns and attempts to correct myths and misinformation.
Specific suggestions (SS): The practitioner compiles a sexual history or profile of the client:

  1. Defining the issues and concerns of the client.
  2. Determining the course of how the issues have evolved over time.
  3. Facilitating the client's understanding of the main issues and providing options for resolution.
  4. Assisting the client in formulating perceptions and ideas about sources of these concerns and developing realistic and appropriate goals and solution plans.

Intensive Therapy (IT): The practitioner provides specialized treatment in cases that are complicated by the coexistence of other complex life issues which may also include psychiatric diagnoses such as depression, anxiety disorders (including obsessive-compulsive disorder), personality disorders, or substance abuse, or by interpersonal or intrapersonal conflict.

Sexuality counselors are trained to identify situations that require intensive therapy and to make appropriate referrals.

(*Annon, JS (1976) Behavioral Treatment of Sexual Problems: Brief Therapy.
Harper & Row, ISBN: 0-06-140265-6)