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Member Spotlight: Constance Avery-Clark

Member Spotlight: Constance Avery-Clark

By Steph Auteri | From the May 2014 Issue

Constance Avery-Clark, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Florida, a member of the American Psychological Association, a Diplomate of Sex Therapy through AASECT, a certified Diplomate of the American Board of Sexology, and has served as President of the South Florida Society for Trauma-Based Disorders. She is currently Vice-President and Program Chair of the Center for Jungian Studies of South Florida. Despite all of this, she still finds the time to work with Linda Weiner to create scholarly papers and other educational materials on Masters and Johnson's sensate focus technique. Here, she talks about what makes her tick, and why.

1. Can you give me a quick rundown of what keeps you busiest these days?

Linda Weiner and I have become extremely occupied with clarifying what has mushroomed into this inaccurate reading of sensate focus. This is one of the activities that keeps me busiest these days! We are in the process of publishing a number of articles and a book chapter, and will be writing a book soon elucidating and expanding upon many of the original Masters and Johnsons treatment techniques. 

2. What are your main areas of interest within the sexology industry? What would you consider your special niche?

Not only is my current interest in the sexology industry communicating the potency of sensate focus, but it is also on integrating the cognitive and behavioral techniques of sex therapy with more in-depth, dynamically-oriented approaches. 

In the interest of this, I just completed a second Ph.D., this one in Jungian Studies. My dissertation was in large part on framing sex therapy in Jungian archetypal terms of maternal and feminine energies, paternal and masculine forces, and integrated "Self-Liberation" experiences. Increasingly, I plan on having my niche in the sex therapy field include this incorporation of archetypal in-depth psychology into the treatment and optimization of sex concerns and experiences.

3. What has most informed your trajectory within this field? How did you get to where you are today?

My five years training and working at Masters & Johnson Institute left an indelible imprint on the way I approach all types of clinical cases. Masters and Johnson's emphasis on the importance of addressing natural processes prior to considering more complex psychological and relationship needs remains central to my approach. The Institute's training also left me with a tremendous appreciation for addressing the larger context of the individual client, especially the intimate relationship within which the client finds him- or herself.

4. What do you feel has been your biggest contribution to the field of sexology? What do you want to be known for?

Perhaps ironically, it is not so much about the relationship context within which the client lives that I would like to be known for, but for my work with individual clients on wrestling with these relationship — and particularly sexual and intimacy — concerns. I often struggle with the question of whether individual therapy should be a prerequisite before sex therapy is undertaken. Although sex therapy is often most effectively practiced in the context of couples therapy, so often it is each individual client's expectations about the relationship in general, and sexual projections in particular, that present the greatest resistance to progress in the couple's context. 

5. What has been the most difficult or interesting or exciting project you've worked on, and why?

The most difficult/interesting/exciting project I have worked on has been the integration of the language of in-depth, Jungian psychology into the conceptualization and practice of sex therapy. 

To take the primarily cognitive-behavioral approach of Masters and Johnson's sensate focus and to draw parallels between this and the Jungian archetypal and in-depth perspective, and then to weave the two of them into sex therapy treatment that not only addresses immediate intimacy concerns but also provides individuals with a means for addressing the deeper issues that interfere with their progress using sensate focus and other sex therapy skills has been a major endeavor. It has taken me six years. In fact, there are many more similarities between short-term, intensive sex therapy and longer-term in-depth psychotherapy than most people realize. 

6. What do you like the least about the field at this point? How about what you like the most?  

My concern about the sex therapy field at this point is that it is becoming so technical. When I gave my presentation at AASECT two years ago on the similarities between sex therapy and in-depth therapy, many attendees wanted me to speak more specifically on techniques and skills. I was trying to get them to think more conceptually about the underlying assumptions of sex therapy. The larger understanding of the field is so important because it serves as the underpinnings of everything we do. To have sufficient appreciation for the assumptions we are making when treating our clients is actually our professional and ethical responsibility. 

What I like most in the field is the attempt on the part of sexologists like Peggy Kleinplatz, Bernie Apfelbaum, and others to appreciate sex therapy in a larger therapeutic context. 

7. Where do you see your career five years, or even 10 years, from now?

I hope to be publishing much more on sensate focus, the theory and assumptions underlying it, its power as much more than a cognitive-behavioral technique, and how it can be integrated into a more in-depth treatment of sexual problems. Linda and I are both focusing increasingly not only on publishing but offering  presentations and workshops on this topic. Sensate focus can be so much more meaningful and transformational than most of us still realize!

8. How has your relationship with AASECT affected your career?

AASECT has offered me two things: professional credibility, and a platform from which to present my work on the interplay of sensate focus and in-depth psychology. When I say that I am certified by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, most mental health professionals and clients ask me little else! They seem to need no more substantiation of my professional expertise. 

Most importantly, however, the workshop and presentation opportunities offered by AASECT through its meetings and conventions are invaluable opportunities for the exchange of new information and the modification of misunderstood information. It remains the central switchboard for sex therapy professionals.

9. Do you have any tips that might be of interest to educators and/or therapists?

Get as much specialized training in sex therapy as possible! But also try to come at sex therapy from some larger perspective that means something to you so that you do not become a sex technician. As creativity researcher Ruth Richards* suggests in her work on the power of relationships to heal, usually people do not respond so much to our treatment techniques as to our treating them as whole people.

*Richards, R. (2007). Relational creativity and healing potential: The power of Eastern thought in Western clinical settings. In G. Pappas, B. Smythe, & A. Baydala, (Eds.), Cultural healing and belief systems (pp. 286-308). Calgary, AB: Detselig Enterprises.

When I say that I am certified by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, most mental health professionals and clients ask me little else! They seem to need no more substantiation of my professional expertise.