Update: I wrote an addendum to this post, which can be found here.
Generally speaking, I like to consider myself more open minded than your average bear. I am also not opposed to the notion that not all people respond well to traditional therapeutic methods, and can find healing by other means. And then I read articles about stuff like this… The service in question is called Naked Therapy.
According to the Vice article, Sarah, founder and practitioner of naked therapy, takes an unorthodox view of the therapeutic process:
Her approach places an emphasis on the benefits of arousal, a state which she argues allows one “to heal, to discover, to learn, [and] to become aware of things [one] cannot otherwise become aware of, for this state is as unique in the human mind as is the unconscious state of dreaming.”
Sarah is not a licensed clinician, though she does seem to have some of the therapy lingo down, as evidenced by the first sentence of her about page. She got her BA in biology, and decided to try her hand and becoming a helping professional. She touts the many benefits of naked therapy on her website, making many parallels to the “traditional” and more boring constructs of fully clothed therapy.
But nakedness provides every patient with the possibility of letting go of restrictions and inhibitions and also instantly establishes a communicative, intimate, and trusting relationship between the therapist and patient. Instead of the cold, objective, impersonal demeanor of some traditional therapists, the client encounters me, just as I am and with nothing to hide, and as a result he feels less inhibited around me, and by being turned on he’s able to discover things he might not with a clothed therapist.
Ummm. Freud, your slip is showing.
I want to give this lady the benefit of the doubt, so I am going to assume that she entered into her work with the genuine intention of helping her clients find healing. I’m sure some percentage of her clients find her services therapeutic. I know enough sex workers to understand that actively engaging someone’s sexuality can provide acceptance and healing in the right context. In that light, sex work has its merits and is unduly (in my opinion) stigmatized in our culture. But my sex worker friends don’t go around calling themselves therapists… Unless, of course, they proceed to go to graduate school, become licensed and so forth. Otherwise, they operate under a completely different set of standard than do licensed therapists.
To be completely honest, if she did not advertise herself as a therapist or use the word “therapy,” I don’t think I’d find her work quite so objectionable. If she dispensed with the therapeutic terminology altogether, I could see how a legitimate argument could be made about the merits of her work. If you want to get men off and maybe help them find themselves in the process, great! Just. Don’t. Call. It. Therapy. Reading Sarah’s website, I get the distinct impression that she knows just enough about psychology to be dangerous. She may have read a book or two on Freud, but that doth not a therapist make.
Setting aside all of the advances made in the field of psychotherapy and sex therapy since Freudian psychoanalysis, this lady clearly has no concept of the stringent code of ethics we are expected to follow. scratch that. According to her FAQ, she is aware that she does not adhere to ethical standards of practice.
Q: What are your credentials?
First off, I am not a licensed psycho-therapist. In fact, I can’t be licensed because my techniques are considered unethical by state licensure boards. However, I have studied psychology, human sexuality, and social biology, and I have helped hundreds of people, many of whom say that Naked Therapy has made a huge difference in their lives. Further, I consider myself highly skilled at talking, listening, and counseling while also being arousing 🙂
In my mind, that makes her work all the less palatable.
As I am a Social Worker by training, I will refer to NASW‘s code of ethics. Subsection a of 1.09 lays this out pretty clearly: Social workers should under no circumstances engage in sexual activities or sexual contact with current clients, whether such contact is consensual or forced.
This is not an arbitrary rule made by some kill joy social work type. This boundary exists to protect not just us, but our clients. There is an inherent power dynamic in a therapeutic relationship. My clients tell me intimate secrets that they would never otherwise disclose. They show courage and vulnerability just by setting foot in my office. To then add a further layer of physical and emotional vulnerability by sexualizing the therapeutic space has the potential of causing real damage to both client and therapist.
A dear friend Dan Alamore, who is a phenomenal relationship coach, perfectly articulated the many levels that “Naked Therapy” is beyond not ok. He says of the Vice reporter’s experience:
That openness he felt, that he called arousal, is actually vulnerability due to arousal, not cognitive or emotional “openness”. She may as well have drugged him as the hormones generated from his arousal were simply doing that. Those hormones are like truth serum. Totally unethical and emotionally/cognitively confusing. And a relatively dangerous practice in the end.
So, what have we learned today, boys and girls?
If you are not a licensed clinician, but want to get paid to help people, proceed with extreme caution. Research ethical practices, do not assume to know more than you do, do not abuse therapy jargon, and for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, DO NOT call yourself a therapist. If you claim to a therapist, you are also making the lives of real sex therapists with actual training more difficult. Either clients will see us expecting a peep show, or they will be afraid to seek us out because they were traumatized by past work with unethical practitioners.
If you are seeking help for issues related to sex, sexuality, or arousal, do your homework. Make sure you are working with a legitimate professional. There are organizations out there such as AASECT and SSTAR, which have legit referral networks.
If nudity or masturbation is allowed during sessions, that usually does not bode well. As Lorae points out, there are excellent sexological body workers out there who do coaching on masturbation among other such things. Their work is not to be shafted or trivialized. Someone claiming to be a therapist, however, should never ask you to get naked during session. If you choose a less traditional route, or one that directly involves nudity and/or genital stimulation, make sure you go into that exchange fully informed about the potential benefits and perils of going that route. And do your homework. I can’t repeat that enough.
Here endeth the rant.