One of the main dangers, of course, of working with sexuality is that some people – in fact, many people – will try to take advantage of you. There is a tricky line to be walked between being open about the topic – and at times the presence – of sexuality in a healing context; and engaging the client in a sexual experience. That is: a client may call me or come to me to talk about issues of sexuality, sexual identity, fetishes, or whatever, and in the course of discussion, the client might become aroused. As I’ve previously written, said arousal can be acknowledged, accepted, and some of the shame and embarrassment thereby lessened for the client. In other instances, the arousal can even be followed, through exploration of imagery and body sensation, to information about what is troubling the client. However, it also sometimes happens that a client is looking to engage a therapist or other practitioner in a fantasy scenario, and is inappropriately using the therapeutic context to do so. Naturally, avoiding this becomes more difficult when you’ve chosen to work with sexuality directly.
I’ve been lucky enough to attract many respectful and kind clients with issues around sexuality who have finally found someone to talk to, and who are on a journey of figuring out who they are and what they want through their bodies. Some, though, whether because of deep disturbance or just an inflated sense of entitlement or hostility, will attempt to engage my services but then demonstrate that they’re just out to “get off.”
This happens with especial frequency online in chat or on the phone, where, without the body language and other signals that are readily available in person, a prospective client can easily either mistake my sexual openness for a willingness to engage sexually, or take advantage of and abuse it for his own amusement or spite. It is a sad commentary on how screwed up our culture is about sex that there are people who feel the need to do this, or who are damaged enough that the slightest opening has them jumping in without discussion or consent.
Luckily, with a little practice it becomes fairly easy to recognize these types. Working intuitively within Rubenfeld Synergy for so long, I’ve grown to trust my body’s signals and can tell pretty quickly when, say, someone is masturbating on the phone, or when, in email, someone is not self-aware enough to be seeking treatment rather than thrills.
Unfortunately, working with sexuality tends to come with this side effect, and figuring out where my boundaries are and holding to them is even more critical than it might be if I chose not to work with this topic. However, in a way working this openly has an advantage, in that those who might take advantage of any therapeutic situation tend to be revealed more quickly. After all, issues of transference and counter-transference can often cause unresolved sexual tensions between therapists and clients of all kinds. Being a healer who works with sexuality means that such issues can be raised and addressed more directly, and generally more quickly.
In a future post, I will talk about boundary-setting in this type of work.