Ever wonder about your clients’ sexual health status? They may bring up sexual issues with you and depending on whether you are qualified to discuss this with them, (see my previous blog post on the topic) you may go ahead and discuss these with them. By the way, sexual health is much more than freedom from an STI. It has to do with 6 sexual health principles that have been distilled by Douglas Braun Harvey and Michael Vigorito from WHO documents over the years.
What A Sexual Health Conversation Doesn’t Look Like
What it isn’t is preaching or moralizing, like the old Madonna song ‘Papa Don’t Preach,’ you don’t have a conversation about sexual health by giving clients a lot of rules and regulations. The idea is to have a conversation, and not a monologue. To get clients to open up more, you have to make sure you don’t shut them down.
Here are my keys to having sexual health conversations with clients go well:
It Starts With Suspending Judgments
You are going to have judgments about your clients’ sexual health issues. You just are. They key is to avoid letting them out like I just mentioned. What you can do with them is to suspend them. Just like putting clothes out to dry on a clothesline, you can suspend your judgments to they don’t taint the conversation with the client.
Focusing on Details is Important
Often clients will talk about sexual behaviors and issues they are having. They may tend to brush over things or use vague references. While noting these references, it is important to seek clarification to make sure you understand them. For example, if a client says “We just did it,” you can ask what they mean by the term ‘did it.’ This allows the client to open up more, as well as sure you are understanding exactly what they’re talking about. Then as they open up more, the details of what their situation is can emerge. Douglas Braun Harvey talks about how the emotions live in the details, so this provides a good opportunity to help your clients identify their feelings and emotions in relation to their sexual health situation.
Focusing on Principles is Also Important
The 6 sexual health principles have been distilled from the WHO by Douglas Braun Harvey and Michael Vigorito and consist of shared values, non-exploitation, protection from STI’s, honesty, consent, and mutual pleasure. Keeping these in mind as you talk to your clients about sexual health is very important. When you have the opportunity you can then educate them about these principles by working them into the conversation in a natural way that helps them be better able to reflect on their behavior in light of these principles. This is not meant to be done in a heavy-handed way, but gently and in a manner that helps your client to feel they can make choices based on these.
So those are my keys to having successful sexual health conversations with clients. For more good information on talking about sex with clients, I suggest you also check out Joe Sanok’s interview with Stefani Threadgill. You simply can’t have too much training or expertise in the area of sexuality. It’s an ever-growing field and so much that clients suffer from has some sexual component to it, and the more you can help them discuss their sexual problems and concerns the more you can help them become whole and complete individuals.
Scott Kampschaefer, LCSW is a private practice therapist in Austin, Texas. He has an extensive background in working with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder at a clinic for older adults with these disorders in Austin. He now works with adults and adolescents of all ages in private practice.