There are a number of paths to take to become a sex therapist, a therapist who specializes in issues pertaining to human sexuality. Sex therapists can do everything from counseling couples to help them through a difficult period to helping people cope with fetishes. Many regions of the world lack formal certification for this specialty, which means that it is up to the therapist to seek out appropriate training and qualifications.
A candidate will first need to study in a program that is designed to provide licensing to work in the mental health field. A sex therapist may be a licensed psychologist, marriage and family counselor, psychiatrist, pastoral counselor, clinical social worker, or nurse. Many have master's degrees in the mental health field, and some pursue doctoral work. Post doctoral work is strongly recommended for those who want to work in the research environment.
A handful of schools offer specific courses in human sexuality that are designed for people who want to become a sex therapist. These schools use a mental health certification program as a backbone, with a heavy emphasis on sexuality. Students who do not attend these programs should plan on taking as much coursework in human sexuality as possible while they pursue their degrees so that they have extensive training in their area of interest.
After graduation, it is usually necessary to complete a set number of hours of work in a clinical setting to be certified as a therapist. For example, someone with a master's degree in clinical social work might need 2,000 hours to get a certification from the government. For people interested in sex therapy, this clinical work should take place in a setting that offers this type of treatment, under the supervision of a therapist who has agreed to act as a mentor.
As a general rule, once a person has been certified as a mental health professional by the government, it is possible to offer services as a sex therapist. Many people in this field, however, choose to belong to professional organizations, such as the American Association of Sex Counselors, Educators, and Therapists (AASECT). Membership in a professional organization helps therapists to keep up with developments in the field, and it also means that they have completed minimum educational requirements. Patients may opt to seek out a therapist who belongs to a professional organization so that they are guaranteed a basic level of experience and standard of care.