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Why ‘Clinical Sexology’ instead of ‘Psychosexual Therapy'?

In the past few weeks, we at the Cambridge Institute in Clinical Sexology (CICS) have received feedback from our supportive friends and colleagues that the talking therapy community may not understand the term ‘Sexology’ in the same way as the medics may do. In particular, we had the impression that some therapists may not know from its terminology that our Diploma in Clinical Sexology covers relationship and couples work. As a result, we thought this is a great opportunity to write a few paragraphs clarifying our approach and why we are using the term ‘Clinical Sexology’ instead of ‘Psychosexual Therapy’ to describe our organisation and our diploma course. 

Basically, we believe the term ‘Clinical Sexology’ is more inclusive and has the potential to be more bio-psycho-social than ‘Psychosexual Therapy’ or ‘Sexual Psychotherapy’. Here, I very briefly discuss this:

The term ‘Sexology’ as the ‘science of sexuality’ was a late-19th and early-20th-century development, which gained rapid acceptance among clinicians and practitioners, predominantly in psychoanalysis and medical communities. With the expansion of the social sciences and an increasing appreciation of the important role of socio-cultural factors on constructing sexualities and sexual identities, the term sexology became mostly associated with the medical sciences and the medicalised and essentialist approaches to human sexuality. As a result, it became less popular, particularly among social scientists and clinicians working with the psychosocial aspects of sexual health and wellbeing. This way, sexology gradually gave way to two terms: ‘Sex Therapy’, mainly for talking therapists (psychotherapists, counsellors, etc.), and ‘Sexual Medicine’ for medics. Sex Therapy later developed into ‘Psychosexual Therapy’ or ‘Sexual Psychotherapy’.

So what is the problem with Psychosexual Therapy? 

Without a doubt, sexuality is one of the most (if not THE most) complex and bio-psycho-social aspects of being a human. First, it is biomedical in that genetic, hormonal, neurological, physical and physiological aspects of being a human are highly influential in regulating sex and sexualities; second, it is psychological in that the majority of psychological states (pathological or otherwise) such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, etc. influence sexual functions and dysfunctions; and third, it is socially shaped and constructed, coming in all forms of varieties and colours across geographical and historical axes.       

The highly bio-psycho-social nature of sex and sexuality necessitates a multidisciplinary approach when dealing with sexual problems in clinical settings. In fact, one of the most important reasons why many people with sexual difficulties fail to get their sexual problems resolved is because of the lack of a multidisciplinary and integrative approach. Sexual problems arise from a wide range of medical, psychological, relational and social factors. Very often, there is a complex combination of several contributing factors. When these complexities are not understood well and integratively addressed, the result is often not satisfactory or sustainable. 

Lets take the example of treating erectile dysfunction. Investigations into any underlying medical condition would be a crucial first step in addressing any erectile problems, as offering a purely psychological interpretation of the issue may lead to significant illness being missed, like heart disease or diabetes. If no contributing health problem is identified, however, and a doctor prescribes Cialis or Viagra, any improvement in erectile function will be of limited use if the client doesn’t have the skills to attain or sustain a healthy relationship. What if the client’s culture or faith precludes the use of standard behavioural treatment approaches that involve, for example, masturbation or self touch? What then? 

Although many psychosexual therapists work in integrative ways the term ‘Psychosexual Therapy’ lacks an appreciation of the biomedical aspects since it is PSYCHO-sexual therapy. Furthermore, the importance of addressing relational and couple issues is not appreciated in the terms ‘Psychosexual Therapy’ or ‘Sexual Psychotherapy’. The term ‘Sexual and Relationship Psychotherapy’ may be a better replacement, but still it does not do justice to the bio-medical aspects. 

So what are we suggesting?

At the Cambridge Institute in Clinical Sexology (CICS), we are celebrating a bio-psycho-social approach. This is not just in the way we understand human sexuality, but in the way we have tailored our curriculum. Rather distinctively from all other trainings currently available in the UK, we have incorporated comprehensive modules on sexual medicine in our programme. Also, we give our students substantial training in couple work and in dealing with relationship problems. This means our Diploma in Clinical Sexology is as close as possible to the bio-psycho-social ideal. To reflect this integrative and holistic approach, we went back to the good-old term of Sexology (to be more precise, Clinical Sexology). 

Clinical Sexology, as we see it and invite others to see it too, is an interdisciplinary branch in healthcare with bio-psycho-sociality being at its heart. As such, our graduate Clinical Sexologists will be knowledgeable to understand and take into consideration the biomedical aspects of sex and sexuality whilst working with the psychosocial and relational (couple work) aspects in their clinical practice.

For more information, please see our website http://www.cambridgeinstitute.co.uk where you can find the course brochure and application form. If you have any queries please contact us at mailto:info@cambridgeinstitute.co.uk.

Blog Post written by:
Dr Alireza Tabatabaie
CICS Course Director and Clinical Sexologist