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What Is Relationship Coaching?

Dec. 23, 2010
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I get a lot of questions from workshop attendees and customers about sexual issues within relationships. Mismatched libidos, wanting to try something new with a partner, difficulty reaching orgasm or getting there too quickly—these are all common concerns. Sometimes I can point people in the right direction with a short conversation, but often couples need to spend a significant amount of time working through these issues and ask for a referral to a professional. Usually people ask for a "sex therapist," but a sex or relationship coach is another option that is growing in popularity.

We've had several relationship coaches visit the Tool Shed this year to lead educational workshops. I asked one of our recent visitors,Dr. Ruth Neustifter, MSSW-MFT, to answer a few questions about what relationship coaching is and why someone might choose to seek it out.

LAS: What is relationship coaching?

Dr. Ruthie
: Coaching is a field dedicated to helping individuals achieve their own goals and live their best possible lives. Since I specialize in sexual well-being and relationships, I work with people who are seeking to overcome obstacles and enhance their lives in these areas. It's my job to offer education and support without judging or imposing my own goals so that my clients can enjoy the pleasure and intimacy that they truly deserve in their lives, no matter what their past experiences have been.

What's the difference between relationship coaching and sex therapy?

Dr. Ruthie
: Any licensed therapist, including a sex therapist, has taken certain training and been licensed by the state to provide mental health services. Sex therapists have extra training in mental health needs related to sexuality, and they also carry that same therapy license from the state. Coaching and education is a different field because we provide different services, and we are not licensed or certified the way a therapist is. Folks who see me are at a generally healthy and successful place in their lives, yet find themselves struggling with a sex or intimacy topic.My clients are ready to create positive change in their lives and relationships, and that change isn't related to a crisis or mental health need. Sexuality educators and coaches may be certified by a professional association, but they aren't always. Whether you're seeing a therapist, educator or coach, it's important to check into their training and approach to working with clients. General therapists may have very little training in sexual issues. Coaches may work from their own personal experiences or from a significant training background. Other details may also differ between therapists and coaches. For instance, coaches are much more likely to offer phone and online appointments (so clients come from all over), but they are unlikely to be covered by insurance. Coaches may provide more direct support and offer a more varied range of services, but they can never work with mental health needs like a therapist can.

LAS: When would you suggest that someone seek out a relationship coach?

Dr. Ruthie:
It's a good time to seek a knowledgeable and reputable sex coach when:

  • You are struggling to resolve a pleasure, intimacy or sex problem and you feel that education and unconditionally positive support would help.

  • You are looking for help creating and accomplishing your own goals in these areas, and you want a professional who believes that you should decide what goals are in your own best interests.

  • You are not seeking help for a mental health concern and you're not facing a crisis. Many coaches are happy to work on other topics with someone who is seeing a licensed therapist for their mental health needs. It is best to discuss this with your therapist first.

  • You're ready to improve or enhance your life and you prefer to gain insight into your situation by working on where you are now and where you want to go, instead of gaining insight by focusing on the past. Coaching sessions tend to be more upbeat, direct and present/future-focused.

When did coaching emerge as an alternative to therapy? Is this a new field? Is it growing rapidly?

Dr. Ruthie:
Coaching began as a field that focused on serving CEOs and other business professionals, helping them to find greater life balance and larger profits. Eventually these techniques began to catch on in other areas, and the public became very receptive to coaching. Relationship coaching has blossomed as a field in the last decade, along with other specialty areas of coaching. As a result of this growth, there are many more people both seeking and offering relationship coaching. This has been wonderful in many ways, but it also means that it is important to take the time to learn about your coach and their qualifications. Many coaches will offer a free, brief initial conversation. This is a great way to check them out and see if coaching is for you! Even if coaching, or that particular coach, is not a good match for your needs, they should still be able to recommend someone who may be a better fit. Therapists should also be available to recommend other professionals, by the way, and some will offer a brief conversation to decide whether they're a good professional fit for you.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to
laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the
Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.


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