Tips for mental health practitioners to be more sex positive and inclusive

From a jarringly conservative perspective, most of us are drawn to the stigma that is associated with sexual wellness and unfortunately, this doesn’t exclude those practising in the mental health field. Many who practise mental health care are often looked down upon or dismissed for choosing to involve themselves in a field that is yet to be accepted as a normal part of overall wellness but this World Mental Health Day 2022, it is time to be part of what a very critical conversation.

Mental health practitioners are equally, if not more, affected by the bias and stigma associated with sexual wellness and they are somehow shamed in the limelight should they choose to be open-minded about conservative values. Psychologists should be comfortable with the topic of ‘sex’ and its related terminologies since if a psychologist views it in a negative lens, every conversation with the client would be biased and judgemental.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Kanusha YK, Psychotherapist and relationship expert at Allo Health, shared, “People are in dire need of mental health care in our country, and with India being the impotence capital of the world, the need for sexual healthcare isn’t too far off. There is a huge education gap with both, my peers, and the people of our country. This enables many to either be ignorant about the association between sexual dysfunctions and mental health care or to speak up about it in a manner that can be incredibly hurtful. I would hope to see professionals take the liberty of continuing to educate themselves in their field. It should be an intended reflex to execute a norm of no judgement and bias with their patients, explore their openness towards sexual concerns of all kinds and remove personal bias from their evaluation and treatment process. Normalising conversations around sex is the first step – the rest can and will fall into place.”

Aditi Milind Moghe, Counselling Psychologist at Samiksha Sports, echoed hat sex is an integral part of the human experience and for too long it has been clouded in stigma, shame and judgement. She said, “With openness and a non-judgemental approach, sex positivity embraces the diversity of sexual expression. Sex positivity has become a framework that integrates the physical, somatic, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual aspects of sexual practice and sexual being in positive, enriching ways.”

She highlighted, “As counselling psychologists deepen their understanding of sex positivity, it is important to note that all types of relational and sexual connectedness are considered valuable, as long as there is honest communication. To make this topic inclusive the therapist should be objective enough and not view it through an emotional frame. They should be aware that sex positivity can be a form of resilience against irrational societal messages, values, and biases.”

The mental health expert suggested, “Our culture plays an important role in shaping our belief system thus the psychologist should be able to disengage themselves from their own belief system. This will help the client trust their professional and create a healthy, open, and positive environment. The various facets of the sex positivity framework can help expand clinicians comfort with sexuality related material. It will also help practitioners to integrate a thorough cultural assessment at intake as well as attend to the specific ways the client’s cultural worldviews shape attitudes and knowledge about sexual practices. We definitely need more open and honest conversations about the topic and such discussions would definitely lead to genuine acceptance.”

According to Dr Sandip Deshpande, Medical lead (Psychiatrist), being sex-positive is the need of the hour now more than ever, especially after the decriminalising of homosexuality and the banning of conversion therapies. He said, “For those that have gone through dealing with mental health conditions associated with sexual dysfunctions have, for way too long, been swept under the rug. The idea that shame takes precedence over treatment is a bit more our doing collectively than we care to admit. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding both mental and sexual health, which only worsen the stigma in our country. The constant perpetuation of false ideologies within the spectrum of sexuality brings about more harm than good.”

He advised, “Professionals need to realize that there are very real consequences to not having an open mind with their patients—these are real people with very real symptoms. While it can be challenging to continue to nudge forward in our mission to normalise conversations around mental and sexual health – there is a lot more to do and mental health professionals can choose to rally on the side of no judgement and pure empathy. I would hope to see professionals in the mental health field take a stand and incorporate the normalcy of sexual health concerns and mental health care. This is not to say it will be easy, but it is, to some extent, our responsibility to make our patients feel heard.”

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