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When asked to explain what Surrogate Partner Therapy is, I often begin with the following analogy: If physical therapy is steadily paced, concentrated work with a trained professional to regain use of an impaired body, Surrogate Partner Therapy is steadily paced, concentrated work on a mind impaired - specifically in the areas of intimacy, socialization, and sexual function.
This day and age, most people are aware of the function and purpose of emotional support animals. Likewise, a Surrogate Partner’s role in therapy is that of an emotional support human. Just as an individual once struck by a car would not only require psychoanalytical therapy to help process, but also a physical therapist to properly heal injuries sustained - a patient struck down by trauma, abuse, or disability may require more than talk-based therapy before feeling able to form healthy and intimate relationships.
Surrogate Partner Therapy is a little known and commonly misunderstood therapy that has been changing lives for over 60 years, and is readily available to almost anyone already working with a sex therapist. This can include survivors of abuse, neglect, traumatizing sexual / romantic experiences, those with atypical sexualities living in constant and conditioned shame, those caught in cycles of anxiety and arousal dysfunction not knowing which is begetting the other - there’s a wide range of individuals with unique hurdles that require ‘partnered’ exercises to help overcoming them. For those ready to face their fear, inexperience, or frustrations with intimacy, a Surrogate Partner can give the opportunity for an unique, immersion therapy-style experience.
The work, flexible to the client’s individual issues, follows a structured Three-Phase model: each phase building upon the other to create a safe space for the client to trust, learn, and feel in ways that - when applied with the work done before, in tandem, and after with a licensed therapist - can allow those who have suffered in silence for years the chance to make transformative breakthroughs.
Sensate Focus, the touch-based therapy originally developed by Masters & Johnson, is the cornerstone on which Phase One and much of Phase Two are built. Paired with a variety of breathing and relaxation techniques, Phase One works on nurturing the client and building a relationship where triggers and past traumas are safe to explore. Phase Two is where sensuality becomes emphasized, as relearning how to experience the sensation of touch is met with a reeducating of on body-image and sexual function. Phase Three is where non-demanding and controlled genital exploration can be combined with fantasy building exercises; ‘bridging’ the authentic self with the outside world, should the client be suffering from such lifelong issues as anorgasmia or rapid ejaculation. For late-in-life virgins or other clients struggling with “missed” benchmarks of socialization - ranging from romantic to hygienic - Phase Three can also include exercises revolving around kissing, bathing, role-playing, or quiet penetration.
The key to Surrogate Partner Therapy is in the triad created by therapist, surrogate, and client. Through therapy, a client can discover who their authentic self is, as a surrogate partner gives the client freedom and permission to bring out that authentic self, and help build an understand of their specific wants; including conveying back to both surrogate and therapist on progress and indications of how to move forward. This allows the client to make strides in communication within an emotional and mental landscape where the most common answer heard is, “I don’t know what I want”.
With combined efforts, Surrogate Partner Therapy can bring about life altering changes in one of the areas of life most directly related to overall well-being: The giving and receiving of affection.
Like the role of a therapist, a Surrogate Partner is both a friend and a mentor, with clear professional boundaries. The boundaries are different though, mostly because they change over time.
<—-That’s me, with the facial hair I wish I trimmed more carefully the day this photo was taken. Clearly, I’m not a therapist.
Not being a therapist also means I can make jokes.
Just as not every dog can be an emotional support animal, not every person can be a Surrogate Partner. The greatest responsibility we have is in caring for people at their most vulnerable, their most naked, gently guiding them through a slow and delicate process of self exploration. A Surrogate Partner needs to be someone the most timid of people can feel at ease around, someone whom even the most wounded individuals can learn to trust. That’s me.
I feel like I was born to do this in a lot of ways, which is way more Lifetime Movie than I prefer, but Surrogate Partners are people with an innate capacity for giving and receiving intimacy. The reason I do this is because I believe in it, and because it offers a rare chance to help people learn how to connect in this harsh and unforgiving world.
Many choose disconnection as a permanent solution, putting up a maze of walls and barriers that make intimacy seem impossible. I’m not the type to attack and chip away at barriers; I just hug walls until they melt (imagine the walls are made of ice for that metaphor to work).
Most of the job is just showing up and being there, and that is truly the core of what I have to offer: Another openly flawed, graciously human, incomplete-but-trying individual who can just breathe - and be - with another person, and hopefully teach them to do the same.
If you are interested in learning more about Surrogate Partner Therapy, and how to set up a meeting with me, please contact the International Professional Surrogates Association (IPSA) at http://surrogatetherapy.org