Posted by Matt Valentine-Chase Counsellor 180 Days Ago
‘I’ve seen EIGHT therapists before you! You’ve got my situation in five minutes, they didn’t get it in months or years’ is a common response whenever I start working with sex workers. I’m a therapist. People come to see me for many reasons, it could be anxiety, depression, mid-life crises or career development. Some clients just want to stay on top of their mental health. The last thing they need when they are feeling like shit is to be judged for the job that they do.
Why is sex work a stigmatised profession? That I don’t know. I don’t know, in that I just can’t get my head around why so many therapists ‘pathologize’ the job their clients work in. Pathologizing is a big issue and dangerous road that means the therapist automatically assumes that sex work is:
· Inherently harmful
· Illegal (it isn't in most UK countries)
· Forced or coerced
· Not a choice
· Related to poor mental health
It is related to poor mental health. Here’s the thing – so is being LGBTQAI. Most therapists, medical practitioners, support workers, the list goes on… assume that any sex worker experiencing mental health challenges is experiencing this because they are a sex worker.
No: they are experiencing this, and are more likely to experience this than non sex workers, because of the stigma of the job.
They are more likely to experience mental health problems, as are LGBTQAI people, because of prejudice, judgement, stigma and increased risk of violence.
Therapists are not likely to say to an LGBTQAI client ‘stop being LGBTQAI and your mental health will improve’. Yet they are highly likely to tell a sex worker to ‘exit’ the industry to improve their mental health.
This is whorephobia and what it does is trigger and amplify the feelings of shame that are often projected onto the sex worker. This then becomes internalised. This ‘internalised whorephobia’ is very similar to internalised homophobia – where we take on board external prejudice and internalise it. This results in self-hatred, self-judgement and often confusion. There is a discourse between our true sense of self, say, for example, our enjoyment of the job in the sex business, and the external shaming. Often clients have forgotten who they are. They are blinded by the fog of society’s attitude towards an industry it little understands.
I have worked with sex workers therapeutically for over nineteen years. As such I often receive emails from therapists in training and sometimes fully qualified and experienced therapists asking me: ‘how do you target your services to sex workers?’ ‘I have been seeing a client who sex works, I would like to see more, how do you build a sex working client base?’
My response is often silent. My internal response is this:
You’re asking the wrong question.
A desire to help is the beginning of any helping relationship. So, the question should be: ‘how can I help you?’ Many years ago, a boyfriend of mine began seeing a rape counsellor. The counsellor worked for a major sexual assault department in a large hospital that mainly saw female survivors of sexual assault. He came home from his first session full of emotion. He said ‘wow, she was amazing, she said at the start: ‘now I want to be honest with you, I’ve never worked with a male survivor before and I haven’t worked with gay people, nor do I know any gay people, so I really want to be here for you, how can I help you?’ His emotion came from her congruence. It also came from her genuine desire to help him. It really is that simple and powerful.
Let’s look at that in a sex work context – sex workers are human beings. Often sex workers are doing a job that feels natural for them. Sometimes they are doing a job purely for the money. Some sex workers start the job enjoying it and end up hating it, or vice versa.
Remind you of any other occupations?
All of them.
This is very important. To value the sex industry and the people working in it – we need to make a simple comparison to mainstream occupations. This is so instrumental in reducing the stigma. Did you know that the more stigmatised the occupation the higher the violence is against the people who work in it? Did you know that this applies to industries you may not have associated this with? Such as working in front line services and fast food outlets? The less an individual is valued – the more likely they will experience violence. Think about bullying in schools – often it is the gay kids, the trans kids, the kids who wear glasses, who are bullied – stigmatised.
So this is why I ask – Sex Work – A Valued Profession?
For when we value an industry, by listening to those who work in it, we value the individual. When we value the individual, we understand more and value the industry they work in.
The two cannot be separated and nor should they be.
Therapists are human beings, we feel, we bleed, we get sick, we love and we die. I ask all therapists reading this and all sex workers seeking therapy – honour your humanness, know that we are all the same as human beings. Then find that common ground.
Sex workers – it is not your job to ‘make’ your therapist understand you. If they can’t or won’t – move along and find a therapist who can.
If they start with ‘how can I help?’ that’s a good sign. If they own their not-knowing and are genuinely listening to you, I hope that you get that same rush of emotion my boyfriend had – being seen is a powerful healer.
Matt Valentine-Chase is a therapist and sex coach. He can be found at www.sexcoaching.london.
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