LIFE&LOVEEXPERT ADVICE see original article here
Exclusive interview with Singapore-based sex therapist Tammy Fontana
TARANDIP KAUR THURSDAY, MAY 14, 2015
Sex therapy can often be seen negatively and that is precisely the concept that Tammy Fontana, a certified Mental Health Counsellor seeks to resolve.
Typically, the notion of ‘therapy’ tends to bear certain negative connotations, implying that certain aspects of your life have ‘broken down’ and needs ‘fixing’. Which is why, Tammy Fontana, who is a certified Mental Health Counsellor finds the term ‘therapy’ and ‘sex therapy’ problematic for her far more in depth field of work.
By seeing sex as an ingredient to a healthy and happy relationship, Tammy tends to focus on an individual being able to feel sexual rather than throwing out advice on how to do sex. In essence, she believes in the brain being the largest sex organ, one which controls how the act itself would make you feel.
To say we were intrigued is an understatement. Hence, we spoke to Singapore-based Tammy Fontana, to learn more about common misconceptions with the term ‘sex therapy’, her approaches to the topic in Singapore and how her sessions can help people in their relationships.
MARIE FRANCE ASIA: HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN THIS FIELD OR DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO BECOME A SEX THERAPIST?
Tammy Fontana: For me it is really important to clarify what I am and my training, first and foremost I am a Mental Health Counsellor with my Master of Science in Mental Health (see my profile here). Hence my focus is on mental health. My primary theoretical orientation is systemic or focused on relationships. As humans, we are very people driven and need people in our lives to be happy and to function well. When the most important relationships in our lives are not going well, this causes people great distress. I focused my areas of training around things that affect relationships, this includes trauma, attachment and sexuality.
In dealing with people and their relationships, you cannot do this without a deep clinical training and understanding in sex, sexuality and eroticism, both the healthy and unhealthy. To say I’m a sex therapist minimizes the depth and breadth of how I can help my clients. Too often therapists do one or the other, they either are a sex therapist or a relationship/ marriage counsellor. I am both. I am able to help people with all aspects of their lives. You cannot look at sex without looking at the relationship between the 2 people intending to have sex together.
MFA: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PRACTICING IN SINGAPORE AND IN THE US?
T.F.: Not a lot really. The US is a deeply multicultural, multi-racial and multi-religious country. People are really more the same than different. The biggest difference is that mental health counselling is more understood and better accepted, but mental health still has a stigma but not as severely as it does here in Singapore.
MFA: WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF BEING A SEX THERAPIST IN SINGAPORE?
T.F.: Again, I think it is labelling people, including a therapist… like we can only do one thing. Often we are more like a GP, a doctor doesn’t say ‘oops I can’t talk to you about your stomach I only do the head area’ – so labelling is a challenge because people really have no way of knowing what they need or how to select someone. In the US it is more standardized, everyone with a Master’s degree is a mental health counsellor doesn’t matter if that degree is psychology, mental health or social work. Only at the PhD level are people called Psychologists in the US. So here I think it is harder for clients to understand what someone does and the significance of their training.
I am a mental health counsellor who specializes in all aspects of people’s relationship. When you label someone a sex therapist, people focus on the word “Sex” and they think it is very tawdry and think it is all about the DOING of sex…which is far from what I actually do.
To quote Dr. Marty Klein, A US licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Sex Therapist, he says “ A sex therapist is someone who doesn’t get hung up on sex”. So the biggest challenge is people want to oversimplify sex and disconnect it from the context of their lives and specifically from their relationship. Sex problems are rarely ever about sex, except for when they are…sex problems are about power and control issues in other parts of the relationships that pop out in the bedroom. But people and therapist without clinical training, get distracted by the sex.
MFA: FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE, DO YOU THINK SEX IS STILL CONSIDERED A TABOO TOPIC IN SINGAPORE?
T.F.: I think Sex is a taboo in most parts of the world. It just depends how they taboo it and manage. Sex scares people, it originates from our limbic system, which is the oldest most animal part of brain. Because sex is misunderstood and sexuality scares people, they seek to control what scares them. Hence part of that fear is that people don’t want to talk about or get educated and so myths and fear drive conversations. This leads to unhelpful conversations about normal and abnormal etc.
MFA: WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON ISSUE THAT PEOPLE COME TO YOU FOR?
T.F.: People often come to me focusing on the symptom of their problem rather than the actual problem. The most common problem people think they have is a communication problem, this is a symptom, not the problem. Often the real problem they have is one who is in control of the relationship and who gets to determine ‘what is RIGHT’. Most people don’t agree what is ‘right’.
MFA: WHEN SHOULD PEOPLE SEEK THE HELP OF SEX THERAPIST?
T.F.: I want to answer as a mental health counsellor, not a sex therapist, if people wait until they have a ‘sex problem’ they have waited too long. It is always surprising how people will tell me how horrible the other aspects of their lives are and then they are surprised they are not having sex. If you relationship is not good, your sex won’t be good. Seeking help earlier if you keep having the same repetitive fights over and over is a good time to seek help. The earlier you seek help, the less sessions you need and the better the outcome. If you are afraid of sex or you are married and haven’t had sex, waiting longer is not going to help. Seeking help earlier rather than later is always a good idea.
MFA: WHAT CAN A COUPLE OR AN INDIVIDUAL EXPECT ON THEIR FIRST VISIT?
It is so individual that I can’t really say. But there are several things that need to be accomplished in the first session. Both the client and I need to get to know each other. I need context for who they are as individual and as a couple. I need to orient them to the technology and process and counselling. I need to find out what they think they are struggling and further explore. More important than what they think the problem is… I need to know what they want so that they would no longer need to see me. It’s most important to find out what people want, make sure it’s realistic, good for them and that they are willing to do the work they need to get it.
MFA: WHAT IS THE ONE STIGMA AROUND SEX OR SEX THERAPY THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO ERADICATE IN SINGAPORE?
T.F.: Stop calling it sex therapy. It is not sex therapy it is relationship therapy that includes sex, because it’s part of the relationship. Sex therapy makes it sound like I only care about people genitals. But I’m interested in the people and relationship attached to those genitals and how they relate, solve problems and get along.
The other is that therapy is for giving advice. People want to come to me, almost like a fortune teller and tell me their problem and I tell them what to do. This is not what counselling is. Counselling helps people to examine what they want, helps them explore the behaviors and choices and they are choosing to get what they want and see if it working and if what they want is realistic. It helps them see how their behaviour is affecting those around them and helps them see if they want to choose different. Often the client has their own solution, we help them find it. If they can’t, we help them find alternatives or teach them skills they need to get what they want.
MFA: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE APPREHENSIVE ABOUT THERAPY?
T.F.: I encourage people to educate themselves about the process and focus on what they want if their problem didn’t exist. Too often people focus on the problem (which is often just a symptom) and not on what they want. Focus on what you want.
Tarandip Kaur and Rana Wehbe
Tammy Fontana is a Singapore-based certified Mental Health Counsellor with All in the Family Counselling. For more information, click here.