When a client does not a have a personal partner to help them resolve inhibitions and dysfunctions in the areas of physical and emotional intimacy, I may recommend Surrogate Partner Therapy. For some, this unique form of therapy is indeed the correct, appropriate and necessary adjunct treatment. In the event that it is determined appropriate, I outline the process for the client, arrange the initial meeting between surrogate and client in my office, and provide guidance, supervision, and support for both client and surrogate partner throughout the therapy.
Surrogate partners, clients, and therapists work in a close partnership in order to help clients resolve interconnected social, emotional, psychological, and sexual concerns. In addition to talking with clients, surrogate partners engage clients in experiential learning -- structured and unstructured experiences in relaxation, communication, sensual and sexual touch, and social skills -- designed to build self-awareness, reduce performance anxiety, resolve long-standing difficulties with intimacy and sexuality. The roles of therapist and surrogate are distinct, with profoundly different boundaries. Therapists talk with clients. Surrogate partners talk and touch.
The involvement of an engaged supervising therapist is central to Surrogate Partner Therapy. Clients are generally in therapy for some time before their therapist might suggest adding a surrogate partner to the process. Clients continue to see their therapists, usually on a weekly basis, during the surrogate partner therapy process. Therapist and surrogate partner consult with each other (usually by phone), after every session. These consultations center on the client’s response to the relationship and activities with the surrogate partner, discussion of client psychology, and session planning.
Clients typically work with the surrogate partner for 6 months or longer. It is not uncommon for a client to need a year or more to recover from sexual assault or remedy long-term sexual dysfunctions. As noted on the IPSA website, most clients need 30-40 hours with the surrogate partner, in addition to months of work with their therapists prior to, during, and after the surrogate partner therapy.
The surrogate and client relationship is an extremely valuable and effective learning environment. The right combination of structured and unstructured interactions help clients develop their capacity for authenticity and adult intimacy. At some point, the therapist, surrogate, and client reach the conclusion that it is time to bring the surrogate and client relationship to a close. The process of closure is considered the final stage of the Surrogate Partner Therapy, and is not done without careful consideration and care for the feelings of all participants. Clients generally continue to see their therapists, as they generalize their learning to other relationships with friends, family, and new romantic partners.