Updated: Apr 25, 2021
Sometimes when we hear the word intimacy, the first thing that comes to mind is sex. Although that is one important aspect of intimacy, there is so much more to it. Being intimate with someone is about experiencing a level of closeness which can include a combination of mind, body and soul. It’s about feeling connected to those around you in the deepest way possible.
You can experience intimacy in various types of relationships, whether it’s romantic, platonic, or familial. If you’re struggling in this department, intimacy counseling can help.
What is Intimacy Counseling?
Most humans crave intimacy––it’s what makes us feel connected to the people around us and like an important part of a community. However, we aren’t always able to experience intimacy in ways we’d like to. This is where intimacy counseling comes in. Is it the same as couples counseling? not quite.
Intimacy counseling is a service that helps both singles and couples explore intimacy. The goal is to identify any roadblocks keeping you from experiencing the connectedness you desire and deserve. It can easily be confused with sex therapy, but they are different. Sex therapists focus on sex-related issues, but this type of counseling doesn’t have to.
Effective counseling should help you get to a place of trust, vulnerability, and commitment with yourself and others. It is a form of talk therapy that can help you find healthy solutions to intimacy challenges you have.
Different Types of Intimacy
To see whether intimacy counseling is something you need, it’s good to understand the many types of intimacy that exist. Here are a few of the most common.
Emotional: Often relates to your feelings and perceived closeness to someone. It could be anything that makes you feel a strong emotional connection such as feeling loved, seen, heard, or safe sharing your feelings.
Sexual: When you engage in sensual or sexual activities with someone.
Intellectual: The connecting of two minds through meaningful conversation, shared values, or similar interests.
Physical: Non-sexual or sexual closeness including hugs, kisses, massages, cuddling, or hand holding.
Spiritual: Respect for one another’s individual or shared beliefs, fostering one another’s personal development, and sharing a common goal or purpose.
Experiential: Connecting through shared experiences or leisure activities.
How Counseling Can Help
Of all the education we’re given, intimacy isn’t usually at the top of the list. We often receive some unhelpful examples from media, caregivers, or friends. This means we may pick up habits that can keep us from experiencing intimacy and healthy relationships.
Maybe you’re struggling to be intimate with yourself because you can’t get past feelings of shame. Or perhaps a once intimate relationship has suddenly become cold. This wouldn’t be uncommon considering research finds intimacy builds up during the incipient stages of a relationship, and then eventually becomes stagnant.
Counseling can help you both unlearn unhealthy habits and learn new ways to facilitate intimacy within your relationships and with yourself.
Why do you need a third party? Is it a good idea to share such a vulnerable part of yourself with a stranger?
Intimacy issues aren't the easiest topics to talk about. It requires respectful communication, active listening, and an open mind which you may not be able to do yet. Having a trained professional to speak with can help you gain clarity and come up with practical solutions to any challenges you’re experiencing. Whether you're looking to enhance your sexual relationship or feel closer to yourself, counseling can provide solutions. You shouldn’t have to deal with such issues alone when there’s someone who can help.
Signs You Struggle With Intimacy
If you struggle with intimacy, there are usually some telltale signs. For the most part, you may find it hard to completely trust and be vulnerable within a relationship.
Some specific signs that intimacy counseling may be good for you include:
You struggle to be vulnerable and open
You experience pain or difficulty when having sex
You’re processing sexual trauma
You’re afraid of getting too close to others
Your intimacy desires are unmet
You have questions about your gender identity or sexual orientation
You don't feel as close to your partner as you’d like
You struggle with sexual self-care
You’re having sexual issues
You're not satisfied with your sex life
You want to deepen your physical and emotional connection with self and others
you want to explore new sexual experiences but are experiencing a block
What to Look For in a Therapist
Trusting a therapist with your deepest thoughts and emotions isn’t an easy thing to do. That’s why it’s so important to think about qualities you’re looking for in a therapist before choosing one. You want someone who creates a safe space for you to share anything from sexual problems to childhood wounds.
Some questions you can ask potential therapists include:
Do you use an evidence-based approach?
How many clients have you worked with similar to me?
Do you set specific goals before and after each session?
How will I know if therapy is working?
What’s your work style?
How should I prepare for sessions?
How do you think intimacy counseling can help me?
How many sessions do you think it will take until I see tangible improvements?
Aside from asking some of these fundamental questions, go with your intuition and choose someone who makes you feel comfortable. The better you connect with your therapist, the more open you’re likely to be with them, and the more effective intimacy therapy will be.