It’s my pleasure to welcome Sarah Berry, good friend, sex and relationship therapist and all around fabulous person, to A Hopeful Romantic to talk about her work with us.
KD: Sarah, when you and I first met, you were the editor of Forum Magazine, and you were also a very talented writer in your own right. During the time I’ve know you, you founded the Fannying Around Women’s Group and always had an understanding of what was lacking in the area of women’s sexual health and the information and sources of information that are available. Becoming a sex and relationship therapist was the logical next step for you. What was the biggest change for you?
SB: Thanks KD. I think learning to be myself was a challenge. As a journalist at events I had to be larger than life as I was competing with a lot of other journalists to get the column inches. That said, when I was interviewing people on a one to one basis, I was much happier and relaxed.
When I started training some years ago, I thought therapists had to be this blank canvas with no discernable personality. I stopped wearing colourful clothes and tried to be very serious. But I realised that being human was very important to the process and that the way I was in my journalist interviews was more the person I should be as a therapist, things fell into place.
Now I am a professional version of myself, which means I am not trying to be something I am not, so I can concentrate fully on the client. Rather than being stuffy, disconnected and serious, I am warm, empathetic and down to earth. The relationship I build with the client is a huge part of the process in person centred therapy, as is being genuine, congruent and transparent.
KD: Sarah, you recently said to me, and I quote, ‘I actually think while some (people who lead alternative lifestyles) are having the life of Riley others are confused while others assume all therapists wouldn’t understand alt lifestyles (and I hate the word alt like I hate the word vanilla).’ Could you comment on this statement and tell us how that has affected the direction your career as a sex and relationship therapist will take.
SB: The media is quick to sensationalise kinksters, assume they are all survivors of abuse or fear they are all wannabe criminals. So the kinksters defend themselves by pointing out how the BDSM scene is very well policed and their mantra of being safe, sane and consensual. So there is a “them and us” type situation.
The reality is some people have a great time, some are working out what they want, some are new to the scene, some are veterans, some are still learning, some spend their time spouting dogma about the “right way” to do things… You don’t need to label yourself as a kinkster to enjoy a spot of spanking, and you don’t have to relish pain in order to be kinky. Some kinksters have been abused and successfully use kink to work through their pain while others can harm themselves by reliving the trauma. It is complicated; things can go wrong and things can go right. I will be blogging about being kinky on my new website http://www.LondonKinkTherapist.co.uk.
Because of this difficult backdrop I try to listen to my clients and not make assumptions about what they do or how they think. Just because someone is into BDSM (which stands for bondage, discipline, dominance, submission and sadomasochism) it does not mean this is the cause of their problem. Sometimes people do use kink to harm themselves but it doesn’t mean they must eschew all kinky practices in order to have a healthy sex life. Each person, couple or group I see is different and we work out what they want and need together then we work out how to help them get there.
KD: Sarah, I know a little more about the journey that led you down the path to therapist than most people do, and it’s an amazing journey. Would you share some of it with our readers please.
SB: I think you’re meaning that I have overcome my own psychosexual issues. My struggle with vaginismus inspired me to start Fannying Around. But even though I have overcome it, I think sex is a journey for everyone – whether you choose to have it, can’t have it, are alone, have a permanent partner or enjoy a variety of partners at a time. I am always learning and open to new thoughts and ideas. If I wasn’t I think I would be a rather jaded therapist.
KD: Are there future plans for Fannying Around?
SB: I do really want to bring Fannying Around back. It was a wonderful forum and I learned a lot from the members. I will be sure to let you know.
KD: What was most difficult about your transition from editor/journo to sex and relationship therapist?
SB: I think it has actually gone pretty smoothly. I always cared about what I wrote and I had the luxury of writing for the people that I was covering – rather than being sensational. Now I am even more mindful of being inclusive of sexualities, genders and preferences which can be a bit tricky when giving quotes to heteronormative places that want you to fit into their neat way of thinking.
SB: I think people assume you need to be experiencing real tragedy or be really “fucked up” in order to see a therapist. But everyone has stuff, and at different times this can affect our relationships, work and social lives more than others. To be in therapy doesn’t mean you are a victim. In fact I have a great respect for anyone who walks into my office.
Therapy can help you unpick a problem, work out solutions, help you improve communicating – especially if your arguments always follow the same pattern and neither one of you feels heard – or deal with unresolved issues or grief from the past.
Some people fear seeing a therapist will open a can of worms, maybe if they have experienced grief or do not want to disrupt a currently amicable relationship with a family member. But it is possible to deal with any disruption from past events by looking at what is happening in the here and now. If you do not want to relive the past you do not have to. You are in control at all times.
KD: Could you talk a little bit about ‘what’s normal’ from the standpoint of a therapist? I know this is something that is always a hot topic, and more than likely one of the main reasons people seek you out.
SB: I’m always hearing statements like: “I just want to be normal,” “I want a normal relationship,” “Our sex life isn’t normal. But the idea that there is a normal is massive misconception. Everyone is different. We all have different ideas of what good sex is or what we want from a relationship – if we want one at all. And what this idea of normal does is alienate anyone who feels they are normal; it creates freaks out of anyone who feels they don’t want a lot of sex, or who maybe has a fetish or who doesn’t want to be married. A “problem” is only a problem if it impedes your own sense of what you want, disrupts your work, social life or relationships and/or if you are causing harm to others. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to completely change yourself to fit in with the norm. It could be that you can find a new way to express yourself. Life would be boring if we were all the same, fancied the same people or had the same desires.
KD: What does the future hold for Sarah Berry, sex and relationship therapist?
SB: Well I will continue with my private practise and carry on learning about the world of sex and relationships. I would also like to do more group therapy and more writing.
KD: How can people get in touch with you?
SB: You can contact me through my website sarahberrytherapy.co.uk, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07581 231313.