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By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
LAS CRUCES - For the only full-time sex therapist in the Las Cruces area, it’s not only about helping patients deal with transgender and sexual behavior issues, it also means treating the depression, anxiety and shame that can accompany them.
“It gets really complicated,” Andrea Dresser said. “It has a lot of challenges.”
Dresser has been practicing for more than a decade. She moved from Las Vegas, Nevada to Las Cruces with her husband in 2009, obtained an independent license and began a solo practice two years later. Dresser now employs 17 therapists at two Counseling Las Cruces locations where they treat a wide range of mental health issues.
But Dresser’s personal practice is focused on sexuality. “You’ve got to deal with sex issues,” she said.
Many of her clients are questioning their sexuality or beginning to a gender transition. Others are well along in the transgender process and require counseling to qualify for surgery, Dresser said.
She also treats couples who have “mismatched libidos,” she said, or “polyamorous lifestyles” that involve sex or loving relationships outside the marriage. That can raise issues of jealousy and insecurity, she said, and treatment sometimes involves bringing the third party into therapy sessions.
The first step for clients is to create a “map” of personal history and behaviors to determine “how they are functioning as adults and navigating their own roles” in intimate and family relationships, Dresser said. There may be a history of sexual abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, attempted suicide or suicidal ideation, insomnia, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other collateral issues, she said.
Many transgender clients are dealing with a lack of family acceptance and no support network, Dresser said. Some have body parts they don’t want, she said, but surgery is not an option because they don’t have insurance coverage to pay for it. Some are dealing with extreme poverty and even homelessness.
Many transgender people “were in an uproar” when Donald Trump was nominated for president in 2016, Dresser said. They feared losing personal rights and needed help “processing the reality of Trump becoming president,” Dresser said.
A transgender client’s “identity has always been there,” Dresser said. Her role as therapist has been to “help support who they want to be.” Sometimes, she said, her office and a client’s doctor’s office are the only his or her only safe places.
Dresser said the goal of therapy is never a “cure,” but rather higher functioning, developing coping skills and a progression toward healing and emotional wellbeing. For many patients, she said, especially those who have been the victims of physical, psychological or sexual abuse, forgiveness – of both the abuser and themselves – can be a vital part of healing.
Therapy sessions can involve skill building to help clients become more effective communicators, Dresser said, addressing personal issues like “How do I say what I need to say to my partner?”
It may include role playing, rehearsing what will be said and the empty-chair technique, during which a patient will express thoughts and feelings to another person is as if that person were present, or the patient may move back and forth between two empty chairs to both ask and answer questions that may offer insights into personal conflicts, past trauma, grief and other issues.
Dresser also uses art therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatments. She even treated one patient over the phone who was dealing with shame issues. “That was heavy,” Dresser said.
“People are here because they have a mission,” she said.
For Dresser, the move into full-time sex therapy began the day, more than a decade ago, when she was driving to graduate school (she has a master’s degree in marriage, family and child counseling) and listening to a sex therapist on Oprah Radio.
Attending a 2008 American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists conference in Arizona “just opened up a whole new world for me,” she said. Dresser spoke to a transgender man at the conference and knew she had to find out more about “all different aspects of sexuality.”
“Embrace your sexuality,” is Dresser’s general advice. “Allow yourself to feel that part of you and maximize your pleasure. Be clear on what you want and what you need (and realize that) it’s okay to ask for what you want. People feel like they don’t deserve love,” she said. “You deserve love.”
“There’s so much to this,” Dresser said about her practice. “It’s so rich. I love what I do. I feel privileged and honored to be part of someone’s innermost life.”
For more information, contact Dresser at 575-526-9878. Visit counselinglascruces.com.
Mike Cook may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.