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A Day on the Job: Couples on a couch: A therapist's story

A certified clinical sexologist and family therapist says the frequency of sex is often an issue.

By JOHN REINAN
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 18, 2002


CAROLYN KUBIAK, Ph.D., 60

  • Licensed marriage and family therapist
  • Certified clinical sexologist
  • St. Petersburg

How long have you been doing this work?

This is my fifth year in private practice in St. Petersburg. I am retired from the California state university system, where I was a faculty member and administrator.

How did you get into counseling?

At the time I started working, women were rather limited; it was either teaching or nursing. I became a schoolteacher. I decided to go for my master's, and counseling seemed to be a natural. At that time, most of the counselors came from the ranks of physical education or home economics. I decided to buck all those P.E. coaches and get into counseling.

You specialize in couples counseling. What are the most common reasons couples come to see you?

Typically, the most common reasons couples seek therapy are communication problems, problems with intimacy and problems with finance.

Does intimacy include sex?

Of course.

What are the typical sexual problems in a relationship?

The typical sexual problem is a frequency issue. That is a very common issue for all couples.

Is it usually the man who's more interested in sex?

Have you seen the Woody Allen movie, where the man and woman are both seeing their therapists, and you see them both on the split screen? And the man is saying, "It's terrible, we hardly ever have sex." And the woman is saying, "It's terrible, we have sex all the time." Men are genetically predisposed to wanting more sexual activity.

Do you have a pretty good success rate in helping the couples who see you?

It's interesting. Research shows that it takes almost six years after a couple recognizes they have a problem for them to seek therapy. Once they do seek therapy, they've probably increased their odds of success by 70 percent.

After listening to people's problems all day, don't you get depressed yourself?

People in the helping professions all face what's called "compassion fatigue." It's an ongoing process to combat it.

What do you do?

I walk around Coffee Pot. I get my sleep, relax and try to take good care of myself. And I go off and see my grandsons as often as possible.

Are you married?

I've been divorced for 30 years. There's hardly anything that comes through this door that I don't have personal understanding of.

What's your favorite thing about this job?

Every day, I see the power of love and commitment. Now, it may be that it's buried. But I'm always impressed by the strength of commitment my couples have to work things out with each other. The attachment bond is a beautiful thing.

What's your least favorite thing?

The hardest part of what I do is that there are times when one partner decides to terminate the relationship. And I'm thinking, "If we could just work on it a little more." When I go home at night, quite frankly, I say a prayer for all my clients, and I hope that at least they have learned something that will help them.

There's a lot of pop psychology out there today: self-help books, Dr. Phil and so forth. Do you think these things are helpful?

I think that what pop psychology has done for us is make psychology more user-friendly. Most of my couples have already had some exposure to a self-help book. I see them as a tool that helps open the door.

Do you think there's less of a stigma attached to therapy than there used to be?

The stigma is still there, although it's not as horrific as it used to be. But people are often reluctant to admit they're seeing a therapist.

What kind of money do you make?

Well, I charge $85 an hour, and on average right now I see 15 to 17 clients a week. My income is growing nicely, but it takes a while, because I don't take insurance. And it's taken me five years to get to those 15 clients a week. It's a slow process.

Do you have any rules for happy couplehood?

Most couples have problems in conflict regulation. Realize that if your problems with your partner are highly volatile, you need to get help. But despite the problems, if you can still say "I love my partner," then that relationship is worth working on.

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