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Saturday, October 22, 2022

Sexuality Training in Counseling Psychology: A Mixed-Methods Study of Student Perspectives

Abbott, D. M., Vargas, J. E., & Santiago, H. J. (2022).
Journal of Counseling Psychology. 
Advance online publication.


Counseling psychologists are a cogent fit to lead the movement toward a sex-positive professional psychology (Burnes et al., 2017a). Though centralizing training in human sexuality (HS; Mollen & Abbott, 2021) and sexual and reproductive health (Grzanka & Frantell, 2017) is congruent with counseling psychologists’ values, training programs rarely require or integrate comprehensive sexuality training for their students (Mollen et al., 2020). We employed a critical mixed-methods design in the interest of centering the missing voices of doctoral-level graduate students in counseling psychology in the discussion of the importance of human sexuality competence for counseling psychologists. Using focus groups to ascertain students’ perspectives on their human sexuality training (HST) in counseling psychology, responses yielded five themes: (a) HST is integral to counseling psychology training, (b) few opportunities to gain human sexuality competence, (c) inconsistent training and self-directed learning, (d) varying levels of human sexuality comfort and competence, and (e) desire for integration of HST. Survey responses suggested students were trained on the vast majority of human sexuality topics at low levels, consistent with prior studies surveying training directors in counseling psychology and at internship training sites (Abbott et al., 2021; Mollen et al., 2020). Taken together, results suggested students see HST as aligned with the social justice emphasis in counseling psychology but found their current training was inconsistent, incidental rather than intentional, and lacked depth. Recommendations, contextualized within counseling psychology values, are offered to increase opportunities for and strengthen HST in counseling psychology training programs. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Impact Statement

The present study suggests that counseling psychology graduate students perceive human sexuality training (HST) as valuable to their professional development and congruent with counseling psychology values. Findings support the integration of consistent, comprehensive, sex-positive HST in doctoral counseling psychology training programs. 


Comprehensive training in human sexuality represents a notable omission from counseling psychology training, particularly in light of the discipline’s values including emphases on diversity, social justice, and contextual, holistic perspectives. In the present study, the first to explore counseling psychology student perceptions of sexuality training, participants outlined the importance of HST to counseling psychology training, specifically, and providing psychotherapeutic services, broadly, outlined the current nature of their training, or lack thereof, and conveyed their desire for HST including recommendations for how programs may successfully implement HST in ways that benefitted students and the public they serve. Therefore, we call on faculty in counseling psychology training programs to reevaluate their commitment to developing sexuality competence among their students, invest in their own sexuality training as needed, and invoke creative strategies to make HST accessible and comprehensive in their programs.