Introducing Ashley Macklin. Ashley has been with Sex Life Therapy for a while now, so was wanted to give him a formal introduction.
Ashley has worked in community mental health, supporting those with addiction. He was interested in becoming a sex therapist before he even knew it was a thing! Through his work, Ash provides a place to vent, explore and feel understood. He works mainly with couples and men and can be booked through our Collingwood and Frankston locations.
How did you get your start in psychosexual and relationship therapy?
I was interested in becoming a sex therapist before I knew it was an actual vocation.
Growing up I knew I wanted to do something in mental health. But, I also had an incredible interest in sex and sexuality. Even if it wasn’t the sex that I was having.
I mostly thought that I was a sex-obsessed teenage boy. That’s basically what a lot of people said.
Towards the end of my undergrad, I had a Google and Dr Christopher Fox was the first result. So I just flat-out just contacted him and asked, “How do I get from where I am to where you are?”
He said come on in, we’ll have a chat. I sat down with him, we discussed different options. He finished by saying “When you’re ready for placement come back.” So I did. I went on to work at Sex Life Therapy, while I was studying a Masters of Science in Medicine specialising in Psychosexual Therapy at the University of Sydney.
Where else have you worked?
I also work in a community health organisation. I mainly treat clients for addiction. Initially, it was Gambler’s Help, before adding alcohol and drugs of addiction services.
I like to keep the community health work going because it gives me…well a sense of community. It offers me something that I guess seeing private clients doesn’t.
How have you found working at Sex Life Therapy?
I really enjoy it. To come in and talk to interesting people with such a wide diverse range of problems that they need help with. I feel a sense of pride – in working alongside specialists and that I am considered one of them.
What could I come see you for?
A range of sexual issues, including sexual health issues, relationship issues and anything outside of that honestly. As I do have a general counsellor perspective as well.
Oftentimes I see men and couples. So with men, it’s mainly around erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, delayed ejaculation and relationship issues. For couples, it’s usually addressing disconnects of communication, intimacy and overall affection.
I also see clients for alternative relationship styles – so that would include things like any form of non-monogamy, kink or fetishes.
Often the reason a client will come to see me is only the tip of a very big iceberg. With the original concern acting as the barometer for something much larger.
How do you support diverse or alternative relationship styles in your practice?
I think I’m often dealing with clients who have an interest that may lie outside of the relationship they’re in. Whether that interest is in kink or different relationship styles, such as polyamory or any form of nonbinary sexuality such as bi/pansexuality.
My approach is mainly around getting the client or clients comfortable, first with me and then also with each other. So a first session will mainly be about them venting all the stuff they’ve been holding on to. From there we work together and see where they’d like to take the therapy. An example of a direction we may go in could be building communication tools for the couples or perhaps a focus on reducing anxiety.
I often find anxiety is the source of a lot of sexual-based issues and introducing techniques can help improve their mental wellbeing and sexual well-being over time outside our sessions. I tend to find that the clients who do best will do the work outside of our sessions.
Do you check in or help track the work done outside of sessions?
There are a lot of clients who specifically ask me to keep them accountable, which can involve checking to see if they’ve used the tools and techniques discussed. I have one client who keeps a thought log. So they keep it online as a Google doc that’s shared with me. I can tune in before a session to see if they’ve filled it out.
I try to help the client in the way they need. Because not everybody responds to therapy in the same way, some need nudges in different directions.
You mention you see a lot of men, do you notice any resistance in terms of coming to therapy or talking about sex?
I have had clients who are sent to me by their girlfriends or wives because they have been basically forced. A “If you do not address this we’re over.” type of deal. Typically I would want my clients to come in long before that crisis so we can have more of a preventative approach as opposed to addressing a significant relationship breakdown. That said, not all men are resistant to therapy and I tend to find that once a client is in the room they are more than happy to talk. Often it’s just about giving them that space where they can talk without judgement. There are some clients who have had their issues for decades and have just not spoken to anyone about it for fear of judgement, shame, or embarrassment.
How do you keep the space judgement free and create a relationship with your client?
I’ve actually had feedback on this and they’ve said that the reason why they feel like they can talk to me as easily and as comfortably as they do, is because I don’t come from an authoritarian approach (my word, not theirs). They don’t see me as a self-superior academic, but more as someone who is relatable and is trying to relate back to them and they feel comfortable not thinking of it as such a clinical mindset.
Tell me what a first session with you could look like.
If it’s an individual client it is often about them sharing (or sometimes venting) and me trying to understand and validate their issues. From there I help them build skills and tools to try and address their concerns. Basically, figure out what their recovery journey could look like. I say to clients that I don’t have a one-size fits all treatment plan. I try to adjust my treatment style to the individual client themselves.
As for couples – couples can be much more challenging. You don’t just have a back-and-forth with one person. Where I’m trying to understand the issue but I’m also trying to get them to understand each other’s issues. More often than not, by the time they’ve come to me, they’re both saying – “I’m not being heard.”
The first thing with couples is helping them with communication. Couples therapy does take a lot longer, just by the sheer factor that there are at least two clients in the room. Trying to get to the bottom of their conjoined issues as well as their individual issues can be quite complex. That said I still very much enjoy seeing my couples and similarly the first session will end with me charting out what treatment could be like going forward.
In terms of your speciality is there anything you want to shout out that’s your particular area or highlight?
I think mainly because there are far fewer male practitioners in the field, almost universally the majority of the stuff I deal with is men’s issues. Whether that’s sexual performance or relationship issues, it’s mainly specialising with men. Beneath that umbrella, it’s porn or masturbation addiction. Then it’s commitment issues, non-standard sexualities and relationship styles. So often I get clients who either are interested in non-monogamy or a particular kink or fetish and they either want to understand or get more information on how to practice it in a safe way. Also, a lot of issues regarding infidelity, that’s quite a common one. – whether that’s being the cheater or cheated on. It’s not uncommon for a guy to come in and be like “yep, partner is cheating on me for x, y, z reason”.
Are there any misconceptions about sex or sex therapy that you would like to clear up?
It’s a completely natural part of living, both sex and sexual issues. Almost everyone has some kind of sex or relationship-based issue that can be talked about. You don’t have to be broken to see someone.
To finish up what do you do when you’re not in the office?
Well, I have multiple long-term partners so it’s keeping on top of my own relationships. But outside of that, I like whiskey, craft beers and hiking outdoors. Sometimes all at the same time – what can I say except it’s a good time.
Read more about Ashley Macklin here