A team of Jewish sex therapists has started a center where they hope to treat patients and train new therapists in their specialty.
Drs. Robert Schwartz, a principal partner in the practice, and Shirley Kurtz, an associate, said there is a growing need for certified sex therapists in Pittsburgh, specifically with couples dealing with marital issues and others addicted to adult sites on the Internet.
But the two therapists say they run their practice in ways they see as consistent with their Jewish values.
The Kurtz Center for Love & Intimacy, based in Oakland and Wexford, is named for Kurtz, who has been in practice with Schwartz for 15 years and was one of the first therapists in Pittsburgh to be certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (ASSECT).
Schwartz called Kurtz “the grand dame of sex therapy in Pittsburgh.”
Another principal in the practice, Lawrence Glanz, also praised Kurtz. “Her insightfulness and good nature have had a profound impact on those of us who have the pleasure of working with her,” he said in a prepared statement.
Kurtz, a University of Pittsburgh graduate who studied under sex therapy pioneers William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, said she was surprised by the honor.
“I’ve been in practice for so many years,” she said. “It just surprises me there’s going to be all this recognition.”
The Center is part of a larger practice, Cognitive Dynamic Therapy Associates. To his knowledge, the practice has more ASSECT-certified sex therapists than any psychology practice in the United States, Schwartz said. Of its 11 therapists, four are certified sex therapists and two are in training.
In addition to seeing clients and training therapists, the center therapists will also hold workshops on issues related to intimacy, Schwartz and Kurtz said. And some therapists, including Schwartz, will work as sex coaches, a more goal-oriented treatment than therapy, intended to improve an aspect of a couple’s intimate relationship.
“I’ve worked with some couples in this capacity,” Schwartz said, “and found it to be some of the most successful work I have done.”
Sex therapy is hardly a new role for Jewish psychologists.
One of the most famous sex therapists is Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Sorbonne-trained psychologist who has become a celebrity sex therapist for years, appearing on countless talk shows and parodied on “Saturday Night Live.” She was also a member of the Haganah and was wounded in Israel’s war for independence.
And in Los Angeles, Doreen Seidler-Feller, a sex therapist and wife of an Orthodox rabbi, has made headlines catering to Orthodox Jews, dealing with issues unique to them, such as how religious texts inform sexual behavior.
While Schwartz and Kurtz say they don’t normally treat Orthodox Jews, both say their religious values inform the way they practice their profession.
Schwartz in particular, an Orthodox Jew, has sometimes consulted rabbis on whether he can, or should, take on certain patients whose values may not be consistent with his. He recalled one case in particular involving a young Jewish couple — not married — and sexually involved.
“Because Orthodoxy does influence every aspect of my life … I inquired [with a rabbi] about that, if there would be a conflict,” Schwartz said. “The rabbi’s response was that it would not be a problem; the [couple] is not coming to you for ethical advice or personal opinion [they are] coming to you for a problem in life that is a technical issue. Therefore, it was acceptable to work with them in that regard.”
The challenge, he said, is not to impose his values on a couple who may or may not share them, to keep them as separate as professionally possible from his work as a therapist.
“You separate out as much as possible, as a therapist, what your values are as opposed to therapeutics,” he said.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)