WEST FARGO — Dr. Caitlin Pollestad is open to talking about sex, even though she knows it can be uncomfortable.
“I think we’re meant to be relational creatures,” Pollestad said. “I think that desire to connect is there for a lot of people.”
Pollestad practices at Knowlton, O'Neill, & Associates, 1401 13th Ave. E., an independent mental health clinic providing services to all ages.
“I want people to have access, and options, and choices,” she said.
The licensed psychologist has been practicing for three years, one of those in West Fargo. She describes herself as a “sex positive” therapist.
What does that mean?
“I’m a safe place, judgement-free, about how you express your gender, sex, sexuality,” she said. “I believe it’s an integral part of who we are.”
Pollestad is working to become certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. The AASECT certification is common in the industry, but not-so-common in North Dakota and northern Minnesota, she said. Although halfway through the process, Pollestad said she’s currently able to treat patients.
It’s an important tool for psychologists.
“I think it brings confidence,” Pollestad said, “to have this governing body that wants to ensure ethical, evidence-based practice.”
Advanced training is needed, she said, because when she earned her degree, they spent “about a minute” on sex, gender and sexuality.
“And that’s not rare,” she said.
Relationships, and how we create communication, are also a focus.
“So many of us have myths and expectations,” she said, “and inaccurate information.”
The world is driven by sex and gender, Pollestad said, but “we don’t often have healthy and appropriate conversations about it.”
Reticence about seeking sex therapy comes from something pervasive.
“Discomfort,” she said.
Many people are scared to confront sexual, gender or intimacy issues, she said, fearing judgement from family, friends and the wider community.
“A lot of people desire change, and therapy, but are scared to make that change,” she said.
It takes courage to call for help, she said, but it’s often the first step on a journey toward self-acceptance.
Part of her job is helping to define goals in an admittedly nebulous area.
“If you're looking for happiness,” she said, “if you’re looking for contentment, what does that look like? How are you going to know when you reach that, and get that, so that in our work together we have some progress markers.”
Every patient’s treatment will differ, but her ultimate goal is to help them end their suffering and become independent of therapy.
“My philosophy is: I’m trying to work myself out of a job,” Pollestad said.
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A vital factor is helping clients head in a values-based direction, she said. That can sometimes be difficult to realize when someone is scared of judgement, anxiety or failure.
“But, it’s worth experiencing if it gets us to the thing we value," she said.
Fear is a tricky thing, she said. It can cause people to shut down. Eventually, some reach out for help because they begin to place a higher value on something else.
“Sometimes their lives,” Pollestad said.