Reclaiming Sexuality for Couples with Chronic Illness

Nov 20, 2020 08:30am -
Nov 20, 2020 11:45am

Event Type: Training
Category: Training/Workshop

Speaker Information


Dr. Lee Phillips is in private practice in Arlington, VA where he treats chronic illness and sexual dysfunction. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia. he is a Certified Sex Therapist (CST) by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). Dr. Phillips has been in private practice for more than a decade, working with couples on sexuality after chronic illness. He lectures on topics including sexuality, chronic pain, preventative services, anxiety and stress management, caregiving stress, depression in the elderly, mindfulness and cognitive strategies for chronic pain, reclaiming sexuality for couples with chronic illness, ethical decision making, assessment of mental disorders, and exploring sexual communication, freedom, and pleasure for gender minorities with chronic illness, pain, and other disabilities. He has been a featured expert in The Lily Newspaper and Teen Vogue. He writes for YourTango, PsychCentral, PsychAlive, and Psychology Today. He has published in the Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, conducting a research study on LGBTQ-Affirmative Teaching at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Understanding Program Directors Views. Dr. Phillips is writing his first book, Sex & Love When You Are Sick, which helps couples overcome shame and the sexual limitations caused by illness and gives strategies to create and reclaim a sex life that works. He holds a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree in Organizational Leadership with an emphasis on Behavioral Health from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, AZ. In addition, Dr. Phillips is an adjunct professor in the Master of Social Work program at Western New Mexico University and an instructor with the Integrative Sex Therapy Institute in Washington, DC. He can be found at


Social Workers Need More Training in Difficult-to-Discuss Issues around Sexuality, Says Nov. 20 Instructor Dr. Lee Phillips 

Sexual challenges can be difficult to talk about at the best of times, so it’s important that social workers have training in sexuality—especially as it relates to chronic pain and disease, which affect more than 133 million Americans, according to NASW Metro DC instructor Melvin “Lee” Phillips, EdD, LICSW, LCSW-C, LCSW, CST.

“Individuals who are chronically ill often experience extreme emotional distress and pain, leading to an increase in depression and anxiety,” says Phillips, who is so concerned about the lack of discussion around sexual dysfunction that he is writing a book, Sex & Love When You Are Sick. “The ability to engage in occupational, social, and recreational activities can be limited and can have a devastating negative impact on one’s sex life.”

That harm is why Phillips says training social workers in sexuality as related to chronic pain is “critical” because “with a life restricted by pain and illness, sex can be a powerful source of comfort, pleasure, and intimacy.”

He delves deeper into the issue November 20 from 8:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. during his NASW Metro DC Chapter course, Reclaiming Sexuality for Couples with Chronic Illness.”  

After this course, social workers will learn that reclaiming sexuality is most often recognized as sex therapy in the context of chronic illness and pain. Social workers will learn a skill set in helping individuals and couples overcome the sexual limitations they experienced subsequent to their diagnosis and/or treatment,” Phillips says. “The interventions taught in the course will guide social workers in helping clients with sexual adjustment due to chronic illness and pain conditions.”

He notes that clients need a “safe place to talk about their conditions. One of the greatest interventions therapists can use is holding the ‘safe container’ to talk and listen to the needs and concerns of their clients.” Research also shows that if people address the anxiety, shame, depression, and anger that comes with chronic pain, they can manage their pain levels, and this can increase sexual desire.

Debunking inaccurate attitudes is another reason why therapy is important when treating chronic pain conditions, so social workers can challenge the negative and anxious thinking that comes with it, Phillips continues. Clients may believe that people with chronic pain “are not sexual” or that they should just consider themselves “lucky they are alive.”

“A satisfying sex life is one way of feeling healthy when so much of the person or couple’s life has changed due to a chronic illness and pain,” says Phillips. “Individuals and couples can learn to acknowledge loss, cope, and build a relationship with the illness…. Sexual expression is part of personal identity, and to strip sexuality of its significance or to silence it is to damage the very notion of being human.