New York has long had the Naked Cowboy (who actually wears tighty-whities, but who are we to quibble about undies?), and any number of avant-garde, off-Broadway theater performances that feature young actors in the all-together. Now New Yorkers can have their therapy sans-clothes, too.
24-year-old Sarah White, an unaccredited therapist (she studied psychology at college, but isn't trained as a mental health professional), conducts her sessions — in-person or via webcam — while naked, or while getting naked, depending on the client's preference. Rupert Murdoch's iPad newspaper, The Daily, recently sent a reporter for a session. The safe-for-work video of their encounter is below:
The Web has been all atwitter over Sarah White, but she claims that she's serious, and that her business is not a front for prostitution. White says there have not been sexual relations between her and her clients and that she has a boyfriend who is supportive of her business. She considers nudity a serious psychoanalytic tool. According to White's site, ".... like massage therapy uses massage, psychotherapy uses psychology, and aromatherapy uses scents, Naked Therapy uses nakedness to feel freer and stronger and healthier and happier."
White says traditional therapy can encourage repression. "I approach therapy in a very sexually and sensually and consciously open way, so that my patients would feel comfortable talking about it. And we could get down to the heart of the matter quicker and more effectively. For some people. It’s not for everybody," she says in an online video. White adds, "I've dealt with people who have been going to therapy for 20 years and want to try something new." And she claims that her clients, the vast majority of whom are male, have been helped by her unusual techniques.
In fact, targeting men in need of mental health help who might not otherwise seek it is her primary goal. "Men commit the majority of violent crimes, are less physically healthy, and they are more likely to commit suicide, become depressed or be diagnosed as mentally ill, yet women are four times more likely than men to willingly enter therapy. If offering men something they find exciting helps get them into therapy, I am happy to do my part in helping solve this crisis," she writes in the Frequently Asked Questions portion of her website, Sarah White Live.
White doesn't shy away from the fact that some level of excitement from her clients is the natural outcome of her nakedness. "The excitement you feel during the sessions can lead to more excitement outside the sessions," she says.
Not surprisingly, naked therapy runs counter to guidelines accepted by the psychologists and other mental health professionals. While traditional psychoanalysts will go to great lengths to help their patients, actions of a sexual nature, nakedness, and touching are considered verboten. In fact, Diana Kirtchner, an NYC-based clinical psychologist quoted by the NY Daily News said that Naked Therapy was nothing more than "interactive soft-core Internet porn."
But not all mental-health professionals might agree. It is, after all, a profession rife with disagreement and ever-evolving practices. Recently, a Northwestern University psychology professor featured a controversial live-sex demonstration after class, and sex therapy has even been featured on "Oprah."