The Therapy Beat

The Therapy Beat

Surrogate Partner Therapy: Crossing Lines or Expanding Boundaries?

By Chris Lyford

September/October 2021

Sex and death. These two subjects tend to frighten clinicians the most, says therapist Laurie Mintz. And as luck would have it, at the dawn of her clinical career, she encountered both in the same session. It was a day that would change her life, and her professional trajectory, forever.

It was 1985, and Mintz, then a predoctoral intern at the University of California, had spent the last four months working with Brendan, a 21-year-old college senior who used a wheelchair and was terminally ill. In most sessions, they discussed Brendan’s grief around his impending death, a topic they’d both navigated candidly and bravely. But on this day, in this particular session, something new happened.

As he was about to leave, Brendan took a long glance out the window, and sighed. “I’m terrified to admit this,” he told Mintz, his voice quivering, “but I’ve never had sex. I don’t want to die a virgin.”

Mintz was speechless. She’d never had a client bring up sex before. She knew that Brendan wished he had a girlfriend, and they could’ve had sex. But given his condition, Mintz knew a girlfriend probably wasn’t in the cards for him. She knew, too, that seeing a prostitute wouldn’t sit well with him. It was risky and not the kind of experience he wanted. Mintz was stumped. So, after the session, she went to her supervisor for advice. His solution? Find Brendan a surrogate partner.

Mintz had never heard of surrogate partners. But she learned about them soon…

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