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Selecting a Surrogate Partner

It is important to consider who will be most useful to the client’s learning and then to interview and select a professional surrogate partner with the necessary expertise for that specific case. Experience level, physical appearance, and age vary among surrogates. Physical appearance and age are usually the least important criteria when selecting a surrogate partner. It is often desirable to avoid meeting the client’s “ideal” in order to provide optimal learning for the client about “real” relationships with “real” people. High-quality training and emotional maturity are essential features of a professional surrogate partner. Supervising therapists may contact the IPSA Referrals Coordinator for assistance in finding a compassionate, well-trained, professional surrogate partner

IPSA-Certified Surrogate Partners

To assist the therapeutic community and consumers in evaluating the qualifications of individuals offering surrogate partner therapy, IPSA established a certification program. To qualify for IPSA certification, surrogate partners must demonstrate that they have had adequate training; understand the principles and practices of surrogate partner therapy; possess personal qualities commensurate with the large responsibilities of a surrogate partner; and commit to honoring the IPSA Code of Ethics.

Intern Surrogate Partners

Trainees who successfully complete the first phase of training are approved to begin working as Intern Surrogate Partners. Interns work with real clients, closely collaborate with each client's therapist, and prepare for and review every session with an experienced surrogate partner mentor. Interns are providing benefits to clients while continuing their learning through these real-world experiences.  While there are some cases that are too complex for a new intern, many cases are appropriate for intern surrogate partners. IPSA Training staff and mentors help evaluate cases to determine whether an intern has sufficient experience and skills to successfully assist each client.   

Confirmation of a specific surrogate partner's training, certification, and good standing in IPSA can be verified through IPSA Membership Committee or the IPSA Referrals Coordinator. You may also consult our list of IPSA-Certified Surrogate Partners

The Character of a Surrogate Partner

Although there are no specific academic degrees required of a surrogate partner, there are certain personal qualities and life experiences that seem to provide a valuable foundation for surrogate partner skills. These include intelligence, compassion, warmth, comfort sharing one’s own body and sexuality, empathy, patience, knowledge of sex therapy principles and practices, and good communication skills. Non-judgmental attitudes toward sexual orientation, choice of lifestyle, and consensual sexual activities are also highly important.

Gender and Sexual Orientation

Surrogate partners work with clients of all sexual orientations and genders. Gender and sexual orientation are often a consideration when the client’s difficulties present at the intersection of emotional intimacy and sexuality, and the intention of the therapy is to create experiential learning at that intersection. Some clients choose to begin working with a surrogate who participates as a role model or coach rather than as an intimate partner, especially when the client is primarily addressing negative body image, intense phobias, a history of sexual trauma, or when a surrogate partner of the desired gender and sexual orientation is not available in the client's location.

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