Understanding and communicating with each other about needs and desires can keep relationships happy and healthy, as prominent sex therapist Patricia Shiller knew. Although, her sex therapy career started not as a result of wanting to help couples deepen their bond, but out of a need to teach sex education.
The Jewish daughter of Russian immigrants, Particia Shiller (born Pearl Silverman) graduated from the Brooklyn Law School in 1934. During her volunteer time at the Legal Aid Society, she was moved by couples seeking divorce, and turned her attention to marriage counseling. After graduating with a master’s degree in clinical psychology in 1960, she began teaching at Alice Deal Middle School where her life course shifted entirely: after watching young girls being forced to drop out of school due to unplanned pregnancies, she decided to focus on sex education.
Her family states that Shiller then founded her own school, Webster Girls School, specifically for these pregnant girls to continue their education and inform them about safe sex. She became a revolutionary in her field, working with OB/GYN students at the Howard University medical school and teaching them how to counsel patients about sex and discuss the psychology and dangers of dysfunctional sexual relationships — she would go on to teach there as a professor for the next 30 years. Patricia Shiller had a deep understanding of the importance of open communication regarding sex.
“Sex counseling is to develop greater comfort about sexuality, greater openness, freedom, intimacy. Sex is a function of being human,” she said.
The pioneer spent the next 40 years traveling around the world hosting conferences, seminars, and counseling sessions trying to help people talk about and understand sex. She passed away in her home at the ripe, old age of 104 — talk about a life well lived.
Shiller would undoubtedly be happy with the way society is beginning to treat mental health and education. With around 350 million people worldwide affected by depression of some form or another, the need for open communication (and not just regarding sex) is higher than ever. One woman in Beaufort, South Carolina sees that need, and is looking to help.
The marriage and family therapist is running for a seat on the Beaufort County Board of Education. Sarah Stuchell is hoping that her background in mental health will assist the community in a new, different way.
“I think culturally (our society) is shifting to focus on mental health issues … and I just feel like Beaufort County could do so much more for our kids and teaching them lifelong skills like how to handle their emotions.”
Stuchell is doing on a small scale what Shiller did over the course of her life: finding a new, innovative way to help teenagers manage their personal issues and understand themselves better.