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Over the years, Catherine pieced together her college degree, taking night classes at community colleges, majoring in psychology. She told her chiropractor she wanted to work in therapy. Maybe even sex therapy. "The problem was, I didn't want to go through getting a Ph.D., and in psychology, you basically can't work unless you have a doctorate." He put her in touch with his friend Volker in Coral Gables. Volker, a slim, urbane woman, told Catherine there was something in the field of sex therapy that doesn't require a postgraduate degree.
Catherine had never heard of surrogate therapy, but as Volker explained the process, it made sense. Surrogates help patients connect on an intimate level. "I'd been doing that all my life. In my personal life, I had been coaching boyfriends for years. I'd get calls from exes telling me how much I helped them become comfortable with themselves," she says. "I've never felt better-suited for anything."
When the International Professional Surrogate Association training program accepted Catherine, she was told to bring plenty of comfort foods and her favorite blankets — this was going to be an emotional process.
To get into the IPSA program, the only surrogate partner certification course in the nation, Catherine needed three letters of recommendation from health professionals attesting to her earnest desire to help people. She had to write an essay detailing her sexual history and another one explaining why she wanted to be a surrogate. After her application was approved by the IPSA board, Catherine paid the $1,500 tuition and went to California for three weeks.
Her class consisted of four students: herself, a young man, and a married couple. There were two instructors, Vena Blanchard, president of IPSA, and a male surrogate trainer. Classes took place at Blanchard's home in Los Angeles. The first day, the students were told they would work as partners for the duration of training. "Obviously, I thought they'd put the couple together and pair me with the young man," she says. "But no, I was told to work with the man, even though his wife was right there watching us and talking to us."
On the second day, the class was instructed to disrobe. The exercise for that day was a full-body, head-to-toe, up-close inspection of each student. Throughout the training, the partners played the roles of both patient and surrogate. Students kept journals of their most intimate feelings and shared them with Blanchard every day. They heard lectures on topics ranging from basic human biology to dealing with the natural human attachments that arise in this line of work.
Toward the end of training, Catherine wrote in her journal that she was having conflicting feelings. She believed 100 percent in the concept of surrogate therapy, but she suspected her training partner — the husband — was "just there to get a cheap thrill." She felt guilty for feeling that way. Blanchard approached her after the last class. She told Catherine her instincts were right on. "You've got exactly what it takes," Blanchard told her. "You're going to be a great surrogate."
Catherine's training was put to the test with her first client: the malodorous merchant marine who'd never been around women. "It was a really tough case," she says now, smiling as she thinks of the patient. "I had to call Vena [Blanchard] and ask what to do. He just had all sorts of social problems."
The solution? "She suggested I take him out on a date. The rules were, he picks the place, he pays, we walk through what women like and don't like. Then have the session afterward." So the sailor cleaned himself up and took Catherine to a nice steak house in Fort Lauderdale. "It was rough," she says. "He was eating with two hands, burping, getting up for smoke breaks throughout the meal. I told him: 'Look, if you want to connect with someone, you can't do this. You can't just get up and go outside in the middle of dinner.'"
After dinner, he said he was too full of steak to have a regular surrogate session. "You see, food was one of the ways he dealt with his anxious feelings, along with alcohol and cigarettes," she says. "So when he was nervous about the date, he ate more than he should have and smoked more. Those were his crutches."
As therapy progressed — long before the breakthrough in the shower — he began to open up more. He talked about his overbearing, controlling mother, but he also spoke about the time an uncle took him to a prostitute when he was a teenager. He had showered and put on cologne before he went to see her. But when the time came for sex, the prostitute told him he needed to shower again. He couldn't go through with it.
It's no coincidence his big breakthrough with Catherine occurred in the shower, she says. Human psychology is a powerful force. Behind man's sexual desires are millions of years of evolution urging him to spread his seed, she says. But emotional responses such as fear and shame are so strong that they override biology and physiology.