Treatment for Sexual Addiction
By: Michael Herkov, Ph.D
If you are seeking help for sex addiction, there are a number of treatment programs available.
Most of these programs approach sex addiction with the same strategies that have proven effective in treating chemical dependency. Since sex addiction is more common among substance abusers, many chemical dependency programs offer a sexual addiction program or component.
Here are some questions you should ask when looking for a good sex addiction treatment program:
What percentage of the therapy program will be focused on sexual addiction and compulsiveness?
What are the groups that address these issues?
What is the staff’s experience facilitating the groups or program for sexual addiction and compulsiveness?
Is the program based on a 12-step philosophy, and are there appropriate 12-step meetings to attend while in treatment?
In addition, look for these components in a treatment program:
A separate group that allows couples to work on the more intimate issues of their relationship
Education about sexual addiction and compulsiveness that clarifies misconceptions about this highly misunderstood set of behaviors
A disclosure process facilitated by trained staff who understand the vulnerability of each family member and make appropriate decisions about which family members need to hear what information about the specific symptoms and behaviors. This is essential in developing a therapeutic relationship between the patient and family.
Time for the family members or spouses to receive support in processing and debriefing information that the individual discloses during treatment
A focus on the health risks involved for both partners and how to address these in a continuing care plan
Unlike drug or alcohol treatment, the goal of sexual addiction treatment is not lifelong abstinence, but rather a termination of compulsive, unhealthy sexual behavior. Since it is very difficult for a sex addict to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy sex, programs usually encourage abstinence from any sexual behavior during the first phase of treatment. Many programs suggest a 60- to 90-day period of self-imposed abstinence. This enables you, along with the treatment team, to understand the emotional cues and circumstances that trigger sexual thought and compulsive sexual behavior.
Treatment will focus on two main issues. The first is the logistical concerns of separating you from harmful sexual behavior in the same way drug addicts need to be separated from drugs.
Accomplishing this might require inpatient or residential treatment for several weeks. An inpatient setting protects you from the abundance of sexual images and specific situations or people that trigger compulsive sexual behavior. It’s simply harder to relapse in a structured and tightly controlled setting. Sometimes, you can succeed in an outpatient setting with adequate social, family and spiritual support.
The second and most difficult issue involves facing the guilt, shame and depression associated with this illness. It takes trust and time with a competent therapist to work through these emotions. If you are very depressed, the best treatment might be an inpatient residential setting where professionals can monitor and properly manage your symptoms.