Recently, some very famous people have been accused of sexual misbehavior, and they’ve responded by entering sex addiction treatment. Unfortunately, many people have serious misconceptions about what this means. They think, “Oh, this guy commits a bunch of sex crimes and instead of being thrown in jail, he jets off to a resort and says he’s getting help, and we’re supposed to just accept that and maybe even feel sorry for him because he’s got a problem, and then after he gets help we’re supposed to excuse his behavior and forgive him and act like nothing happened.”
Well, that’s not reality. Sex addiction treatment is not a joke. It’s not fun or relaxing, or an excuse for bad behavior. Sexual addiction is a very real, deeply debilitating disorder with the same loss of control and devastating consequences as every other addiction – alcohol, drugs, gambling, spending, etc. And treatment for sexual addiction is just as serious (and as difficult) as a treatment for any other addiction.
Sex Addiction Treatment is Not a Trip to the Spa
I am a Senior Fellow with The Meadows, a sex addiction treatment facility located in the Arizona mountains. It’s beautiful. It looks like an expensive resort where rich people would go on vacation.
When you look at the pictures, you might assume that when a person goes into sex addiction treatment at The Meadows (or any of several other sex addiction rehabs), he or she is going to be pampered and coddled. If so, you would be wrong. Sex addiction treatment is intense. Patients are required to participate in rigorous, incredibly intensive therapy every day they are there, including weekends. They participate in over 50 hours of individual and group therapy every week, and they also complete an exhausting array of homework assignments. Their schedule is packed from dawn to dusk, with very little downtime.
Yes, there are some relaxing activities such as yoga, Tai Chi, mindfulness, meditation, and art therapy. But even those have a purpose-strategically placed within the schedule to help clients with emotional regulation after intensive therapy processes. After deeply emotional work, oftentimes uncovering deep shame and trauma, it’s important to regulate the nervous system. Otherwise, patients simply can’t cope with the intensity and emotions evoked by sex addiction treatment.
Sex Addiction Treatment Does Not Let People Off the Hook
Patients are in crisis when they enter sex addiction treatment. They’ve often acted outside their value system, their behavior has been discovered, and they are facing painful consequences. Often, they need one-to-one suicide monitoring as they finally come face-to-face with the impact and costs of their behavior. In these situations, treatment centers are compassionate and respectful of the patient’s thoughts and feelings. Nevertheless, treatment demands accountability on the part of the patient. Being in crisis does not absolve the individual of responsibility.
Sometimes people misunderstand “powerlessness” in relation to addiction. They think that if we say an addict is powerless over his or her behavior, we are saying the addict is not responsible. We aren’t. When we use the word powerless, we are referring to acceptance by the addict that his or her addiction has spiraled out of control and drastic measures must be taken to stop the behavior. So, rather than saying the addict is not responsible, we are saying that it’s time for the addict to step up to the plate and accept responsibility.
Let me be perfectly clear here: Sex addiction is never an excuse for bad behavior. In fact, part of recovering from sexual addiction is taking responsibility for one’s behavior and accepting any consequences that ensue. Many times, patients must face up to very difficult circumstances such as leaving their place of employment, making restitution and amends for the damage they’ve done, and facing legal issues.
Sex Addiction Treatment is Not One-Size-Fits-All
Many people think that sex addiction treatment is the same for every patient and that it uses only an addiction approach (like the 12 steps). That is not the case. At the Meadows, for example, we have a multidisciplinary team. Yes, there are sex addiction specialists, but we also have clinical sexologists, sex therapists, and sex offender specialists, along with psychiatrists, psychologists, family therapists, trauma specialists, and more. This multidisciplinary approach ensures that multiple modalities are considered when creating each patient’s individualized treatment plan.
Not every person who enters sex addiction treatment is sexually addicted. Some have paraphilias, others may be struggling with behaviors that include sexual offending. Many patients have a combination of sexual addiction and another issue (or issues). At the Meadows, each patient is thoroughly assessed by the multidisciplinary team, and an evaluation is made as to what is the best plan for that patient. If sex addiction treatment is the proper approach, that’s great and we’ll proceed accordingly. If not, our treatment team will make an appropriate referral.
In all cases, a variety of treatment approaches are utilized. Much of the sex addiction focused work centers on the popular 30 Task Model developed by Dr. Patrick Carnes, but other processes are incorporated whenever they might prove helpful. These other modalities include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Behavioral therapies, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Neurobehavioral Therapy, and similar approaches
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (
- 12-Step Work
- Somatic Experiencing
- Post-Induction Therapy
- Family and Couples Therapy
- Art Therapy
- Tai Chi
- Spirituality Counseling
- Grief Work
- Holistic Wellness
Whatever techniques are utilized with a patient, sex addiction treatment is not a vacation. The people who enter sex addiction treatment do so know they’re about to face their demons, accept responsibility for their actions, and make significant life changes. That is no picnic.
Sex Addiction Treatment is Not a Cure
Addictions of all kinds are chronic conditions, the same as diabetes and heart disease. This means that addictions are treatable but not curable. People who come to sex addiction treatment should not expect to walk away with their addiction completely, totally, and permanently behind them. That is not possible, nor is it the goal of treatment. Sex addiction treatment does the following:
- It temporarily separates the addict from people, places, and things that are integral to the addiction.
- It gives the addict space in which he or she can discern which sexual behaviors are problematic and part of the addiction, and which are not.
- It breaks through the addict’s denial about his or her addiction and its effects.
- It helps the addict see and accept the consequences (to self and others) of his or her sexual behaviors.
- It helps the addict create a plan for sexual sobriety.
- It provides the addict with basic tools he or she can turn to instead of acting out sexually.
- It prepares the addict for a lifelong process of recovery from sexual addiction.
So, sex addiction treatment is an initial and very important step on the pathway to long-term behavior change. It interrupts the addict’s patterns of sexual compulsivity, breaks through the addict’s denial about the nature and effects of his or her sexual behaviors, and creates a skillset and willingness to change that is needed for long-term behavioral improvement.
After completing sex addiction treatment, most patients continue therapy on an outpatient basis while also attending 12-step sexual recovery meetings. That is the daily medicine they require to keep their disease in check. Diabetics and those with heart trouble must eat right and take medications as prescribed to keep their illness in check; sex addicts (like other addicts) must be watchful and participate in an ongoing program of recovery.
The benefit of engaging in an inpatient program is that an addict can accomplish in 45 days what would take years to accomplish outpatient. As a result, they get a running start on their recovery and leave with a solid aftercare plan with which to move forward. So if you’re considering sex addiction treatment, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get down to the hard work of turning your life around. Clients that are willing to do the hard work, can be expected to make dramatic improvements in their lives and can achieve sustained recovery.