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. The best-known programs in the United States include Sierra Tucson in Arizona, Tulane University’s program in New Orleans and the Menninger Clinic’s program in Topeka, Kan.

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 Focus

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.

12-Step Programs

Twelve-step programs, such as Sexaholics Anonymous, apply principles similar to those used in other addiction programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. However, unlike AA, where the goal is complete abstinence from all alcohol, SA pursues abstinence only from compulsive, destructive sexual behavior. By admitting powerlessness over their addictions, seeking the help of God or a higher power, following the required steps, seeking a sponsor and regularly attending meetings, many addicts have been able to regain intimacy in their personal relationships.

Cognitive-Behavior Therapy

This approach looks at what triggers and reinforces actions related to sexual addiction and looks for methods of short-circuiting the process. Treatment approaches include teaching addicts to stop sexual thoughts by thinking about something else; substituting sexual behavior with some other behavior, such as exercising or working out; and preventing the relapse of addictive behavior.

Interpersonal Therapy

People addicted to sex often have significant emotional baggage from their early lives. Traditional “talk therapy” can be helpful in increasing self control and in treating related mood disorders and effects of past trauma.

Group Therapy

Group therapy typically consists of a health care professional working with a group of between six and10 patients. Working with other addicts allows you to see that your problem is not unique. It also enables you to learn about what works and what doesn’t from others’ experiences, and draw on others’ strengths and hopes. A group format is ideal for confronting the denial and rationalizations common among addicts. Such confrontation from other addicts is powerful not only for the addict being confronted, but also for the person doing the confronting, who learns how personal denial and rationalization sustained addiction.

Medication

Recent research suggests that antidepressants may be useful in treating sexual addiction. In addition to treating mood symptoms common among sex addicts, these medications may have some benefit in reducing sexual obsessions.

Explore More About Sexual Addiction

Mark S. Gold, M.D., and Drew W. Edwards, M.S. contributed to this article.

 

APA Reference
Herkov, M. (2006). Treatment for Sexual Addiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/treatment-for-sexual-addiction/000752
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.