3 Myths About Sex Addiction Treatment

Alexandra Katehakis, Senior Fellow at The Meadows, is one of the lead authors of an article titled, “Sex Addiction is NOT a ‘MYTH’ when Neuroscience Keeps the Score” featured in the January/February 2017 issue of The Therapist. The article is endorsed by several experts in the fields of trauma, addiction, and mental health including Dr. Claudia Black and Dr. Stefanie Carnes, both Senior Fellows at The Meadows; Dr. Jon Caldwell, Medical Director at The Meadows; and Dr. Monica Meyer, Clinical Director at Gentle Path at The Meadows.

In the article, Katehakis and her co-authors set out a convincing case for treating sex addiction as a chronic brain disease, much like other dependencies and process addictions. They also lay to rest many of the prevailing myths about the sex addiction model for treating compulsive sexual behaviors, pointing to evidence that the sex addiction theory offers neurologically-informed, sex-positive, and relationally-based therapeutic protocols.

Myth #1: Sex addiction treatment is a really just “reparative therapy.”

Reparative therapy (also known as conversion therapy) is a type of counseling that claims to change a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual. It has been widely discredited by mental health professionals and is illegal in several states.

Unfortunately, some therapists and counselors have misleadingly used the term “sex addiction” to lure clients into reparative therapy. Some also shame people who engage in what they see as non-conforming sexual behaviors. These practices are not considered ethical or appropriate within the sex addiction model of treatment. Expert, credentialed, Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSATs) do not use, support, condone, or respect the destructive practice of reparative therapy; and, their aim is to help clients move beyond shame, not to intensify the shame they are often already feeling.

Individuals should not be classified as sex addicts based on their sexual orientation. Individuals of any sexual orientation may display symptoms of sexual addiction and be diagnosed based on self-reporting and a comprehensive assessment process conducted by a trained and knowledgeable sex addiction professional.

Myth #2: Sex addiction treatment shames people for enjoying nonconforming sexual behaviors.

Certified sex addiction professionals do not shame or scold individuals who struggle with sexual preoccupation and/or compulsivity or on the basis of their sexual preferences. The goal of sex addiction treatment is to guide clients toward a sexuality that feels right for them—a sexuality that is pleasurable, creative, and relational. Sexual compulsivity and/or preoccupation is marked by moderate to severe dissociation that is often accompanied by impulses that are destructive to the client’s sense of self and lead to feelings of dysphoria and isolation. According to the authors:

“CSATs are educated about alternative sexual lifestyles which include ‘nonconforming’ behaviors such as kink/fetishes, BDSM, or other practices. Only if a client presents with sexual behavior—alternative or ordinary—that troubles him or her are practices explored and assessed. More importantly, this investigation aims to measure the problematic nature, not of the sexual acts themselves, but of their compulsive use. Recovery from sex addiction never means ‘repairing’ erotic minorities from their sexual preferences.”

Sex addicts expend most of their energy replaying past traumatic sexual experiences and/or repetitively fantasizing about future ones. These preoccupations and impulses are often overwhelming and severely disrupt their professional and personal lives. The disorder has no resemblance to even the most robust, healthy sexual interest and behavior.

Myth #3: Sex addiction treatment is just another 12-step program.

Sex addiction therapists do not see the 12-step program as the be-all and end-all of treatment. 12-step programs are valuable in that they can help participants increase their relational skills and ability to connect with others through regular interaction with a caring group. But sex addiction therapy does not end with 12-step work.

The most effective treatment for sex addiction is based on a well-designed, multi-faceted, comprehensive plan that is tailored to the client’s goals. The treatment provider also must help the client to develop support structures—like a 12-step program—that facilitate long-term and meaningful recovery.

For example, at Gentle Path at The Meadows and Willow House at The Meadows, treatment plans focus on trauma resolution and include neurofeedback and neuriobiofeedback techniques, EMDR, experiential therapies, individual counseling, mindfulness practices, yoga, acupuncture and more, in addition to 12-step work.

It’s a holistic approach that treats the whole person, focusing on the mind, body, and emotions of the client. Its goal is to help clients resolve past trauma and discover—sometimes for the first time—pleasurable, self-nurturing, and relational sexuality.

What is Sex Addiction Treatment Really About?

The sex addiction model of treatment is not sex-negative, puritanical, or anti-pleasure. It also does not disapprove of or try to discourage sexual expression outside of narrowly-defined, normative, heterosexual sex. Sex addiction treatment, when conducted by well-trained, caring professionals, is sex-positive. Its goal is to help each person discover, delight in, and fully express his or her preferred sex life.

For more information on sex addiction treatment for yourself or your partner or spouse, please give us all call at 800-244-4949. Our Intake Specialists are happy to talk to you about whether one of our 5-day workshops, inpatient sex addiction treatment, or outpatient sex addiction treatment may be right for you.

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