One of the questions I often get asked is, “Does therapy help with sex addiction?” Loved ones and family ask it. It is even asked, in desperation, by addicts. Yes, therapy is one of the foundational pieces of recovery from all addiction, especially sex addiction.
Why is Therapy Effective for Sex and Pornography Addiction?
Therapy isn’t just effective for sex and pornography addiction. It is necessary to heal from the addiction rather than just stopping the behavior. Therapy allows you to have support throughout your healing journey. Various therapeutic modalities can be effective in healing from addiction. Your therapist will help you choose which is best for you.
Stopping vs Healing
Those looking to find sobriety and recovery from this kind of addiction often think it is about ceasing the behavior. They might think, “I want to stop acting out sexually, so I need to try and not do these things.” But what is often confusing is the more profound question, “Why do I do these things?”
Many men in recovery from sex and porn try to avoid this question. Maybe they don’t think it is important. Maybe they find it overwhelming or confusing. Perhaps they think it has to do with pain from their past that they would rather not face. So they start going to 12-step meetings or some version of them. They try to work the steps, get accountability, and get digital blockers and filters and other behavior modification methods. Don’t get me wrong, this stuff can be helpful, but I often see men who try all of those things and still struggle with frequent relapses. They ask me, “What more can I do?” They say, “Nothing seems to work. I must be broken.” This inability to heal is often due to a failure to address the root cause of addiction. Those suffering from addiction need to heal, not just stop.
Why Can’t I Stop Acting Out?
At Boulder Recovery, we use the TINSA model, pioneered by Dr. Michael Barta. TINSA stands for Trauma Induced Sexual Addiction. The foundation of this model is that addiction has arisen to cope with trauma and the life stressors that imitate that trauma. The wounds of our past continue to overwhelm us, causing anxiety, depression, rage, and other severe emotional responses. These distress responses cry out for attention, and there are not many more powerful and more available soothing salves than sex and pornography.
This power is why adding coping skills and behavioral management often doesn’t work. The replacement behaviors do not match the power of the addictive behavior or rise to meet the power of the distress. For a more thorough exploration of this, check out Dr. Barta’s book.
The root of sex addiction is unaddressed pain and trauma that still has the power to overwhelm us and move us into unhealthy coping. These underlying traumas and hurts are what counselors treat in therapy for sex addiction.
What Types of Therapy are Effective for Treating Sex Addiction?
There are two categories of effective treatment for sex addiction. Often successful recovery involves both as they have two critical but different goals.
Trauma Therapy for Sex Addiction
Trauma therapy effectively treats sex and porn addiction because it addresses why someone may go to pornography or sexual behaviors to cope. What the scientific and therapeutic community knows about trauma is that it can linger in unaddressed painful memories. These memories can be of specific moments, pervasive environments, or both. When these memories come to mind or something triggers them, it will move us to try and cope with the discomfort, pain, or dysregulation that arises. Sex addicts learn at an early age that they can cope with these experiences through sexual gratification.
Successful trauma therapy can access, address, and reprocess painful memories. This reprocessing allows people to feel what seems like overwhelming emotions around their traumas safely. It removes some power of these memories and therefore makes them less triggering for addicts. This kind of therapy does not need to reference sexual addiction, and qualified and trained trauma therapists who are not experts in sex addiction can do it.
There are many types of trauma therapy, but some of the more effective models for sex addiction are:
- Brainspotting (BSP)
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Guided Meditation
- Experiential Group Therapy and Psychodrama
- Somatic Experiencing and the Trauma Resiliency Model (TRM)
- Internal Family Systems (IFS)
Validated trauma therapy models work differently for different people. I always encourage clients to find what works best for them rather than giving up when one doesn’t seem to connect with them.
By lowering the power of traumatic memories, trauma therapy can be the most powerful tool to heal from sex addiction and maintain sobriety.
Behavioral Therapy for Sex Addiction
Beyond healing traumatic wounds, the most effective kind of therapy is for sex addiction is behavioral therapy. In trauma therapy, the therapist focuses on the trauma rather than the addiction that arose to cope with it. In behavioral focused therapy, the reverse is true. A behavioral approach is most concerned with the nature and cycles of the addiction rather than the trauma that led to it. Some call this approach “behavior containment.” This containment is a vital part of recovery and requires a specialized therapist who uses a non-shaming approach to address issues related to sobriety.
It’s best if a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) conducts this type of treatment in conjunction with trauma therapy. A CSAT can walk through multiple stages of recovery with the client and their family.
Getting Help for Sex Addiction
Therapy can help address the addiction’s root issues and help sex addicts find and maintain strong recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with compulsive pornography use or sexual behaviors, therapy can help. Contact us today to learn about availability for our upcoming 14-Day intensives or to learn more about treatment options.