I had the privilege last evening of being a guest on the The Addicted Mind podcast series and the first question my host Duane Osterlind asked me was ‘where do you start’ ? I noticed that I felt quite overwhelmed by the question which almost certainly mirrors how clients feel when they themselves ask ‘where do I start’?
The obvious answer of course is that you start to treat sex addiction by listening; by hearing where the client is at and what their most immediate concerns are. For some that’s uncovering the other underlying causes; the ‘whys’ of addiction. For others it’s ensuring there won’t be a relapse, and for others, it’s saving their relationship.
Relapse prevention for porn addiction
Relapse prevention is of course an essential part of recovery, but it’s only part of the process. As the old joke goes, “stopping smoking is easy, I’ve done it hundreds of times”. It’s not enough to stop – you have to stay stopped. And that means exploring and addressing the underlying drivers, whether that’s a concurrent mental health difficult such as anxiety or depression, or issues relating to childhood trauma and/or attachment issues. Establishing recovery demands a two-pronged approach – pragmatic behaviour change – aka relapse prevention strategies, AND identifying and resolving underlying issues. But for those in relationships, often the most urgent requirement of therapy is saving the relationship.
Saving the relationship after sex/porn addiction
Regrettably many people don’t start their recovery journey until their partner finds out, which means they’re juggling their own recovery, with trying to save the relationship. And facing the guilt and shame of the trauma they’ve causes their loved one, without their addiction to soothe them. I’ve often heard therapists stressing the importance of individual recovery, which is undoubtedly true, but unless you’re also able to address the fallout on the couple relationship, at least in part, it smacks of a lack of empathy. Furthermore, while the relationship continues to deteriorate, there will be less and less energy, and perhaps less motivation, for recovery work.
For many clients, addressing the impact on the relationship is their number one priority and they will often see recovery work as secondary, or even unnecessary. It’s important for therapists to understand that when your relationship is in flames and your home is burning down, there is often little risk of acting out. Hence focussing on relapse prevention doesn’t need to be a priority. But more importantly, our job as therapists, in any work we do, is to first put out the flames.
The impact on partners
The impact of sex addiction and porn addiction on partners is often minimised and misunderstood which can leave partners feeling even more betrayed and isolated. An important job for any therapist in this field is to offer support to partners as well as to the addict. That will probably mean signposting to partner support services as well as working with the addicted partner to help them, to help their partner. The addicted partner can be helped to understand the common trauma responses that partners experience and learn to respond positively to strong emotions with empathy. They can also be helped to understand partner’s needs for information and accountability as a way of seeking security and reassurance and given guidance on how to demonstrate trustworthiness.
At the Laurel Centre we have been providing our Understanding Partner’s Needs and Rebuilding Trust Workshop for many years and the feedback continues to be great. As well as providing practical information and strategies, the workshop format also breaks the isolation that many addicted partners feel as they navigate their broken relationships.
Pivotal Recovery has also just launched its new course Helping Your Partner. Based on the Laurel Centre workshop, this 6-part podcast series provides the same practical advice in a format that’s more suitable for those who prefer a low-cost, anonymous option.
You can get more information about both of these services by following the link below.
Understanding Partner’s Needs & Rebuilding Trust –https://thelaurelcentre.co.uk/courses/understanding-partners-needs/
Helping Your Partner https://www.pivotalrecovery.org/helping-your-partner