Sex rehab for sexual addiction: What is it, and how does it work?

Jesse James and Sandra Bullock during happier times.

With all the celebrities that have admitted themselves into ‘sex rehab’ centers recently, you might be curious about what goes on there. How does sex rehab work? Is it effective, or is this just an excuse to ask others for forgiveness? You might even scoff at the idea that someone needs to enter a sex rehab center. Perhaps you believe all they really need to do is come clean and stop cheating on their significant other, or choose to live a single life so as to not hurt others with lies and increased exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. This article serves to explain what sexual rehabilitation or ‘sex rehab’ is, and how a person with a sexual addiction might benefit from this form of treatment.

Treatment for sexual addiction tends to focus on two main areas:

1) Separating the addict from opportunities to continue harmful sexual patterns of behavior, much in the same way drug addicts need to be separated from their drug-filled lifestyle. This is why inpatient or residential treatment is often the suggested setting. An inpatient setting provides a controlled setting, which aims to eliminate opportunities for compulsive behavior.

2) Utilization of a safe, therapeutic setting with trained professionals to help individuals begin to face the guilt, shame and depression that is common amongst sexual addicts.

Sexual rehabilitation centers may vary in the variety of psychological treatment modalities they provide, but this list contains a broad overview of therapeutic strategies that have proven to be effective at helping people overcome sexual addiction.

12-Step Programs. Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) is a 12 step program which utilizes principles similar to those used in other addiction programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA.) 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 addiction, seeking the help of God or a higher power, working the 12 different steps, seeking a sponsor and attending meetings consistently, many addicts have been able to regain intimacy in their personal relationships.

Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT).

This form of therapy helps people to examine the relationship between their thoughts, feelings and behaviors as they relate to their addictive patterns. By targeting the triggers and reinforcers that perpetuate the addictive pattern, people can begin to short-circuit the process and make healthy changes. Treatment can include teaching addicts therapeutic tools such as thought stopping, behavioral substitution, and thought record keeping, as a means to prevent the relapse of addictive patterns.

Interpersonal Therapy.
Traditional “talk therapy” or counseling with an individual therapist can be helpful in providing a space for individuals to sort through past experiences that shaped addictive behavior, as well as manage mood symptoms, increase the ability to cope with stressors, and learn healthier lifestyle patterns and behaviors.

Group Therapy.
Group therapy typically consists mental health professional(s) facilitating a group of people that engage in dialogue around addiction issues, and learn from related psychoeducational materials. A group environment is thought to enable people to learn from others’ experiences, strengths and relapses. It is also an ideal setting for people to learn through the confrontation of denial and rationalizations common among addicts in various stages of their rehabilitation.

Medication.
Recent developments in the literature suggest that certain psychotropic medications (antidepressants) may prove to be useful for many people in managing sexual addiction. In addition to treating mood symptoms common among sex addicts, these medications may have some benefit in reducing sexual obsessions and ruminations.

This article was composed by Dr. Christina Villarreal, Clinical Psychologist in Oakland, CA

References

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_addiction_
2 The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity – http://www.ncsac.org and http://www.sash.net
3 Defense Security Services – http://www.dss.mil
4 Patrick Carnes (1991). Don’t call it love: Recovery from sexual addiction, (New York: Bantam, pp. 22-23, 30-34).
5 Michael Herkov, Ph.D., Mark S. Gold, M.D., and Drew W. Edwards, M.S., Feb 2001

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