Over the years, I’ve heard a number of stories from partners—and sex addicts—about their experiences of seeking help from counselors, clergy members, and therapists for relationship advice or concerns about addiction.
Let me start by saying that my intention is not to criticize or trash other therapists.
Most therapists have a specialization of some kind—even those who primarily treat common issues like depression or anxiety. No therapist is qualified to treat all mental health issues. For the same reasons people go to a cardiologist—rather than a general practitioner—for a serious heart condition, I highly recommend that anyone struggling with out of control sexual behavior seek a professional with specialized training.
My intention is to provide recommendations and guidance to partners—and addicts—who either have no one in their geographical area with specialized training to treat sex addiction (or partners of sex addicts), or those who have therapists with experience in treating addiction, but don’t seem to have a grasp of the unique challenges and issues related to treating sex addiction.
Here are a few examples of what some individuals—and couples—hear from therapists who don’t have specialized training when seeking help for sex addiction-related issues:
- You (the partner), just need to watch porn with him.
- Buy some lingerie.
- It’s a wife’s duty to have sex with her husband whenever he wants it.
- You’re just a normal guy. Everyone ______________ (looks at porn, hires sex workers, goes to strip clubs).
- If you would do what he wants you to do sexually, he’ll stop his extra-marital activities.
- Your partner (the addict) doesn’t need to disclose his past behaviors to you. It will only hurt the relationship more. And besides, he said he stopped.
And there are a few recommendations from therapists I’ve heard that can’t be repeated here because they’re too graphic and frankly offensive.
Sometimes a partner gets a nonverbal vibe from her/his therapist that what she’s asking for is unreasonable—like more transparency about her partner’s activities or receiving a formal therapeutic disclosure. When restoring a relationship damaged by betrayal and chronic infidelity these are not unreasonable requests.
If you are geographically isolated, or you’re working with a therapist who doesn’t have specialized training in treating compulsive sexual behavior or betrayed partners, here are 4 steps you can take:
Become Highly Informed
Whether it’s addiction—or any health-related issue—you are always your best advocate. I encourage you to seek out all credible resources—books, articles, websites, forums, and blogs—to educate yourself about sex addiction and the impact of chronic sexual betrayal.
Ask Your Current Therapist to Seek Consultation
If you are currently working with a therapist who is not familiar with the special needs of partners of sex addicts, ask her/him if they would be willing to get consultation from another therapist who has training in treating sex addicts and their partners (see organizations listed in #4 for options). Anyone on the IITAP website with a CSAT-S (Certified Sex Addiction Therapist – Supervisor) designation is a supervisor who is trained and certified to provide supervision to CSAT candidates—a good first resource for any therapist looking for consultation.
Many sex addiction therapists specialize in certain areas under the sex addiction treatment umbrella—for example, working with partners or couples. Although they may not be CSAT Supervisors, they can provide quality consultation for therapists not familiar with the special needs of anyone impacted by out of control sexual behavior.
Ask Your Therapist to Read Sex Addiction-Related Material and Treatment Resources
If you’re working with a therapist who doesn’t understand the specific needs of partners, ask your therapist to read books, articles, or blogs written by experts in the field (see my Resources for a list of books). There are also a number of professional books written specifically for licensed mental health treatment providers about the assessment and treatment of out of control sexual behavior. If your therapist isn’t interested in getting more information in order to better assist you, you may need to find another therapist.
Find Someone You Can Work With Virtually
There are an increasing number of trained mental health treatment providers who can work with you remotely. To find someone with specialized training, go to the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) website or the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH). There are also coaches and clergy members who are knowledgeable about sex addiction and working with partners.
When looking for a mental health treatment provider—either in your area or remotely—don’t be shy about asking them what kind of training and experience they have working with partners of sex addicts. If they’re reluctant to give details—or seem put off by the question—keep looking.
The bottom line is that when you’re dealing with a serious and relationship-threatening issue like sex addiction, you must be highly informed and get the best support and resources you possibly can.
If you’re a therapist or coach who works for partners of sex addicts and would like to learn more about how I work with partners using the 5-Step Boundary Solution I present in my book Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-Step Boundary Solution for Partners of Sex Addicts, please join my online course Moving Beyond Betrayal Course for Clinicians & Coaches. For all the details, visit here.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2016)
All submitted comments are subject to editing to protect confidentiality and maintain anonymity.