How to Choose a Sex Addiction Therapist
If you think you might be struggling with sex or pornography addiction, seeking out a therapist is a wonderful way to care for yourself. Partnering with a therapist means enlisting the help of an experienced guide to help you get to where you want to go. However, the sheer number of therapists in your area often makes the choice more than a little overwhelming. So how can you determine which therapist is the right one for you?
I often meet with individuals in during free consultations who are looking for the right fit. Choosing a therapist is a highly personal decision that should be made with a great deal of thought and consideration.
So how might you determine who is a good fit for you?
FIRST THINGS FIRST: YES, YOU NEED TO FIND A THERAPIST
If you’re struggling with sex addiction, a supportive therapist can make all the difference. Going to a twelve-step group can help you establish and maintain your sobriety, but working with a sponsor alone is not going to be enough to help you.
A skilled therapist will be able to augment your recovery and healing in a number of ways:
- You’ll get help with recognizing and understanding your triggers to act out.
- You’ll get tools and strategies to counter your urges to act out as a part of a comprehensive recovery plan.
- You’ll get focused support in how to rebuild trust with your spouse and restore relationships with your loved ones, especially through the process of formal disclosure.
- You’ll receive guidance in understanding the contributing factors that led to your addiction.
- You’ll be able to work with the therapist in healing the (often unconscious) emotional wounds that perpetuate addiction and have made controlling your behavior so damned hard.
The right therapist can act as a “control tower” coordinating all aspects of your recovery (your twelve-step work, small group, appropriate referrals, etc.) to help you stay on track.
Seeking out and meeting with a therapist can be difficult and even anxiety-producing, especially as you “spill your guts” in the first session and talk about things that you may not have shared with another soul. That first phone call, that first consultation, or that first session is usually the hardest because sex addicts expect that others will shame them as they shame themselves.
What they often find is that just talking about their struggles openly for the first time actually greatly reduces their shame. They don’t feel alone anymore.
If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re thinking taking about or have made that first step of finding a therapist already. It takes guts to seek help, and opening up about struggles you’ve probably had for years is tough. I applaud your courage and celebrate with you the changes you want to make in your life.
HOW TO CHOOSE A SEX ADDICTION THERAPIST: THE “FIT” IS KEY . . .
There are many factors to consider when choosing a therapist, but the most important is, in my mind, how well you “click” with that person. When you speak with the therapist over the phone or during the first consultation or session, how do you feel? Do you feel safe? Understood? Does his or her presence and approach “fit” with you?
These initial questions are so important because studies like this one have shown that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is the most important factor in the efficacy of change in psychotherapy. Yes, you read that right. More than the therapist’s training, theoretical orientation, or interventions, the connection between the therapist and the client is the best predictor of the outcomes of therapy. Crazy, huh?
In other words, if there’s a strong therapeutic relationship (i.e., empathy, trust, acceptance, and freedom to be “real”), you’re more likely to experience the change you’re after in therapy.
If the relationship is crappy (i.e., the therapist blames or judges you, interprets a lot, is overly directive, or doesn’t pay attention to inevitable ruptures in the relationship), you’re less likely to realize your goals in counseling.
That’s why I believe that connection is everything. It’s how we heal and grow as human beings because we are inherently relational. When someone listens closely to us and seeks to understand us, we know it, and the encounter changes us. It’s awesome.
. . . BUT FINDING A THERAPIST WHO KNOWS ABOUT SEX ADDICTION IS IMPORTANT TOO
The relationship between you and your therapist is critical to your success in therapy, but finding someone who understands your sex addiction is also important. Why?
Most therapists will be able to help you understand and process your most difficult and painful feelings. These feelings of inadequacy, of being unlovable, of being rejected and alone, for instance, undergird addiction; sex addiction is, after all, fueled by shame, and having a trusted therapist to talk about your shame with can do wonders.
Sex addiction often begins as a means of soothing these painful feelings on our own. So getting someone’s help with those feelings is fantastic.
But therapists who don’t understand sex addiction often miss that after a while, as sexual behaviors continue to escalate, addiction kicks in: At this point, addicts no longer engage in compulsive sexual behaviors because they want to feel differently or self-medicate. They keep pursuing these behaviors because engaging in them has become its own reward, so that acting out takes on a life of its own and spirals more and more out of control.
That’s why it’s so important to treat the addiction first. A therapist knowledgable about sex addiction will help you determine whether or not addiction is present in your life. If it is, without treating the addiction, without a collaborative effort between you and your therapist to treat the addiction, it’s less likely that you’ll be able to experience long-term change.
WHAT TO ASK ABOUT WHEN LOOKING FOR A SEX ADDICTION THERAPIST
If you’re looking for a therapist to help you with behaviors you might think is a sex addiction, it’s a good idea to keep a couple of questions in mind:
- How much experience do they have working with sex addiction?
- Do they have special training in working with sex addiction?
- How do they approach working with sex or pornography addiction?
When making the initial contact, ask the therapist if he or she offers an initial consultation. Many therapists do offer such consultations free of charge. A consultation, which are usually anywhere from ten to twenty-five minutes and are free of charge, is a great way to get the “feel” for what it would be like to work with that therapist and to ask any questions you have.
If at the end of the consult you don’t feel it’s a good fit, you might consider saying so and ask if they can offer you referrals for another therapist in your area. Don’t be afraid of doing this—a good therapist won’t take this personally. Besides, you deserve to work with someone that’s a great fit for you.
If you’re looking for a sex addiction therapist in your area, check out sexhelp.com to find one near you. If you’re in southern California, email me to set up a free consultation. I’d be happy with you to talk about how I might help, if only to point you in the right direction.