Sexual Addiction and Psychotherapy Techniques

Contributor: by Life Healing Center clinical team member Ryan Poling, M.A.

Beach couple laughing and overcoming Sexual AddictionSexual addiction and psychotherapy for sexual addiction can be divisive and emotionally loaded topics.

While sexual addiction is not formally recognized as a mental health disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, there is a body of research advocating for it to be recognized as such.

Despite its controversial status, the cluster of behaviors commonly referred to as sexual addiction or hypersexual disorder can disrupt a person’s life, causing him or her to seek therapy. But what is to be expected when seeking therapy? How does therapy for a sex addiction work?

Therapy for Sexual Addiction

Many times in therapy, the reason a person initially seeks therapy is only one piece of a larger puzzle. For example, a person may come to therapy for relationship stress with his spouse and eventually discover that his mistrust of his wife is partly rooted in the fact that his mother was not dependable and frequently absent from his life.

Attractive man breathing outdoorSimilarly, a person’s harmful sexual behaviors are often only one piece of a larger story, so therapy will often focus on discovering what the larger story might be.

Medicine may provide a helpful analogy of this process. In medicine, certain symptoms in and of themselves might not necessarily point to one specific underlying cause.

A person coming to the hospital with chest pain may be suffering from a pulled muscle, broken rib, collapsed lung, or even a heart attack. In order to treat the problem, a physician must first uncover the underlying cause. In this case, treatment would look very different if the underlying problem was a pulled muscle as opposed to a heart attack.

Therapy for sex addiction can involve a similar exploration. For example, a person may feel lonely, isolated, and depressed and may attempt to numb his feelings of isolation by using pornography.

Regardless of the behaviors, a person’s sex addiction is usually a symptom of a deeper issue. Therapy for sex addiction will therefore typically work to uncover the motivations behind the behaviors and then begin to address and process these underlying issues.

Therapy Techniques: Cognitive-Behavioral

Therapists who treat sex addiction behaviors may use a number of different interventions. Some therapists use a type of therapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT, as its name suggests, tends to focus on cognitions, or thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

During treatment for a sex addiction, a CBT therapist will work with clients to process unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and gradually help replace these thoughts and behaviors with healthier ones.

Therapy Techniques: Psychodynamic

Man and woman holding hands and dealing with Sexual AddictionAnother type of therapy is known as psychodynamic therapy. Psychodynamic therapy focuses on exploring one’s unconscious mind, unmet needs, and early relationship patterns, and connecting those dynamics with the person’s current behavior.

For example, a woman who was not emotionally supported by her father may, as an adult, seek emotional support from other men, in the form of sex, in an attempt to “make up for” the emotional support that she needed but did not receive when she was younger.

Psychodynamic therapy attempts to uncover these relationship patterns and link them with current patterns, granting insight into current behavior and helping people choose healthier ways of meeting their needs and relating to others.

Therapy Techniques: Group

Group therapy can be a critical part of any successful treatment. While individual therapy allows for deep exploration of personal issues, group therapy allows people to come together, learn from each other, and support each other.

Group therapy also allows people to explore and better understand their own behaviors in a safe environment that allows for a deeper in-the-moment exploration of interpersonal behavior. Typically led by one or two therapists, groups generally include six to ten members.

They range from process groups where each day’s work emerges organically based on what different members wish to discuss to topic-focused groups that discuss a certain topic or theme each week, such as relapse prevention or how to manage triggers.

Seeking Treatment for Sexual Addiction

Father and teenage daughter outdoorsAs long as a person seeks treatment from a qualified and licensed mental health professional, many different types of treatment can be helpful. In fact, the most important factor in treatment is a good relationship with one’s therapist. One’s therapist should feel safe, trustworthy, and competent.

While the road to healing may be long and difficult, sexual addiction behaviors can be treated successfully.

About the Author:

“Sexual Addiction and Psychotherapy Techniques” was written by Life Healing Center clinical team member Ryan Poling, M.A. Ryan has experience working clinically with a wide range of populations and presenting concerns. He is has earned Master’s degrees in psychology and theology and was Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Azusa Pacific University from 2012 to 2015.

About Life Healing Center:

Located in the Sangre de Cristo foothills overlooking beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, Life Healing Center is a place of personal transformation for adults aged 18 and above who are struggling with trauma, chemical dependency, intimacy disorders, and co-occurring psychiatric disorders. Treatment at Life Healing Center is a holistic experience in which time-tested techniques and emerging therapeutic methodologies are combined into a clinically sophisticated approach that addresses each patient’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. Care is provided by a board-certified psychiatrist, master’s level therapists, licensed drug and alcohol counselors, certified sex addiction therapists, nurses, clinical technicians, and contracted ancillary service providers.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on November 4, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 6, 2021
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