What the Heck Is Sex and Relationship Rehab?

Part 2
by Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S

(The following post is the second of three taken from Robert Weiss’s article, What the Heck Is Sex and Relationship Rehab?)

Inpatient (Residential) Treatment: Sex Rehab Basics

A common misperception about residential rehab facilities (of all types) is that the addicts who complete these programs will have their problems resolved when they leave treatment. This is not the case. We don’t expect any addict entering rehab to be cured when he or she leaves treatment; rather, we hope that the addict leaves better prepared — with greater emotional strength, social support and shame resilience — for the longer-term, ongoing process of addiction recovery.

The primary goals of sex rehab are:

  • To temporarily separate the addict from the people, places and things that trigger addictive sexual behaviors
  • To clearly delineate, in writing, which sexual behaviors are problematic
  • To confront and address denial about the danger/harm/losses related to the addict’s problematic sexual and romantic behavior patterns (past, current and future)
  • To help the addict gain insight into the consequences of his or her sexual behavior, thereby gaining empathy toward those he or she has harmed (self and others)
  • To provide clear, workable, relapse-prevention tools
  • To encourage participation in lifelong, ongoing recovery from sexual addiction, which often includes long-term individual therapy, group therapy, and/or 12-step involvement

Essentially, residential treatment is a first step on the pathway of lasting sexual sobriety and a satisfying life of personal integrity. Treatment seeks to interrupt long-established compulsive sexual and/or relationship behavior patterns while providing a safe, structured opportunity for building both the awareness and the coping mechanisms required for healing.

What Happens in Residential Sexual Addiction Treatment?

Many people enter sex rehab expecting that the identification and resolution of childhood trauma will be their primary focus. However, this traditionally useful therapeutic approach is often counterproductive at such an early stage of addiction treatment. Helping addicts gain insight into their childhood trauma, while serving to reduce shame, does not provide the concrete tools needed to cope with life on life’s terms without returning to sexual acting out as a way to self-soothe and self-medicate. So, first things first. And the first thing to do in sex rehab is to identify and stop the problematic sexual behaviors. Later, after the addict has established a modicum of sobriety, a therapist can help the patient deal with childhood trauma and other underlying psychological issues. Usually this occurs in a longer-term outpatient treatment setting.

The rehab process starts with a thorough psychological assessment. Careful evaluation explores and evaluates nearly every aspect of the addict’s life. After that, treatment typically focuses on three main issues:

  1. Separating the addict from his or her harmful sexual behavior
  2. Breaking through the denial used to make that behavior acceptable (to the addict)
  3. Raising awareness of when the addict is most likely to act out, and offering concrete coping mechanisms to use instead

Recovering sex addicts nearly always require external reinforcement and support if they wish to eliminate deeply ingrained behavior patterns. Group therapy, begun in residential rehab, starts this process. It is in these settings that addicts are able to clearly see, often for the first time, that their problems are not unique and they are not alone. This helps to reduce the guilt, shame and remorse that sex addicts experience in relation to their behaviors. The group format is also ideal for confronting the denial that all sex addicts develop. Group level confrontations are powerful not only for the person being confronted, but for the addicts doing the confronting. Through these interactions, everyone present learns how rationalization and justification sustain addiction. Last but not least, addicts are able to learn from and reinforce with one another which interventions and coping mechanisms work best, based on their own and other group members’ experiences.

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