It is a valid question that any sex addict and/or partner of a sex addict should ask. In the world of therapy and counseling, there are many options that are available to a prospective client; Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC), Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT), sex therapists, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) etc.. No matter what the focus of treatment may be, each mental health profession’s approach varies greatly and each therapist will assure a prospective client that his or her experience and training as a mental health professional can help the client. It can be confusing and many times a client may not know who is right for the job. Sex addicts as well as partners of sex addicts who are seeking help are no exceptions to this quandary. Sex addiction therapy is not merely ‘counseling’ in essence, it has several compounding factors that increase the complexity of therapy, demanding more from the therapist.
In addition to forming a safe place for therapy to take place and being competent in advanced counseling skills, sex addiction therapy also requires a therapist to understand, know how to respond to, and be adept in helping the client with:
- The interactive nature of disorder – addictions often come in packages and are linked, interacting together. For example – smoking and alcoholism are often found together.
- How to engage the partners of sex addicts – there are numerous consequences to sex addiction that affect more than the addict. Partners of sex addicts are often casualties of addiction and need help processing how they have been impacted and how to move forward.
- Addressing denial about sex addiction (both in the addict and the partner) – without a firm grasp of the dynamics of sex addiction, a therapist will not be equipped or knowledgeable in confronting denial, the first task of sex addiction treatment.
- Traumatic bonding – many addicts are bonded to their addiction because of traumatic experiences from the past. Realizing the existence of the traumatic bond, what role anger plays when the client acts out (reenacts the trauma) and understanding how to sever the traumatic bond is a challenging piece of sex addiction therapy.
- The potential complexity and nightmare of legal issues – divorce, child custody battles, being registered as a sex offender, court-mandated sex addiction therapy, being arrested for numerous kinds of acting out including (child pornography, exhibitionism, voyeurism, child abuse, rape etc.) expose any helping therapist to additional levels of ethical, professional, and legal risk. Not all therapists are willing to take on these challenges and the extra time, effort, and legal exposure that comes with them.
- Unlike other mental health professionals, CSATs have been trained by leading experts in the sex addiction treatment field on (but not limited to) the points specified above. As already stated, general counseling requires years of academic and clinical training. All the moving pieces that need to be properly addressed add to the already challenging work that comes with general counseling.
- The debate on the existence of sex addiction continues to go back and forth as it has for years. Not all mental health providers agree that sex addiction even exists, not to mention how best to treat it. So even inside the sex addiction treatment field, you won’t find consistent, research-driven approaches that are successful. Even when there was less support for the idea of sex addiction than there is today, the originator of task-oriented approach to sex addiction treatment, Dr. Patrick Carnes, formed the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP). IITAP functions as an educator and trainer for mental health providers who seek cutting-edge training and resources for treating those with addictive and compulsive sexual behaviors.
- The certification process often takes two to three years to complete after already studying and training for years to conduct general counseling. It is a rigorous, involved, and personally challenging period that often puts the CSAT candidate in the client’s shoes and enables the CSAT to be more empathetic toward the sex addict who experiences fear, shame, anger, and pain.
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