Finding Help for a Sex Addict

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Finding Help for a Sex Addict

By Brian Whitney 03/04/15

Rehabs for drug and alcohol addiction are everywhere, but where do you turn for sex addiction?

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Finding quality treatment for sex addiction, whether you are the one who identifies as a sex addict or the partner, spouse, or loved one of an addict, is a huge challenge. There are options for those looking for treatment for sex addiction, but are having a hard time finding a specialized therapist in their area.

It is a difficult thing to identify as a sex addict. It is the kind of thing, when one says it out loud, that gets different kinds of reactions from people, most of them negative. The two words, when put together, are evocative. Sexually compulsive is a little better, but it still gets the same sort of negative response. Addiction, by definition, is a compulsive behavior that you cannot control or relinquish, in spite of its destructive consequences, and that definition certainly applies to sex addicts.

If you live in New York, or L.A. then this article is not for you. There are close to 200 Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT) in California.

I don’t live in California. I live in Portland, Maine. It is a cool little city, in a state that I consider to be a great place to live. But, there is not one CSAT in my entire state, not one person that specializes in my issue.

To say it was frustrating when I was looking for help is an understatement. It took me about 20 years of destructive sexual behavior before I sought help, and when I did, I found that no one in my liberal little city had any idea about how to treat what was going on with me.

Timothy Lee, director and founder of New York Pathways, has experienced that frustration from both sides of the fence. Lee was a sex addict, who struggled to find effective treatment. “I tried to describe what was going on to therapists and some of them would tell me what I was doing was normal, a lot of therapist out there need to be educated.”  

New York Pathways treats roughly 100 addicts a week. Lee also serves on the board of the Society For the Advancement of Sexual Health, a nonprofit multi-disciplinary organization dedicated to scholarships, training, and resources for promoting sexual health and overcoming problematic sexual behaviors.  

There was no doubt that I needed treatment. My major issue was infidelity. I was often involved in three or four different relationships at once. I got an enormous rush from having multiple sexual partners and lying to them all. This wasn’t about sex for me, although I did enjoy that part of it; it was about control and power. No matter what happened, no matter how bad things got, even when I lost marriages, homes and jobs because of my sexual behavior, I continued on. Instead of stopping I went further into it, going into darker and more depraved places. The addiction cycle was real.

I soon discovered that finding quality treatment for sex addiction was a huge challenge, albeit one that turned out to be worth it. I saw five or six different therapists over the course of a year. The closest I got to getting help locally was an addiction specialist that told me that he didn’t know much about it, but would be willing to learn as much as he could and work with me. 

Amanda Bailey, who is a LCPC and Clinical Mental Health Counselor based out of Portland, was kind enough to give me her perspective. She told me that neither she, nor anyone she knew professionally, had ever encountered a client with sex addiction, or at least one that was willing to talk to them about it.

“It is entirely possible that I have worked with someone who struggled with sex addiction, but it did not surface during the course of treatment. This could largely be due to my lack of screening. Sex addiction is not given as much attention in the assessment process as alcohol or drug addiction. I always ask new clients how much alcohol they drink, and we explore their relationship with it. I ask about cigarettes. I ask about caffeine. I never ask new clients if they engage in compulsive sexual behavior or have a sexual preoccupation that adversely affects their life. When we avoid the topic, we send a message that sex is meant to be kept silent. This silence continues to fuel a culture of shame and sickness around sex.”

After my efforts to find local help that could treat my condition effectively yielded no results, I ended up driving close to two hours to meet with a counselor who specialized in sex addiction. She was kind, and knowledgeable and it was nice at least to have someone validate what was going on. But considering where I was at and the crazy, out-of-control, and often illegal things I was doing, she told me I needed to go to rehab, as soon as possible.

This presented the next set of obstacles. Where was I going to go and how I was going to pay for it?  I tried to avoid going to rehab by trying an outpatient program in Los Angeles. This was an all day intensive treatment, but I wouldn’t stay at the facility at night. I flew out and got a room in a hotel down the street from the Sexual Recovery Institute in good old Beverly Hills.

My feelings at this point vacillated between feeling hopeful because I was finally getting help, and feeling hopeless because of what I was getting help for. The other addicts there were outwardly normal and successful in society; there was a doctor that had affairs, an advertising executive who went to Thailand to have sex with underage prostitutes, and an army guy that had given all his money to an online dominatrix. 

We showed up around nine in the morning, had groups all day, as well as one individual session daily. My individual counselor was excellent, and called me on my stuff daily. It was the first time I had met with someone that really got it. At night, we would go to S.A. meetings with the rich and famous, then maybe get some sushi and go back to our hotels rooms, and wonder what the hell happened in our lives that made us wind up there.

This wasn’t enough to get me through my addictive tendencies. It would have been foolish to pretend that it was, and the staff at SRI was anything but foolish, they were used to dealing with manipulative people like me. They pushed me toward inpatient rehab even harder than my therapist had, so a few weeks later I wound up at Keystone, in beautiful downtown Chester, Pennsylvania.  

I chose Keystone because I had to find a place that fit my budget as rehabs are pretty expensive. In 2007, I paid roughly $10,000 for my 30-day stay. They wanted me to stay longer, but I didn't have any money left. I took a train home to Maine. Keystone was helpful, but there was literally almost no individual work done at all.

There are roughly 10-15 facilities in the United States that offer inpatient treatment for sex addiction, some of the most well known are The Meadows in Arizona, The Life Healing Center in New Mexico, and Gratitude in Mississippi.

Others are listed here. Many offer private rooms, groups facilitated by experts in sex addiction and therapy around the clock.  

I spoke to Deborah Schiller, the program director at Gratitude, which is the sexual addiction arm of Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services. Her program lasts 60-90 days, depending on the severity of the addiction. She assured me that her program, and others like it, were world class and on the cutting edge of sexual addiction treatment, but agreed that without insurance, it was difficult for the average person to afford.

Keystone was quite austere and offered no amenities to make one feel comfortable. Because of this, it was cheaper than some of the other rehabs out there, but still made an attempt to offer the same type of treatment as other facilities.

Being in rehab isolated me from my addictive behaviors, which in itself was a blessing. Sometimes, the most important aspect of rehab is to just get the client out of what they are doing, so they can step back and assess how bad things have become.

Things were a tad grittier at Keystone than they were in L.A. My roomie was straight out of jail for exhibitionism, and my best friend in the place was an ex-NBA player that was straight out of prison where he was sent for indulging in some odd sexual behavior. When my wife wrote a victim impact statement about all the ways I had hurt her, he was the one who sat in a chair in front of me, looked me in the eye, and read it to me in front of the rest of the clients.

We started our day with a group that consisted solely of clients, and then continued to have group therapy run by the staff for the rest of the day. It was unique, for all of us, to be someplace where the staff actually understood our issues.

My fellow rehabbers ran the gamut of sex addiction. We had porn addicts, phone sex addicts, peeping toms, a guy who banged anonymous guys in subway bathrooms before he met up with the women he had affairs with, before he went home to his wife. All of us felt shame for who we were and what we had done, but we also felt pride for being there, and for trying, at last, to get help.

Sexual addiction treatment is still in its infancy. There are many people, whether they be professionals or not, that still don’t understand what it is like to have this problem, or how to treat it. But there is help out there, and it does work, one just needs to have the desire, and the finances, to find it.

Brian Whitney is a pseudonym for an author and ghostwriter, his book Raping the Gods is available in the Spring of 2015. He last wrote 10 Signs You Are a Sex Addict.

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