Not All Forms Of Sex Addiction Treatment Are Created Equal

By Britni de la Cretaz 11/02/17

Some health experts are wary of the "treatment" that some therapists and rehab centers are claiming to offer people with sex addiction.

emotional man sitting on couch during therapy session.

As more high-profile men claim to be living with sex addiction in response to accusations of inappropriate behavior, infidelity, sexual harassment, or sexual assault, discussions around what sex addiction actually is—and whether it exists at all—are swirling. And while many experts agree that compulsive sexual behavior likely does exist, they also concur that most celebrities who claim to have it after receiving bad press or criminal accusations likely do not.

Celebrities like Harvey Weinstein, Anthony Weiner, and Tiger Woods may seek treatment for sex addiction, but it’s not a recognized disorder or condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This can make it hard to diagnose and even harder to treat.

Kelly Moylan, LCSW, a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of codependency who consults with the Sexuality, Attachment and Trauma Project, told The Fix earlier this year that it was decided not to include the diagnosis in the latest edition of the DSM because “there is not agreement or research-based evidence to resolve the debate about the problem and its treatment.” 

And treating this compulsive behavior is where it gets tricky. "If there's no [diagnostic] codes associated with it, there's no insurance that will pay for that," Susan Combs, a health insurance broker based in New York, told CBS News. Even still, specialists are clamoring to meet the growing demand of this “new” issue, with 2,500 certified sex addiction therapists in the United States—an increase from just 900 in 2010, according to CBS News.

According to Robert Weiss, LCSW, who founded the now-closed Sexual Recovery Institute, many of these therapists and rehab centers aren’t actually offering treatment. He told CBS News that they’re more focused on making money than providing sound treatment.

Dr. Lloyd Sederer, chief medical officer of the New York State Office of Mental Health, suggests that those looking for sex addiction treatment seek out a therapist licensed by the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals. He also provided a short list of questions for those battling addiction to ask treatment providers:

  • What percentage of your patients are receiving cognitive treatment?
  • What percentage of your patients are getting medications?
  • Are there psychiatrists or addiction doctors who come frequently?
  • What is the long-term plan?

"I'm not saying yoga and massage and horse riding is not helpful, but it's not treatment," Weiss told CBS News. "Treatment is very rigorous work that involves group work, and sessions, and discussions, and contracts. It is hard work." 

Weiss says that sex addiction is more about how sex impacts the person and less about the type or quantity of sex. "The folks that I work with…. they seek the intensity around the search for sex in order to escape emotional challenges and stressors. Just like people drink," Weiss said. "It's very much like compulsive gambling." 

In 2016, Weiss spoke to The Fix and said it is “hard to know the exact stats around recovery because, again, we don’t even have a concrete definition for who suffers with it in the first place.” Even still, he acknowledges that we’ve come a long way when it comes to recognizing the disorder.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.