When Is Professional Help Needed in Porn Addiction Recovery?

This is a question that many people aren’t sure how to frame. We know we shouldn’t wait until things are “that bad” but we want things to be “bad enough” to merit the time and energy of counseling. If only it were as clear-cut as holding your kids out of school–if they have vomited or had diarrhea in the last 24 hours, they stay home.

In this post I offer nine points of reflection to help you identify whether making the time and energy investment in counseling is wise for your life struggle. The more of these points you identify with, the more likely counseling would be a wise step for you.

do i need professional help as I recover from porn addiction?

One preface should be made, if you equate “not seeking professional help” with “doing nothing,” you are being unwise. Pornography is both immoral (wrong) and harmful to your quality of relationships (unwise). If you are using pornography, you should “do something” about it. This article is merely to help you assess whether professional help is warranted.

“I don’t have anyone I feel like I can talk to.” (Isolation)

Being alone with your struggle may be the strongest indicator that it’s going to get worse. Counseling provides an outlet for you to get comfortable talking about your struggle. A solid Christian counselor will encourage you to begin connecting with a small group at your church so that this isolation-relief you initially experience in counseling can begin to occur in more natural, day-to-day relationships.

“I don’t know what to do next” or “What I’m doing isn’t working.” (Confusion)

Another major factor that causes a struggle to get worse is a sense of powerlessness that emerges from confusion or ineffectiveness. Counseling can provide additional strategies and recommend new resources to offset the sense of powerlessness when we’ve done everything we’ve known to do and it hasn’t provided relief.

“You are trying to hide your struggle.” (Shame)

Hiding is isolation on steroids. When we are tempted to hide our struggle the confidentiality of counseling can provide a safe context to begin breaking that habit. You will never be more pure than you are honest. Counseling is a place where you can practice being completely honest.

Related: Destroying Porn Addiction Starts With Destroying Shame

“My struggle is getting progressively worse.” (Depth)

When you can tell that your struggle with pornography or other forms of sexual sin is increasing in frequency, duration, or depravity in spite of your efforts to change, then counseling is a wise step to prevent allowing the struggle from becoming more rooted in your life.

Related: Porn–A Gateway Drug

The deeper you let the roots of sin go, the more painful it will be to remove them. Change will never be easier than it would be if you started right now.

“My struggle is dominating my thoughts or emotions.” (Frequency)

Do you notice that the struggle is beginning to consume a larger percentage of your waking hours and/or disrupting your ability to sleep? Even if the intensity is remaining relatively constant, an increase in the frequency of your struggle can make counseling a wise step towards reclaiming this part of your life. How much time are you devoting to planning for or hiding your pornography habit? If you got serious about pursuing purity, how much of your life would you get back?

“I am withdrawing from or losing interest in things I enjoy.” (Adhedonia)

Sorry to include a little Latin. “Adhedonia” means the loss of pleasure. When we lose interest in things we normally enjoy that is an indicator that our pornography habit is beginning to significantly highjack the reward center of our brain. This is an indication that pornography is no longer a “habit” but is becoming an “addiction.”

“My ability to function at home or work is being affected.” (Productivity)

When your struggle impacts your ability to fulfill your basic life roles, then it is likely to begin deteriorating your sense of value as a person. That is a very emotionally dangerous way to think about life. Counseling can be helpful in assisting you to navigate the sense of failure you feel, which you are likely beginning to self-medicate with more pornography usage. This creates a cycle that will not be interrupted without a high degree of intentionality.

“I think everyone around me is wrong, lazy, or an idiot.” (Blame-Shifting or Cynicism)

When our attitude towards life means either everyone else is wrong, or we’re wrong, we should assume that’s a big red flag. It also likely means we’ve burned many of our relational bridges. Counseling can be a context to see things more clearly while we take steps to mend the bridges we’ve burned.

“I am beginning to escape or numb myself through substances or mindless activities.” (Addiction)

When we are satisfied to escape or numb our struggles in a manner that does nothing to resolve them, we are surrendering. The likely result is that our numbing or escaping activity will become addictive because, as the struggle inevitably grows, so will the duration of time given to our numbing or escaping activity. When you see yourself entering this pattern, counseling is highly recommended.

Here are answers to other FAQ’s around this subject (note: these are tailored to my context as a pastor at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC, but the main principles are very transferable):

  1. How would the counseling provided by a formal pastoral counselor compare to a licensed counselor?
  2. What can I do to place myself in the best position to benefit from counseling?
  3. How do I find a good match in a counselor for my needs?
  4. How do I find a good counselor in [name of city]?