Avoiding Treatment-Induced Trauma and Finding the Help You Really Need
It can be harder than you think to find a counselor who really gets the trauma you have suffered as a partner of a porn or sexual addict. Learn what to look for, what questions to ask, and what to do when you keep hitting road blocks.
I get e-mails daily from women all over the world asking if I can refer them to a good sex addiction counselor in their area. Since they are asking me I know that means they have been to my website or read one of my articles and are looking for someone who will recognize and validate their trauma while not labeling them a “co-sex addict.” Helping people find good therapists could become a full time job for me. Unfortunately, I am not a referral service and there is a helpless feeling that I can’t assist every person who comes to me. I hope this article will give partners the information they need to locate the right therapist for them.
What is a “Co-Sex Addict”?
Unfortunately, in spite of studies showing that 70% of wives of sex addicts meet the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), most sex addiction counselors are still working from the co-addict model.
The co-addict model says a person who is married to a sex addict is sick, out of control, addicted to their spouse, and implies she is partially to blame for his behavior, simply because she chose to marry a sex addict, even though the vast majority of the time she did not even know he was an addict.
Symptoms of PTSD have been shown to mimic symptoms of co-addiction, but still most therapists are sticking to this outdated model which is doing great harm to partners. So does that mean there is no hope in finding a good counselor to help a woman whose world has been turned upside down by the discovery of her husband’s pornography or sexual addiction? No. But it may prove to be more challenging than it should be. Below are some tips I hope you will find helpful in finding a counselor who will offer you the validation and guidance you need and deserve.
7 Tips for Wives of Sex Addicts
1. Read the book, Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, by Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means. This will educate you on the sex-addiction induced trauma model. Then call around to therapists and ask if they are familiar with the book and subscribe to what it teaches.
2. If they say yes, and many will, probe further. Ask if they use the term co-addict to label partners of sex addicts, especially before they have even met them. (You can often find this on their website, which will help you rule out many therapists quickly.)
If they do sometimes diagnose clients as co-sex addict, and hopefully they don’t, ask if they evaluate them first or if that is the name they give all partners of sex addicts. Do they refer partners to COSA, S-Anon, or any other 12 step meetings? (Hopefully not.) If so, how often and why? 12 step meetings are almost always for addicts and codependent family members of addicts.
Many partners of addicts (such as drug addicts and alcoholics) do enable addictive behavior, turn a blind eye, allow their children to be put in harm’s way by not protecting them from the addict, etc. Some partners of sex addicts fit these criteria. But most partners had no idea their spouse was a sex addict for many years. They may have sensed something was not right, but had no way to prove what it was. Sex addiction is arguably the easiest addiction to hide, and addicts are very good liars and manipulators. You shouldn’t be told something is wrong with you because you didn’t know.
3. Check out the website PartnerTraumaSpecialists.org. This is the website for the fairly new organization, the Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists (APSATS), of which I am a board member. At this time there are only a small number of counselors listed here. However, we have our first training coming up in June 2013, which will provide in depth training to therapists and coaches on treating partners from the sex addiction-induced trauma model. Trainings will be offered all over the country at least twice a year. As counselors complete the training and the required supervision hours to become certified in treating partners, their names will be added to the website.
4. Don’t be afraid to educate your therapist. Ask them to read the aforementioned book. Plead with them to participate in the APSATS training. They can read all about it on the website mentioned above and register there as well. The first training date is set for June 26-29, 2013 in Dallas, TX. This certification will not only give them the ability to offer partners of sex addicts better treatment, but it will make them highly marketable.
Since the release of the book Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, partners have been desperate to find professionals who work from this model. E-mails are pouring in asking for referrals to therapists who have been trained by APSATS. Once a therapist or life coach receives the certification their name and information will be listed on the APSATS website. Please help spread the word about this training. All are welcome to attend, even if they are not a clinician. Pastors and others in the ministry, as well as other helping professionals, will benefit as well. APSATS is a non-profit organization dedicated to the professional training and certification, public education, research and advocacy for treatment of sex addiction- induced trauma.
5. If your husband is in recovery and you both want to stay married, ask if they support simultaneous couple’s and individual counseling. Many will say that you should both focus only on yourselves for the first several months or more and then deal with the marriage. In some cases, such as when the addict is very resistant to treatment or when he is abusive, this might be the best course of action. But most of the time, when an addict is highly motivated for recovery, you both will greatly benefit from marriage counseling which focuses on the effects of the sex addiction on the marriage. Addicts should be taught how to empathize and support his traumatized wife. Couples need guidance in how to interact with each other, set boundaries, and handle triggers early in recovery.
6. Ask the counselor what their opinion is on clinical disclosure. Sometimes referred to as therapeutic disclosure, full disclosure, or healthy disclosure, this is a crucial component in recovery for both the partner and the addict and for the marriage. Ask the therapist when they think clinical disclosure should be done, how much detail their disclosure includes, if you will be allowed to ask whatever questions you want, and if a polygraph test will be included. Ideally, for the couple who is working to save their marriage, clinical disclosure should be done very early in recovery (within one to three months).
Secrets fuel the addiction and prevent healing for the partner. After all, how can you heal when you don’t know exactly what you need to heal from? Addicts will almost always continue to lie about past behaviors, even while in recovery, while promising you that you know everything, without a full clinical disclosure (therapist guided) with polygraph to motivate them to be completely honest.
With some guidance from your therapist, you should be allowed to ask whatever questions you like during the disclosure. Important caveat: Your primary therapist does not have to be the one to do your disclosure. Many good sex addiction therapists don’t have training in clinical disclosure (ask this), don’t understand how to conduct a partner-friendly disclosure, or don’t use polygraph. Read on to learn about other options for disclosure.
7. If you find yourself hitting a lot of road blocks, consider phone or Skype counseling or coaching sessions. Check out JourneyToHealingAndJoy.com, ComfortChristianCounseling.com and SafePassagesCounseling.com. These are a few places that offer phone or Skype counseling/coaching sessions and/or support group that supports the trauma model and do not label you a co-sex addict.
No therapist is perfect, but I hope this information will help you find the perfect therapist for you. If you want to stay in your marriage and your husband is willing to get treatment for his sexual addiction, consider a couple’s intensive as soon as possible.
A partner-sensitive couple’s intensive, such as the one my husband and I offer, will include a full clinical disclosure with polygraph and place an emphasis on teaching the addict how to support his hurting wife while giving you both tools on how to move forward individually and together. Couples travel from all over the country to participate in our intensive. We can help you find a counselor to follow up with in your area after the intensive or communicate with the counselor you already have before, during, and after the intensive so everyone is on the same page. Visit ComfortChristianCounseling.com to learn more.
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