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When Is Professional Help Needed in Porn Addiction Recovery?

Last Updated: November 2, 2017

Brad Hambrick

Brad Hambrick serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in  Durham, NC. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, has authored several books including God’s Attributes: Rest for Life’s Struggles, and served as general editor for the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused (churchcares.com) project.

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]?
  • Comments on: When Is Professional Help Needed in Porn Addiction Recovery?
      • Chris McKenna on

        Hi, John, are you a CE filter user? You might need to have your filter guardian help you here, maybe changing the filter level if you want to watch it. If that doesn’t work, a member of our customer service team can help: 877-479-1119

        Best, Chris

    1. Tim on

      Brad. Thank you for writing this. I have experienced all 9 of the points you describe and more. A couple additions might be ‘length of time you have been struggling with this sin’ and ‘how many times you’ve tried and failed to stop’. My porn addiction has recently been exposed and it caused significant devastation in my marriage. And I’m only now understanding how it has impacted the totality of my life, thoughts, attitude, etc (since being first exposed to it at 8 yrs old). I am not sure my wife will be able to forgive and even if she can, may choose not to remain in the marriage – both of which I accept as consequences to my sin. After denying, minimizing, rationalizing, blame shifting etc I feel God is breaking through to my heart and beginning to work a change in me that I have utterly failed to accomplish on my own. We are in counseling as a couple and individually. I am using CE on my devices, have an accountability meeting weekly and attend CR every week at a local church. In addition I am devouring the articles found in the CE website and working to focus on this battle a day at a time. I am especially grateful for the 40-day challenge App which is incredibly practical. I have learned through failure that none of these things can ‘fix’ me (only God can), but these tools and regular counseling have begun to bear fruit.

      I want to encourage anyone out there reading this that there is hope. You are not alone in this. Don’t let your shame and guilt isolate you any longer. Don’t wait (as I did) until your sin finds you out. It will be so much better for you and those you love if you initiate the process – I know the thought is terrifying – it was so much for me that I failed to do this and I am living with that failure. Take the initiative. Own your brokenness. Stop hiding. Confess, and begin the healing journey. You will not regret it.
      -Tim

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