In the aftermath of betrayal, finding help is a priority, but finding the right help is the key to things improving quickly. For example, therapy for those dealing with sexual addiction follows a very different course than therapy for those dealing with infidelity without a compulsivity component. As such, it is important that the therapist you work with is able to do what we call “differential diagnosis,” accurately determining what type of problem you are dealing with and what the best treatment for that problem is.
At the Center for Relational Recovery, we recently began working with a couple dealing with addiction. The husband had been using alcohol, cocaine, and sex compulsively. As we unwrapped the layers surrounding his behaviors, his addiction to alcohol and drugs was obvious. We also found that when he was drinking and using, he acted out sexually. But when he was not drinking and using, he was not compulsive with sex. The wife was sure he was a sex addict and needed sex addiction treatment. And of course, her biggest wounds were around the sexual betrayal, so she wanted assurance that he would stop and be treated for those behaviors.
However, the reality is that he is not a sex addict. He has alcohol and drug induced sexual behavior. He needs substance abuse treatment plus couples therapy to repair the damage done in the relationship, but he does not need sex addiction treatment.
If you have a therapist who is not well versed and trained in the different forms of betrayal and the ways that might manifest, you may end up with a misdiagnosis and the wrong type of treatment.
If you are dealing with infidelity without sexual addiction, you will want to look for a couple’s therapist who understands the dynamics of infidelity and how to help couples heal the wounds that have damaged the relational bond (what are called attachment injuries). You will want a couple’s therapist trained in approaches that specifically address the repair of ruptured bonds, the restoration of emotional safety, and learning how to deeply connect with one another emotionally.
Therapists trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT) are particularly skilled with these issues. The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy has a therapist directory that will help you locate a certified EFT specialist in your area. Another option is to look for someone trained in working with betrayal trauma by the Gottman Institute, which specializes in research-based approaches to helping couples dealing with betrayal. If you know other people who have dealt with issues similar to your own, you may want to ask them where they found useful help. If you’re in a 12-step recovery program, asking others in the group where they have found support can also be helpful.
If you are in a relationship with a sex addict – a person with an ongoing pattern of compulsive sexual behavior – you will want to find a therapist trained and credentialed in treating sexual addiction. Be wary of therapists who claim to treat sexual addiction even though they have not received any formal training or certification. You should also steer clear of therapists who believe that sex addicts need specialized help but their betrayed partners can be treated by a general practitioner. This approach ignores the level of traumatic injury experienced by the partner and underestimates the level of skill needed to intervene effectively. It also ignores the specific and unique challenges that couples dealing with sexual addiction face, including the timing and pacing of therapy needed to manage those unique issues effectively.
Here are some places to look for a therapist trained in treating sexually compulsive behavior and partner trauma.
• The International Institute of Trauma and Addiction Professionals, an organization that trains and certifies sex addiction therapists, has a useful therapist finder link.
• Another resource is the Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists (APSATS), at www.partnertraumaspecialists.org.
• The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health at www.sash.net also has a directory of individuals who work with problematic sexual behaviors.
When looking for a therapist, don’t be afraid to interview the therapist and ask about his or her credentials and experience. If you can, visit more than one therapist to determine who is the best fit for you. Ask potential therapists to explain how they assess the problem and decide on the proper treatment path. Explore how they provide treatment, what training they have received, and what treatment models they use. Ask them to explain how they see your individual treatment interacting with your partner’s treatment and treatment for you as a couple.
Finding good help at the beginning of the process helps things get better quicker. It helps you to feel that you are not alone and that someone has the knowledge and expertise to walk you and your significant other through the healing process. When you and your partner get coordinated help, things stabilize more quickly, as everyone is on the same page, pulling in the same direction, and there is less conflict as you negotiate boundaries and establish safe zones in your relationship.