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The addictive mentality replaces our human capacity for relationship with self-reliance and a preference for a chemical experience. Thus, recovery from pornography or sexual addiction involves relational solutions and experiences. One of these is counseling. Counseling is not merely a sequence of techniques and strategies. It is a protected relationship geared towards guiding and supporting a person towards a life of purity.

The basic three-pronged approach of recovery from an addiction ideally involves group support, counseling, and spiritual growth. This list should also include the physical to help the body. These include things like healthy eating, exercise, and care from a medical doctor. All of these essentially guide us towards relational and emotional maturity and growth in faith.

Catholics are also looking for counseling that respects their faith. Suzanne Baars, a Catholic therapist in Dallas, Texas, indicates that in a Catholic view, counseling’s role is to remove the emotional obstacles in a person’s life to better support the work of grace.

Again this indicates that when we learn how to support our nature this can provide us with a “greater capacity for both happiness and holiness.” Baars indicates that the emotions and reason when ordered toward desiring what is good and thus healthy, rather than just willing the good, lead us to a more fulfilled life. Similarly, Saint Thomas Aquinas reminds us that “Grace builds on nature.”

Counseling has many benefits to sexual addiction recovery. Here are five of those benefits.

1. Making Sense of Our History

Counseling addresses detached or broken family connections and how these impact an individual and may have contributed to an addiction. Our early relationships set the stage for how we attach later. These are the guideposts of our ability to be intimate.

Our own personal story is important in recovery, as we can make sense of past memories and change future responses. Family roles that were rigid and disengaged can sometimes dispose a person to seek out things rather than relationships for comfort. Counseling helps to get at where we are stuck in relating and more quickly teach healthier boundaries.

2. A More Personalized Approach

Counseling offers a more personal and progressive approach to recovery, catered to the needs of an individual. In my experience, many are not willing to pursue group therapy right away. Men, in particular, are hoping that there will be a quick fix. Most initially want a more private approach to addressing the problem rather than a group approach, which objectively is a little less confidential.

Most will confess to a priest or seek spiritual direction, prior to counseling. After some initial counseling work on denial, shame, and expressing their brokenness, a client may be better disposed to seek group support and distinguish the healthy from the unhealthy in that setting. The model of the 12-Steps as used in Sexaholics Anonymous can be very useful.

3. Relief From Negative Thinking

Counseling aids in relief from negative thinking patterns and unhealthy core beliefs. Negative thoughts about oneself or about others in a mode of self-protection can fuel a belief system that makes it difficult to be in a lasting relationship. Denial, anger, and isolation/avoidance patterns are examples of these.

Negative thoughts and poor self-worth are a big deal when it comes to addiction; they form into more deeply rooted beliefs or lies about oneself. In counseling, we can look to replace ineffective coping and denial with more positive ways of thinking which can speed up the process recovery and allow for a growing sense of accomplishment.

4. Betrayal Trauma

One of the newer and important areas for counseling in the field of sexual addiction is the treatment of betrayal trauma. With betrayal trauma, there is a violation experienced by someone who has been relied upon for closeness and care. This violation could be an affair, the discovery of pornography use, etc.

This can create a state of overwhelmed emotions for the betrayed individual and make rebuilding trust more complicated. Often, the addicted person needs recovery from trauma as well. This lends support to the idea that both spouses need healing and support in the process of recovery from sexual addictions. Both are impacted, and both need support.

5. Witness to a Healthier Family

Pornography or sexual addiction occurs in the context of a family system. A system where the children are often unable to understand or speak to what they are witnessing. A system where spouses are often unable to confront without fear of loss or abandonment. A therapist can play a role in observing what is going on and guiding a family with an outside perspective.

This witness is very important with sexual addiction, as there is often a system of shame within the family. A therapist offers the advantage of training and a different knowledge base, to help support what is healthy. A priest can also be a valuable resource as well in supporting the work of the individual or couple and guiding them towards a good counselor. It is ideal when a priest is able to play a role as a spiritual shepherd for a family in recovery and as needed coordinating with the therapist.

Finding a Psychology that Respects the Human Person

Not all methods of psychology have respected the human person (body and soul) or the view of the person in light of their communal vocation, and thus led to past mistrust of psychology by Christians. There was the famous example of the Immaculate Heart of Mary order in California in the 1960's, which was influenced by Carl Rogers’ Encounter groups and ideas that encouraged them to seek self-actualization personal freedom rather than life within the Church. This eventually led to the dissolution of the vows of many and a break down within the order.

In a similar way, counseling that does not respect the order of relationships of the person or in marriage can unfortunately easily become more like pre-divorce counseling. Pop psychology has often offered a sort of feel-good individualism instead of leading people toward God.

As a reaction, some Catholics have turned toward purely spiritual direction and away from counseling in general. Unfortunately, this approach missed some of the benefits of good psychology to help a person grow in the emotional life. So, if we are to value good psychology and counseling, we are challenged to understand its role for the Catholic.

There is a distinction between psychotherapy that is based in Catholic thought and that which primarily has a secular or humanistic approach. According to Dr. William Nordling, professor at Divine Mercy University, a Catholic approach “integrates scientific psychology’s theoretical and empirically-based knowledge with the philosophical and theologically based understanding of the human person from the Catholic faith.”

He went on to say that this approach also considers an individual’s “call to holiness.” In viewing this call to holiness the therapist respects the person’s vocation as well as one’s individual freedom.

A secular approach to counseling primarily seeks to serve the desires of the individual and at times can lean towards a relativistic approach. Now, with advancements in treating addiction, traumatic stress, relational and emotional attachment, and brain science, there has been a surge in available resources. Dr. Nordling recognized that Catholic counseling looks to go beyond just treating symptoms toward the need to grow in virtue, patient endurance, and suffering when necessary.

It considers the sequence of self-knowledge leading to self-acceptance and ultimately, self-gift. As it is very true for recovery from sexual addiction, a Catholic therapist needs to use methods that are consistent with Catholic teaching and ethics.

Resource
Bloom for Catholic Women

Bloom For Catholic Women

Description

Bloom For Catholic Women offers therapeutic and Catholic-based online courses for women healing from the trauma of discovering their husband's sexual and/or pornography addiction. 

Audience: Women
Language: English
Resource Type: Online courses 
Cost: Monthly subscription - $10. Individuals courses - $50. 

Daniel Spadaro is a professional counselor in private practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has worked as a counselor with couples, families, and youth since 1997. He received an MA in Counseling from Franciscan University of Steubenville and has training in the area of sexual addictions.  He has served as a member of the Diocesan Review Board and is currently a member of the faculty for the Permanent Deacon Formation Program in Colorado Springs. Dan has written and consulted for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on the topic of pornography and has spoken to a variety of groups nationally about the topic of addictions and pornography.