I am going to start this post by adamantly stating that I am not a couples counselor. It’s not my thing and I just can’t do it. I have a great respect for those therapists who train in this area and devote their careers to helping couples find their way. Since I do not do couples therapy, I must refer my clients out to other couples therapists. You might think that this is an easy task. There are many Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists in this world. Then why do I hear so many horror stories from my clients? Why is my list of people to NOT refer to longer than my list of people TO refer to?
I will share with you the story of a newer client’s experience in couples counseling. First, I should share that I work with sex addicts and sexually addicted sex offenders. It is a rather specialized population and perhaps, a controversial one. Many of my clients are caught by the authorities for viewing child pornography. For many of them, this behavior is an escalation of their addiction to pornography.
This man and his wife, not long after her “disclosure by police”, went to see a couples therapist. This was not someone our program recommended but a therapist that they found via their insurance. The therapist had no stated knowledge or expertise in working with pornography addiction nor with offenders. This was glaringly obvious. My client reported that he was very open with this therapist. He told the counselor all about his addiction and how it led to his use of illegal images and arrest. (Let me tell you this is a big deal to share at a first session with anyone!).
When a client comes to you for this type of work, their level of shame gives them an amazing radar for judgment. They are sharing their deepest secrets with you, the therapist. If you move an eyebrow they will know it and likely interpret it as you judging them. Well, my client immediately felt as though the couples therapist did not believe that pornography addiction was a real thing. All from a vocal expression of the therapist. My client continued the session for the sake of his partner.
This therapist asked to see the partner alone during the initial session. Granted, what I relate to you is third party information, relayed from the partner to the client to me. However, even allowing for interpretation of the event, there is some truth here. That truth is very bothersome.
What the partner heard: the couples therapist thought that her husband (my client) was lying. The couples therapist felt that my client was not sorry about anything only that he was caught. The couples therapist then advised the partner that she should leave the relationship. All this assessment was garnered after only an hour intake session.
One can only imagine what this did to the partner.
What this also does is taint the idea of couples therapy for both of them.
As counselors, therapists and psychologists, we are only supposed to treat within our area of expertise. I treat sexual addiction, sexual offenders, addiction, and trauma and addiction. If someone comes to me with an eating disorder, for example, I don’t treat them. I refer them to a therapist who specializes in eating disorders. If someone comes to me with schizophrenia, I refer them to a specialist. You get the idea.
When we do not abide by this and treat people out of our area of expertise we can do damage to the client. This happens frequently when it comes to sex addiction. Sex addiction is a very controversial topic. Many people think it doesn’t exist and many people do. Personally, the label does not matter to me. For some clients, the label matters very much. If a client feels they have a sexual addiction and identifies with the label in a healthy way and a therapist tells them that it doesn’t exist or treats them in a manner biased by their own beliefs, they can do harm to the client.
If there is a stigma about sex addiction, then the stigma against sex offenders is there tenfold. Even less therapists are trained in treating sex offenders than sex addicts. There are studies that show therapists won’t treat pedophiles. In a profession where we are supposed to be open and nonjudgmental, many of us are just that, judgmental.
I do not write this to bash well-meaning couples therapists. I reiterate that I have the utmost respect for your work! My plea to couples therapists is this: If you do not believe in sex addiction, do not treat a couple where one partner feels they are a sex addict. If you do not believe in sex addiction or pornography addiction, please don’t shame the person with the addiction. If you do not want to treat sex offenders, then simply say that. Please don’t go behind one partner’s back and tell them that their husband or wife is lying and they should leave.
My advice for those seeking couples counseling (or any counseling for that matter) is to investigate your potential therapist. I understand that therapy out of network can be costly. The list of therapists you get from your insurance company means nothing other than they are in network with your insurance. It is your job to do some groundwork on us. Check out the therapist’s website. Consider what their specialties are. Call and ask if they specialize in working with couples (or individuals) who are going through what you are going through. If they don’t, then find another therapist.
Ultimately, we work for the client. Therefore I end every one of my intake sessions with a new client with one question. “Do you think that you can work with me?” I want to know if they feel comfortable with me. If not, even if I have the right training for the client, I am not the right therapist.
For more information on Dr. Weeks and her practice, visit our website: www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com