Back in 1990 when I realized I wasn't the only woman who caught my husband's eye, it was a desert for those of us who needed help. Very, very little had been written about betrayal trauma, and the label “sex addiction” hadn’t yet been coined in the therapeutic community. Help was almost nonexistent.
Fast forward to 2018. The good news is that by comparison, the betrayal trauma landscape is now flourishing with people who want to help. I’ve longed for this day as I’ve listened to thousands of heartbreaking stories since I stumbled into the sex addiction world 28 years ago. Millions of women—and yes, some men—desperately need that help as awareness of the addiction grows. That’s the good news.
But the bad news is that now it's much harder to answer the question, Which therapist, coach, Biblical counselor, group, or process is right for me? Generally, answering that question involves paying money to get help, and for most of us, money has to be spent wisely. That means making a good choice is critical. Twice yesterday I encountered this confusion in two different women’s lives. Woman #1 is currently shopping for the right group, while woman #2 is already in a support group and is very confused about where to go for couple’s help because she keeps getting conflicting advice. In both cases, money is limited, and they must choose wisely.
Let's talk about Woman #1.
Woman #1 lives in a part of the United States where it is still difficult to find local resources. She’s tried, as have others, and they don't seem to be there. So now she is shopping for telephone resources as an alternate path to healing. And I loved her honesty about her approach. Near the end of our free, one-hour phone call she said, “I’m talking to four different resources as I shop for healing. You are the first one I’ve talked to. I have appointments with the other three, and if I want to work with you, I will let you know in a week!” Don’t you just love honesty when you encounter it? Oh, that sex addicts found it that easy to speak the truth.
So how can Woman #1 (or you) determine the best way to heal? These four principles will help:
- Get a professional evaluation of your trauma and mental health
- Find a program that includes a path and a process that results in at least initial healing
- Choose a proven path
- Understand that recovery is a lifelong process
Get a professional evaluation of your trauma symptoms and mental health
Whether we like it or not, betrayal trauma, especially long-term betrayal trauma, does a number on our physical and emotional health. So being assessed for trauma and PTSD, along with depression and anxiety if you’re having a difficult time, is important. Only therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists are trained to evaluate mental health. Biblical counselors, coaches and lay facilitators don't have that degree of training.
And only a psychiatrist can write prescription, if his diagnosis warrants it. And very, very few psychiatrists actually provide counseling. They are medical doctors and in general they focus on dispensing medication to help their patients cope. And usually, once the med is working and you are stable, they will only need to see you once every three months until you are ready to wean off the med. They can assess you and help you get stable with medication, but you are likely going to need to find additional help to do the much-needed work of healing. It is important to be evaluated if you are struggling emotionally, especially if you have children still in the home.
Find a program that Includes a path and a process that results in at least initial healing
When I first began helping other women who had experienced betrayal trauma, I learned the hard way that women don’t heal from betrayal trauma and PTSD simply by talking about it. Yes, sharing our stories and what happens in our lives each week is an important part of healing, but we need more. We need actual stepping stones that will take us where we need to go. A path that, if we show up, do the work between sessions, and share openly in group each week, will carry us forward in our healing. I compare it to the moving conveyor belts in airports. You can step onto one and even if you don’t walk, you will end up in a different spot than where we started. And if you do walk on the belt, your progress doubles in speed. It's that "forward motion by participation" that you need to look for as you choose your path to healing. It will include a workbook you can examine and assess for yourself. As you do, look for a path and a process you can follow that will produce the healing you so desperately need.
Choose a Proven Path
If you can find others who have begun to heal, ask them what enabled them to work through their pain and begin to move on, either with their partner, or without him. Online communities and private Facebook groups for partners of sex addicts are proliferating, and they provide a good place to ask questions. So if you can find one, ask there. You are looking for a path that has worked for others; a path that has been proven to work.
Understand the various kinds of groups
Also, be aware of the various kinds of groups and how they differ. There are:
- 12 step groups for partners of sex addicts, which are free. In general, all but ISA (Infidelity Survivors Anonymous) will view you as codependent and as a part of the problem. These groups are a great way to make connections and gain support. And they are a great way to refocus on yourself, rather than the addict, and to do as much personal work when you are ready to do it. However, they are no match for PTSD, depression, anxiety, or mental health issues. And for most of us, they aren't enough for betrayal trauma. But they are wonderful as a way to continue to grow and connect, once initial healing is accomplished.
- There are therapist-led groups, which vary in price from moderate to expensive, but they provide a form of group counseling, because the therapist is drawing on her training. These can be pricey and generally there aren't a lot of such groups available. But I'm guessing in the years ahead, more and more therapists will choose to provide resources for betrayal trauma and the numbers will increase.
- There are church-based support groups, which are usually free and may or may not have a workbook to work through. These groups vary from group to group. I've had clients who love their Celebrate Recovery (CR) church-based group, and others who reported that the group wasn’t sufficient for this particular kind of pain. However, after you've accomplished initial healing, CR can meet a need, if there is one available to you.
- There are coach and therapist led support groups, which usually have a price tag. If you are considering working with a coach or therapist who facilitates groups for partners of sex addicts, I suggest you make an appointment and ask specific questions so you can assess the coach or therapist and group content before you pay the group fee.
Be aware healing (and growing) is an ongoing process for us too
When we wake up and realize we’ve stumbled into some form of emotional betrayal in our most intimate relationship, many of us think, This is his issue, not mine. I don’t need to do anything! But we soon learn that approach won't heal our broken heart and shattered dreams. And it won't heal our marriages. Even after doing the work to gain our initial healing, most of us learn that being married to someone who is "working a recovery program" is a whole new way of life. He's gone more to his own 12 step meetings, and if we are lucky, we can see and hear him changing before our eyes. So to grow and keep up with our partners, most of us find we need to keep growing too. That’s why we offer entry-level healing through our Journey to Healing & Joy Support groups, and additional level-2 groups for specific needs. Healing and growing is a lifetime journey that helps us become all we can be, with or without a man.