Treating Military Members for Sexual Addiction

News stories about sexually addictive behaviors in the armed forces over the past several years seem to be increasing at an alarming number, calling greater attention to the issues arising between the men and women who serve their country for us. A quick Google search using the terms “Sexual Addiction in the Military” brings an abundance of articles published in military publications regarding sexual addiction and the effect it has on military personnel. One such article published in The Army Times states that one in ten civilians may suffer from pornography addiction while the percentage may be as high as twenty percent of military personnel.

Gentle Path at The Meadows has a history of treating active duty military members and retirees for sexual compulsive behaviors so they understand the challenges these individuals face. As a Tricare network provider, Gentle Path at The Meadows provides behavioral health and substance abuse inpatient services, with an emphasis on trauma, PTSD, and addictive disease disorders, to active duty military members, retirees and dependents of the TRICARE West Region.

Military personnel and the demands of their service require special consideration in their health care treatment. Through a close relationship with the military, the therapists, nurses, physicians, and administrators at Gentle Path at The Meadows are very familiar with the unique challenges of these individuals. Military members who serve their country are needed back on the job, back doing the vital service that they were trained to do, and Gentle Path at The Meadows specializes in returning these individuals back to duty.

Military personnel thrive in a structured environment with a scheduled day and required tasks. Gentle Path at The Meadows’ inpatient treatment process is a task-centered model that military personnel can relate to. This structured environment also makes sense to an addict because their lives have usually become convoluted and chaotic. The daily regimen of the Gentle Path at The Meadows’ program, created and overseen by the pioneer in the sexual addiction field, Dr. Patrick Carnes, is tailor-made for the treatment of sexual addiction in military personnel.

Dr. Carnes’s research findings reveal that more than 90% of the Gentle Path at The Meadows patients report experiences of severe trauma (Carnes, 2014) and a significant number endorse symptoms of adult post-traumatic stress disorder. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated high rates of trauma exposure among the general American population: 20.4% women and 8.2% men are likely to develop PTSD following exposure to trauma (Kessler, 1995), and the time life prevalence is 8% (APA, 2000). The military, particularly combat veterans appear to be at more risk; studies reveal rates from 31% to 20% of individuals who meet full criteria of PTSD after being deployed to war zones and around 19.1% who develop other mental health problems.

For the past 25 years, The Meadows, the parent program of Gentle Path at The Meadows, has examined how trauma affects psychological and biological processes, and how the damage caused by overwhelming life experiences can be reversed. An important component of the new Gentle Path program is treating both sex addiction and trauma, given the intricate connections between these two. On the one hand, sex addiction treatment that addresses trauma has proven to be more effective and successful than clinical practices that do not take trauma into consideration. And, on the other hand, the rate of recidivism when sex addiction treatment that is not trauma-informed is significantly higher than other modalities of treatment that do not take trauma into consideration.

A direct implication of traumatic situations is the person’s loss of the natural sense of safety, meaning, purpose, and understanding of the world and life experiences. Because the fight or flight response cannot be deactivated, the sense of self, the world, and the future may become unsafe. Re-experiencing the event and avoiding reminders of the situation can be part of the normal adjustment process. However, it can also result in a disorder that alters the person’s cognition, arousal, and reactivity, behavior, and a sense of self.

Sex addiction is often a response to unresolved trauma. Paradoxically, it entails new sources of trauma; there is a proneness to re-victimization that results from the risky behaviors and/or dangerous relationships that are inherent to this disorder. A first goal in trauma-informed treatment for sexual addictions is the establishment of real safety and avoidance of further damage. Breaking through denial and admission of powerlessness are the essence of the First Step at Gentle Path at The Meadows and the beginning of the process, or stabilization that will lead to understanding the connection between trauma and sex addiction and recovering from it.

Healing does not occur in a vacuum,” says Allan Benham, Executive Director for Gentle Path at The Meadows. “The therapeutic milieu at Gentle Path at The Meadows helps our patients create a new sense of safety and trust within the context of personal connections and safe relationships. Patients learn about resilience, new choices, and renewed skills, values, and ideals. Additionally, they learn to frame their own destiny by participating in a collaborative relationship with the clinicians at the program.”

Gentle Path at The Meadows provides a therapeutic environment in which:

  • The cycle of sex addiction and trauma repetition is stopped

  • Fear is substituted with a sense of safety

  • New, healthy relationships break the sense of isolation and the concept of intimacy is re-learned

  • Coping skills are developed

  • New choices create a sense of genuine empowerment and self-pride

  • Self-nurturing replaces self-abuse

  • Spiritual healing becomes possible

  • Chaos is replaced with renewed structure and a sense of balance is achieved.

Most importantly, patients are able to grieve the sexually addictive behaviors that once served to soothe them when trauma occurred.

The Meadows trauma and addiction treatment center in Wickenburg, AZ. recently announced preliminary findings of an ongoing treatment outcomes study that evaluates the effectiveness of The Meadows’ five-week inpatient treatment program.

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