“Brainlock”, a four-step self-help

guide for treating OCD is a book written by Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D., a physician who spent most of his career treating and doing research on Obsessive/Compulsive (OCD) behaviors. His has developed a four-part program self-help program that can be used for any unwanted compulsive urges, desires and behaviors.

Let’s go through Dr. Schwartz’s four-part program. It is similar to what I’ve written about Relapse Prevention, but the point can’s be driven home enough – that if you immediately change your behavior when you get an urge, the changed behavior will sooner of later create new neuro-pathways in your brain that will re-enforce your abstinence.

Step 1. “RELABEL”

You learn to Relabel unwanted fantasies, urges and behaviors. Call them what they are in reality: the voice of your addiction. Addiction is a biological condition that has to do with an imbalance of certain endorphins, mainly dopamine and serotonin. It sends false messages from your brain, and you are to recognize them as such. You must make a conscious effort to stay grounded in reality because you must strive to avoid being tricked into thinking that a sexual urge or craving is based on a real need. It is not.

Your sexual urges are symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, combined with an impulse-control disorder, both of which are medical issues. Relabeling simply means calling the unwanted cravings and urges by their real names – the voices of your addiction.

This is war and the enemy is the addiction monster in you. When overwhelmed by cravings, you can say to yourself “It’s not me – it’s the addiction.” You work constantly to prevent confusing your true self with the voice of addiction.

I’ve been in addiction recovery for 33 years. When I first started going to meetings, I would hear, from time to time, someone say “The Disease Talks to Me”. What that meant, I had no clue. It took years of recovery before I could cultivate a sense of myself as a whole person who heard the voice of the addiction as something that was there, but IT WAS NOT ME. A kind of separation had occurred between my true self and my addictive self. All these years later, the addiction still whispers in my ear from time to time, but I get amused, I don’t listen to it, and let it go on it’s way so that I can engage in behaviors that are either productive or enjoyable and have no negative consequences to my self-esteem.

The Impartial Spectator

Dr. Swartz, I think, may have been trained by a Buddhist teacher. The development of the “Impartial Spectator” evolves through Mindfulness Meditation (sextreatment.com/?p=52).

As I wrote in my article on relapse prevention, mindfulness awareness is essential to a sexual recovery program. Awareness requires you to consciously recognize and make a mental note of a disturbed feeling or urge. Your goal is to observe them rather than act on them. When you develop a relationship with “The Impartial Spectator”, you can step back and say to yourself, “This is just my brain sending me a false message. If I change my behavior at the point of the urge, I’ll actually be changing how your brain works.”

Once a person with a compulsive disorder learns behavior therapy and resolves to change his response to an intrusive sexualized thought or fantasy by not performing a pathological behavior, a willful resolve gradually kicks in because a sense of personal empowerment starts to develop.

Think of the “Impartial Spectator” as a vehicle for distancing your real person from your addiction. Create a safety zone between your internal self and spirit, and the unwanted compulsive urge. Rather than respond to the urge in a mechanical, driven way, you present yourself with alternatives. It’s good to have some alternative behaviors up your sleeve, so you’ll be ready when the voice of the “erotic haze” calls you.

RX: Action

Learning to overcome sexual compulsion is like learning to ride a bike. Once you learn, you don’t forget, but getting good at it takes practice. In your recovery, it’s likely that you may fall off, but you must get back on. If you give up, you’ll never learn. And you learn by falling off!

Passivity is your enemy. Activity is your friend. Having things you really need to do –activities much more productive and creative that the illusional, nonsensical sexual ritual – is a great motivator.

When you are capable of seeing quite clearly the difference between healthy behavior and compulsive behavior, you are able to bring yourself around by zeroing in on reality.

A client of mine who used this system stated: ”Before, I was overtaken by sexual fantasies, urges and cravings. I was overwhelmed. Now I know where they are going to get me – back in the same self-hating self I don’t want to be in. So I’m ready. I don’t listen to my addiction because I know it’s fake. I let it go quickly and so something that’s real and authentic.


If you wonder why you never seem to be free of sexual preoccupation, one of the answers is that research has shown that the addictive brain is related to a biochemical imbalance in the brain. In the Reattribute step, you learn to place a lot of the blame squarely on your brain: The addictive brain sends you a false message. If you change the way you react to the false message, you can make your brain work better. Your urge to go, puppet-like into the “erotic haze” will diminish. The pervasiveness of these fantasies or urges in not a personal weakness. It is a false alarm caused by a short circuit in the brain. When sex addiction sends a false message to your brain, you can’t make it go away, but you don’t have to act on it.

If you have understood so far, perhaps you can use the author’s “fifteen minute” strategy. When you get an urge to act destructively, wait for 15 minutes. During this time you actively keep telling yourself, “These are not real thoughts. They are faulty messages from my brain.” After 15 minutes, the urge usually goes away and you begin to see that you have a sense of control over your addiction. You are no longer a passive victim to addiction.

At some point, when sexual fantasies and desires to act out occur you realize – You are not going to do it. Why not? BECAUSE THE REAL YOU DOESN’T WANT TO DO IT!


Refocus tells you what to do while are trying to overcome urges to do compulsive behaviors. It instructs you to “work around” those nagging needs by Refocusing your attention on some useful, constructive, enjoyable activity. The key to the Refocus step is to do another behavior/concentrate on something else. When you do, you are repairing the broken gearshift in your brain. Your brain starts shifting more smoothly to other behaviors.

You have to step aside, put the erotic pull aside, and work around it by putting your mind in another place and doing another behavior, one that is more pleasant and functional.

Once you realize that the things that call you erotically have no deep meaning, that they’re just a false alarm, a ghost from the past, you be able to largely ignore them and go about your business.


Revalue is an outcome of having worked the first three steps. With consistent practice, you will quickly come to realize that your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are worthless distractions to be ignored. With this understanding you will be able to devalue the pathological urges and fend them off until they begin to fade.

If you do not actively Revalue these thoughts and urges as false messages coming from the brain – messages with no spiritual, productive or inter-personal value whatsoever –and, if fact, are shame filled and demoralizing.

The more clearly you see what the symptoms of sexual compulsions really are, the more rapidly you can dismiss them as worthless garbage that are not worth paying attention to.

It would be good to use the Four Steps for gradually increasing periods. This means telling yourself , “It’s all right – it’s just the voice of the addiction (Relabeling; then Reattributing it to faulty brain chemistry; Refocusing on a constructive, enjoyable behavior instead of one that will lead you to the road of self-hate. Finally, Revalue the meaning of those fantasies or urges. You, in essence, devalue those silly thoughts.

Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz wrote an exceedingly interested book that helps people deal with OCD symptoms. I highly recommend this book because it can be applied to all compulsions, including the prison of sex addiction.

Sex addiction is an impulse-control disorder; it is not an OCD syndrome. Compulsive behaviors differ from OCD in that there is intense pleasure in sexually acting out; whereby there is not pleasure in an OCD person washing her hands repeatedly. Frankly, it makes the job a bit harder because the dopamine rush of the “erotic haze” and the intense pleasure of acting out can seem irresistible.

The key problem in therapy for sexual addicts is how much people with this disorder make the excessive, problematic, out-of-control and shaming behaviors “ego-dystonic,” that is, how much can they come to find their behavior genuinely foreign to their own notion of who they are; different than the values, goals and meanings that they most cherish.

People who are addicted to intense sexual pleasure come to expect pleasure to be taboo, secretive, chaotic, and both soothing and exciting. Do they miss out on the extraordinary pleasure that can be received from living a mindful life, staying in the now, and taking pleasure in eating a peach or cooking a meal or seeing a sunset? This, too, is pleasure.

The Buddha warned against “cravings”, especially sexual arousal. He saw these constant longing, wanting, cravings, to be the type of “attachment” that keeps people in “samsara” (the suffering of life). His first Noble Truth was that life is suffering. The second Noble Truth was that people suffer because of “cravings.”

We should live life with pleasure not for pleasure. Pleasure is ephemeral. The process of obtaining intense sexual pleasure promises what it can’t deliver.

That’s why you feel so disenchanted, let down, shamed and disappointed after you act out. You chase idealized perfect visions that turn out to be dust in your hands.

Author's Bio: 

Dorothy Hayden, LCSW, has been treating sex addiction for 15 years. With 30 articles and one e-book, "Total Sex Addiction Recovery -- A Guide to Therapy", she is considered a "thought leader" in the field. She has been interviewed by HBO, CNN and "20/20" about cybersex and sex addiction.