Group therapy is a highly effective treatment modality for sex addicts. It reduces shame and denial, limits isolation, increases socialization skills and the development of empathy. The process fosters the development of intimacy and helps sex addicts develop the coping skills they need to meet their emotional needs in healthier ways.

Irwin Yalom wrote “the book” on group therapy. In it, he delineates the essential factors that make patients get better. The specific benefits, according to Yalom’s model, of group therapy for sex addicts are:

installation of hope: Addicts come to treatment feeling extremely hopeless. By seeing others recover, the addict’s faith that treatment can and will be effective is fostered.

Universality: Universality refers to the realization that an individual is not alone in his or her addiction and that others have experienced similar problems. This experience tends to reduce a member’s sense of uniqueness and reinforces the fact that each person is not alone with his problems.

Sex addicts are often alienated from others and experience a great deal of shame and loneliness. The group provides a safe place to practice trusting others.

Imparting Information: The therapist and group members offer effective ways to deal with life’s problems. Education about 12-step support groups, the addiction cycle, identification of healthy relationships, re-framing the meaning of sexuality and relapse-prevention strategies is also imparted.

Altruism: The opportunity to help another person and to feel useful increases self-esteem and challenges one’s own demoralized position. Helping other group members can challenge this sense of worthlessness.

Development of Socializing Skills: Learning basic interpersonal skills helps the addict turn to people, instead of fantasy enactments, in times of need.

Imitative Behaviors: Group members serve as role models for other members through self-disclosure and honesty. When the therapist listens attentively and provides direct eye contact and sympathetic expressions, she promotes a positive attitude and an understanding of the importance of what the client is saying. Through modeling the therapist, group members learn how to help each other feel both supported and understood. When one member shares his or her secrets, it encourages others to take risks as well.

Group Cohesiveness: This refers to the sense of belonging that members feel toward the group. Cohesiveness is the element that causes members to connect with the group and take seriously the events that occur in it. It is what makes the group really matter to its members. Because sex addicts have been hurt so badly in childhood, they tend to refrain from trusting others or personally investing themselves in adult relationships. Immersion in a therapeutic group can help heal and rectify the interpersonal wounds of childhood.

Catharsis: Catharsis can be defined simply as the open expression of feelings. Experiencing and expressing strong feelings is extremely important for sex addicts, who have often repressed their emotions. Sex addicts fear that if they state where they are emotionally, they will alienate others. In fact, members of the group generally learn that emotional experiences can promote feelings of connection with others and not a sense of isolation.

Breaking free from this odious addiction can seem an overwhelming and impossible task. In the group experience, recovering addicts witness first hand what is possible, and from others in recovery like themselves. Without hope and a sense of direction, discouragement and self defeat quickly lead to relapse, but when the hope of sobriety is nourished, abstinence becomes more attainable. Profound personal and interpersonal change and growth can occur in a cohesive group.

Author's Bio: 

Dorothy C. Hayden, LCSW, MBA, CAC is a Manhattan-based analytic therapist who specializes in sex therapy and sex addiction. Having received her MSW from New York University, she studied psychoanalysis at the Post Graduate Center For Mental Health and The Object Relations Institute. After studying hypnotherapy at the Milton Erickson Society for Psychotherapy and Hypnosis, she became a certified NLP practitioner. She is currently studying couples counseling at The Training Institute for Mental Health. She can be reached at

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