A Group for the Holidays

“Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.”

Some proverbs are rather more practical than others. This African proverb is more practical than most. No one wants to be eaten by the crocodile. When we discuss the road to recovery from sexual addiction it is always best to cross the river in a group. 

The end of November through December marks the holiday season. Traditionally this is a time for families and friends to come together to celebrate life together. But for those who struggle with a sexual addiction and their partners, the holiday season only highlights the isolation and loneliness they feel in their relationships.

No primer on sexual addiction is complete without an introduction to the value of group therapy in treating the disorder and in treating partner relational trauma.

Sexual addiction and partner trauma is most successfully treated in a group process. Treatment also often includes individual therapy, but group therapy is essential for establishing long-lasting recovery and relational healing.

Sexual addiction marks a failure of intimacy. Participation in a group helps the person in recovery begin to develop the emotional and cognitive skills that provide a foundation for healthy intimacy. For partners it provides the much need support of others who are finding their way through the repair process under the guidance of a trained professional who knows the process and has seen clients heal.

A group generally consists of six to eight people. They may sometimes be as few as three; there is only very rarely more than eight.

As the group commences, participants journey together through a formation process. Although the way may be unfamiliar to each individual member of the group, a well-trained and skilled therapist knows the process well.

Some may experience a measure of discomfort in the first or second meeting. After all, for addicts they have spent years avoiding real honesty with themselves and others. Although the group is safe, it will not feel comfortable for most addicts who have been in hiding. Honesty feels like exposure. But that changes quickly with the shared process of the groups support.

The therapist gently and expertly guides the group though its initial stages fully aware of the personal challenges each participant has overcome by just showing up. Soon the group emerges with a sense of its own identity. It begins to function as unity supporting healing for each individual member of it.

In a group participants experience that they are not alone. It was one thing to think, or even believe one is not alone. It is quite another to experience nonjudgement, genuine support and belonging. 

Our most vivid memories are experiences are ones where we are the most present. We may have a vague memory of something we hear or read. But we learn best as we encounter a real moment with real people. It changes us. 

A group creates a setting where such experiences can take place. Because our groups consist of people who have something in common, either a sexual addiction, or the traumatic experience of being partnered with sexual addict, trust builds very quickly.

Trust creates an environment where people can be honest with their thoughts and feelings. Members of the group identify easily with each other. They feel supported. Concepts that may be difficult to express when alone, find their way to the surface when shared with others who are able to empathize with one’s story.

This trusting environment encourages individuals to address fear. They feel a sense of freedom as they call to mind perspectives and feelings that contribute to their present challenges.

They make new connections that help them understand what undermines their ability to live the life they want to live. A small group process is a necessary component on the journey to recovery from sexual addiction for both the addict and the partner.

Image byMartin Lopatka