Treating a person suffering from the illness of addiction presents a complex psychotherapeutic problem which is further confounded when the illness includes a sexual addiction (Wilson, 1999; Virshup, 1985). According to Wilson, “83% of sex addicts report multiple addictions” (1999). The focus of this paper will be about Joe, whose substance addiction was the presenting problem, yet the severity of his illness was confounded by a vast array of co-existing trauma, loss, mental illness and sexual addiction.
The consequences of addiction in general are familiar and grim: unemployment, financial devastation, loss of shelter, physical illness, criminal behavior, and seem to damage many aspects of psychosocial life: family relationship, friendship, marriage, self-perception, self-esteem, shame, and existential meaning (Wilson, 1999; Matto, 2002).
Sex addiction further complicates the consequences of addiction and is often misunderstood by mental health workers and society in general. The patient may be also aware of the judgment made of them as well feel their own shame about their addiction (Wilson, 1999; Khantzian, 1993). Schaef (1989, as citied in Wilson, 1999) points out that sexual addiction “can be just as lethal to the individual and relationships as any chemical or process addictions”(p. 8).
Art therapy as been shown to be an effective modality of treatment for sexual addiction, chemical addiction, and the co-morbid psychological and social factors, especially in a group context (Matto, 2002; Wilson, 1999; Wilson, 2003). The addicted population are commonly resistive to treatment, manipulative, narcissistic, over compliant, and characteristically have overdeveloped defense mechanisms making for a difficult group for verbal therapy (Adelman and Castricone, 1986; Khantzian, 1993; Wilson 1999). Art therapy, however, has the capacity to use sneak past these tendencies and even use the over compliance for the benefit of this population (Wilson, 1999; Adelman and Castricone, 1986).
The patient facing addiction tends to feel a great deal of shame (Wilson, 1999; Wilson, 2003). This factor is a major hurdle in treatment and recovery (Matto, Corcoran, & Fassler, 2003). Shame isolates this population from seeking healthy interaction and discourages the addict from treatment. Maintaining isolation to avoid the confronting this shame often leads to relapse (Wilson, 1999; Wilson, 2003). The relationship with the addiction “keeps painful feelings and associations… at a distance” and is a way to deny, or at least and avoid confronting, the feelings of shame (Wilson, 2003, p. 281). Wilson (1999) also notes that sex addicts “have learned to unconsciously become invisible…” yet art therapy “ provides a tangible representation of the disease” while providing a safe “distance necessary for integration” (p.10).
Professionals working with this population widely espouse the importance of group therapy while working with addiction (Wilson, 1999; Adelman...