Interview with Brad Salzman Founder of the New York Sexual Addiction Center

First of all you need to understand that sex addiction is not about sex, it’s about intimacy. People act out sexually as a failed coping mechanism, a maladaptive way to deal with feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, anger, fear, and other negative feelings.

What motivated you to start a practice specialized in sexual addiction?
I have been doing therapy for a number of years, and over the years I had seen many people who were complaining about problems with compulsive sexual behavior. I was working at a university counseling center, and I kept having students coming into my office to tell me that they had problems with compulsive porn watching and masturbation. Many told me that they were unable to function normally, staying up all night, and feeling exhausted and depressed the next day. Some told me that they felt that porn was affecting their ability to interact normally with members of the opposite sex. Remarkably, some students expressed that their porn watching and masturbation were not driven by lust but rather by feelings of anxiety or even anger. When I shared these cases with my colleagues, I realized that other therapists did not seem to grasp the seriousness of the problem.

Many trained professionals thought that watching porn and masturbation were normal parts of development and were not able to see how this was not merely harmless sexual experimentation. That is when I decided that I wanted to learn more about compulsive sexual behavior and how to treat it. On my journey to learn everything on the subject, I discovered the work of Dr. Patrick Carnes, the world’s leading expert and pioneer of sex addiction treatment. I was fortunate enough to be trained and certified by Dr. Carnes. I am proud to be a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT).

In 2010, I opened the New York Sexual Addiction Center in Midtown Manhattan. After helping hundreds of sex addicts and their families to recover, I opened another office in Israel in 2014, the Israel Sexual Addiction Center.

We now offer comprehensive assessment and treatment of sex addiction, including individual therapy for addicts and spouses, couples therapy, and group therapy. We offer customized intensive therapy programs in New York and Israel, and we also offer webcam therapy for clients all over the world.

 

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Spurred by the wide availability of broadband internet service, sex addiction is quickly becoming the fastest growing addiction around the world as well as a public health crisis.

How do you help people recover from sex addiction?
First of all you need to understand that sex addiction is not about sex, it’s about intimacy. People act out sexually as a failed coping mechanism, a maladaptive way to deal with feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, anger, fear, and other negative feelings. So to recover from sex addiction the addict must learn how to deal with their feelings and to form and maintain truly intimate relationships.

Unfortunately, most people only get to me after many years of suffering from the symptoms of sex addiction and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. They have often caused extensive damage in their lives, including their careers, their sense of self, and the people around them. They may have hurt or alienated their families and friends. But sometimes people need a rude awakening before they are open to getting help to change their lives. Often when a person is in the midst of their addiction they may not even realize how sick they are. Everything they see is filtered through the lens of addiction, and they may not realize just how off they are.

Once someone finds their way into treatment, we need to do several things. Sort of like when someone gets into an emergency room, the first thing we need to do is stop the bleeding. If someone is still acting out sexually, they need to learn how to bring their behavior under control so they don’t cause any more damage to themselves or to those around them. Once they are stabilized, the addict needs detox for a while so that they will get to the point where they can start to understand their situation better and make changes. They then learn about how their addiction works, what is healthy and what is not healthy for them. They learn how to deal with their emotions, both positive and negative, rather than trying to use sex to cover up bad feelings. They learn how to connect in a real and deep way with other people in their lives, and how to be vulnerable and to trust others. Helping addicts to learn these skills helps them to get better.

After receiving his BA from Yale University and his MS from Columbia University, Brad Salzman was trained and certified by Dr. Patrick Carnes (pictured on the right), the world's leading authority on sex addiction treatment.

After receiving his BA from Yale University and his MS from Columbia University, Brad Salzman was trained and certified by Dr. Patrick Carnes (pictured on the right), the world’s leading authority on sex addiction treatment.

It seems that sexualized content is all around us do you think this influences people in a certain way?
For sure. We live in a culture that is sex-obsessed and sex-drenched. Sex sells, and we are bombarded by sexual imagery and sexual themes all around us. Even worse, our culture has become “pornified” as pornography has seeped into our popular culture and become mainstream. Many people get the message that porn is not harmful and maybe even positive. Unfortunately this is not true. Just as alcohol is potentially very dangerous, pornography is also very addictive and can have devastating effects on individuals and also on our culture as a whole.

What type of people can get addicted and why?
People seem to get addicted due to a combination of genetic predisposition and family environment. Certainly we see that addiction tends to run in families. Part of that is in the genes, and part of that is the product of homes that are ripe for addiction. Many sex addicts come from homes that have rigid rules and where the family members are disconnected from each other. Also, childhood trauma plays a very important role in the formation of an addict. As many as 90% of sex addicts had some kind of significant physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in their lives. These negative circumstances provide a fertile breeding ground for an addiction, usually learned at a young age as an effective way to make the pain go away. But unfortunately the addiction often replaces the pain with more and bigger problems that are persistent and just keep getting worse.

How can a pornography addiction be harmful?
Many people who watch porn fail to internalize that what they are watching is not real. They expect their sex partners to look like the porn stars in the videos they watch, and they expect their partners to do all the same things that the porn stars do. Unfortunately, much of the sex in porn is violent, abusive, and degrading, and the porn watcher soon realizes that their partner is not interested in this kind of sex. Not only that, but watching too much porn can cause people to believe that sex is not about connecting with another human being but rather about using another person like an object. Like any other addiction, porn addiction can cause people to gradually drop out of real life as the addiction becomes more and more important and real people become less and less so. Addicts withdraw from real human connection, and as their addiction progresses they become less and less functional in their lives.

 

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With a webcam, anyone can get therapy wherever they are in the world, even from their own living room.

What advice would you give to a person that deals with a sex addicted partner?
If you think your partner is a sex addict, you should talk to them about it. You should talk to them honestly and openly that you think they might have a problem, and you should encourage them to get help. Addictions tend to get worse over time, so avoiding the issue or just pretending that nothing is wrong will only backfire and cause more pain for everyone. The addict may resist that anything is wrong and may refuse to get treatment. If things are bad enough, the partner of the addict may even need to consider leaving the relationship. The partner should also consider getting their own therapy to help them deal with their difficult situation and to give them the tools to make the best decisions and make healthy lives for themselves.

Brad Salzman, LCSW, CSAT
www.facebook.com/bradsalzmantherapy

If you or someone you know may be suffering from a problem related to sexual addiction, you can call the New York Sexual Addiction for a free consultation at (212) 529-7900. In Israel, call the Israel Sexual Addiction Center at 058-400-8413. You can also visit them online at www.bradsalzman.com.

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