Episode 70 - Understanding Sexual Addiction with Roy Blankenship
We have seen many divorces caused by what one spouse refers to as sexual addiction. But do psychologists even recognize sexual addiction as a mental disorder? How can a sexual addiction or an addiction to pornography impact your life personally? What signs should a spouse look for if they are concerned about a sexual addiction? Is their help someone can get to save their marriage from a divorce? In this show, we interview Roy Blankenship, an expert on sexual addiction, to answer these questions and more.
Leh Meriwether: Well today we're gonna get into something a little bit different. We're gonna get into something that hopefully we won't have to use the bleep button, no, I'm just kidding. But we are talking about a very serious problem that we see in some cases that lead to divorce, and we're actually gonna be talking, today, about sexual addiction.
Welcome, everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and I'm one of the founding partners of the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp radio on the new Talk 106.7. Here, you'll learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage, if it's in the middle of a crisis, and, from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to learn more about me, you can always call or visit us online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com.
Well, normally I have a cohost with me. His name's Todd. And I'm usually introducing him. I didn't today, because unfortunately he is sick. So really bummed about that, but I do have someone in studio with me. As we often do, we bring in someone that's a lot smarter than us with a lot more experience than ourselves to talk about sensitive topics, such as sexual addiction. It's an issue that we have seen frequently, in divorce cases. It seems like, and it just could be a perception, that there's been an uptick in it recently, and of course, it could be that we're hearing about it more today because more people are out there talking about how to deal with this sort of sexual addiction, and I'm putting sexual addiction in air-quotes, and the reason I'm putting it in air-quotes is because technically there is no psychological disorder with the label sex addiction, but we'll get into that later.
Today we've got, in studio, Roy Blankenship. Roy is the founder, current chairman, and CEO of Hope Quest. He formally founded Hope Quest in 2004, to help those struggling with addiction. Roy is a certified clinical sexual addiction specialist, a certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor, a licensed, professional counselor, a licensed marriage and family therapist, a board-certified Christian counselor, and EMDRIA trained clinician. Roy's model for counseling, that he uses at Hope Quest, embodies Judeo-Christian philosophy and values while also embracing proven clinical treatment methodologies in the field of mental health. The Hope Quest model makes it possible for the clinician to help those in need discover a pathway for achieving health and wholeness, and the Hope Quest model helps the individual in need find hope for their journey, to try to get out of addiction. But I could go on and on about Roy, but that would eat up precious air time, and I've got a lot of questions for him. If you want to read more about him, you can always read about him on their website at HopeQuestGroup.org. Roy, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Roy Blankenship: Thanks for having me, Leh, I'm glad to be here with you.
Leh Meriwether: Well, we probably should start off giving, before we get into some of this, we probably should give, you're the specialist here, we probably should give some context to sexual addiction, and I want our listeners to understand it's more of a term of art than it is a formal mental diagnosis, 'cause when we talked about it the other day, before you came on the show, you definitely enlightened me as to why it isn't, and I thought that this would be excellent to talk about on the air. So from a clinical standpoint, Roy, why isn't that term a medical diagnosis, sexual addiction?
Roy Blankenship: Well, Leh, we think of, any time I have someone come to me with a problem in the area of sexuality, in an addictive context, I usually think of compulsive behavior that's out of control. So is it compulsive, and is it out of control? Now, unfortunately, out of control might be different for you than it is for me, and it's very hard to get consensus, in the professional community, medical community, psychological community, on what does out of control mean? For some people, sex every day seems like a lot. For some people, it's not enough. And for me to say that it's wrong, or abnormal, is very difficult, because there's no standard measure that everyone agrees on.
So what is out of control? And since there is not really a way to get a consensus on that number, or that idea, then we tend to look at it as when does it become destructive, when does it cause distress, when does it impair relationships, when does it affect life functioning? So if it's compulsive, and it is out of control in that context, then we can call it a sexual addiction.
Leh Meriwether: And when I'm referring to mental disorders, we're really referring to what's been identified by a consensus of the psychological community, and it's published, and I don't want to get too technical, but I do find it kind of interesting that [DSM-5 00:04:58], is that-
Roy Blankenship: Diagnostic and statistics manual for psychiatric medicine, yes, has all the codes in it that we would use to identify ... like when you go to the doctor, there's a code that identifies what kind of disease you have. We have the same kind of codes in the mental health world, and they would be in that manual.
Leh Meriwether: All right, but there are some sexual disorders that are listed, it's just not addiction.
Roy Blankenship: Right. As the industry moves forward, we're finding a tendency not to use the word addiction. Sometimes you use the word compulsivity, sometimes you use a lack of inhibiting control behaviors. But more excessive behaviors, that's the term that seems to be coming forward in the diagnostic and statistics manual. When is it excessive behavior? So the term that we see rising up would be hypersexuality, okay, we've had hyposexuality in the manual for quite some time, which is a low sexual desire, which is pretty much, everybody can agree on, there's a level of problematic there.
But hypersexual is, again, when do you call it hypersexual? When it's this number, or this frequency? And then there's the type of behaviors that I think, as I go forward in my career, I see the scope of that diminishing, where 20 years ago, there were a lot of things that people saw as abnormal, and today, not so many. So it's narrowing. Pedophilia, obviously, would be an abnormal behavior. Gender dysphoria, where a person's not comfortable in their own gender that came with their body, when they were born, that's a disorder. There's fetishes that, again, is where it's really getting lesser and lesser, where people have certain exhibitionist or affinities towards sexual objects in their sexual play, and anyway, then there's a catchall term we call not-otherwise-specified, when as a clinician, and I see it as destructive, out of control, impairing life functioning, I can use that. But as of today, there is not yet an addiction category, or even that hypersexual focus category.
Leh Meriwether: I think that's important, because some people will say, there'll be spouses that are struggling with something going on in their marriage, and they think, well, he or she has a sexual addiction, and I've got to get a divorce, this is just too weird. So I think it's important to understand that this isn't ... it's not necessarily a mental disorder. As you identified, there are some that are, clearly, but then there aren't. So I guess for the purpose of our show, when we talk about a sexual addict, we're really referring to a person who compulsively seeks out sexual acts, despite negative consequences to themselves or others, and in a family law situation, or a divorce situation, it could be problems with their wife, or husband or children.
Roy Blankenship: That's correct. There's ... again, as we move forward in defining sexual addiction as whatever we're gonna call it, hypersexuality, or whatever, in our industry, we have diagnostic criteria for addictive behavior, and there's 10 or so things that I look for. One would be a preoccupation with a sexual behavior, where it interferes with your ability to think about other things. Another one might be trying to stop a particular behavior, but failing to honor your own goals and values, and continuing to endorse or engage in the behavior your said you were gonna stop.
Leh Meriwether: So like an example of that, that I know I've seen, is pornography. That's become a huge thing, where someone just ... they think about it all the time, they're looking at their computer at work, they just can't stop watching pornography.
Roy Blankenship: And they go through a pattern, in their life, daily sometimes, where they might become sexually aroused, and they got on the computer, and they have a release, and they say, "I never am gonna do that again," they make that vow to themselves, and then do it again the very next day. So that kind of behavior, then, would qualify them as something that I would call an addictive behavior. Spending money that you don't have, causing destruction in your relationships, losing your family, getting fired from your job because you violated a company policy and looked at porn on your work computer, yet still engaging in the behavior. And all of a sudden, you can see where that out of control term comes from, where I don't have the ability to be reasonable or rational in how I'm behaving, and it affects and impairs life functioning.
Leh Meriwether: So when you get someone that's in your office, then at that stage, when they have done those things, they have caused harm to their family, a loss of a job, and they can't stop, that's where that falls into that category, other addictive behaviors.
Roy Blankenship: Yes, now if I were working with an insurance panel, or some reason that there had to be a diagnosis, that's what I would choose. Sexual disorder, not otherwise specified. Now if I can get away with it, I don't do a diagnosis. I just talk about, well how can we look at these problematic behaviors that are problematic to you, to your spouse, to your marital union. How can we begin to instill change in your life?
Leh Meriwether: So you focus away from the label, and more on how do we move from here into some healthy behavior?
Roy Blankenship: That's correct.
Leh Meriwether: Okay, awesome. Well, man, I have so many questions. I'm glad we laid this groundwork.
Roy Blankenship: I'm glad you've got questions, 'cause I've got answers.
Leh Meriwether: Excellent. Well before we get into them, and have to break, let me just give a hint what the questions I have, and then when we come back from break, we'll get into them. What warning signs could you possibly be seeing that would indicate someone's a sex addict? What is a love addiction, which is something else I've just recently heard about? So up next, you're gonna hear answers to these questions.
Welcome back everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio, on the new Talk 106.7. Well, normally, I've got Todd in studio with me, but today he's not. Unfortunately he's sick, but fortunately, I've got Roy Blankenship in here with me, and we're talking about sexual addictions, and how they could impact people in their marriages, and lead to divorce, and so today's all about being educated on this issue so that we can be prepared for it, and talk about potential treatments for it, and Roy, when we left off, I had thrown out a question out there. What sort of warning signs might you see for someone that has some sort of sexual addiction, or some compulsive behavior, maybe it's constantly viewing pornography, that sort of thing.
Roy Blankenship: Now I'm assuming, Leh, you're asking me like if I were a spouse, maybe, and I were looking for warning signs?
Leh Meriwether: Yes.
Roy Blankenship: Not as a clinician.
Leh Meriwether: Yes.
Roy Blankenship: Okay. I think one of the ... there are several things that I would tell a spouse to look for. One of the prominent ones would be isolation. What I've seen, over my years in working with people, is as an addiction progresses, they might tend to start sacrificing social engagements, or even work engagements, in order to spend more time in porn viewing. So what you would see, looking at it from a distance, is isolation type behavior, where they're spending more and more time not being as social as maybe they once were. That's always a red flag.
Another thing that ... and I want to be careful when I say this, because again, I can't say what everyone's sexual interests and desires ought to be, because every one of us are different, but what I will say, and it took me years to figure this out, women are very different from men. So I'll tell all the people listening, I'm not talking about women as much, right now, as I am men, 'cause I know men, but since I'm not a female, I don't know women as well. But men, typically, have an interest in, and are responsive to, sexual engagement. So any time that there's a lack of responsiveness, or a disinterest in sexual behaviors, my first question would be, what's diminishing it? And for many males, it would be having sexual engagements in some other context, like viewing of pornography, and masturbating, and that would then show up to a spouse as a lack of interest in sexual engagement.
Leh Meriwether: Okay.
Roy Blankenship: Not always. Let me put that caveat. But it would be a red flag. It would be a cause for further looking. Another thing that I've seen over my time is where all of a sudden, there's this uncharacteristically rough or demanding-ness in the sexual engagement. Roughness or demanding-ness. And sometimes, even asking for novel experiences that are maybe even shocking to a spouse, like where did you get that idea? And that's a very good question. Where did you get that idea? And I think, sometimes, for females, for wives to use their gut instincts, and their intuitions, is just go with those, and question that.
A fourth thing that I would say is when you're in a sexual engagement with your mate, and they're not present. What we see, oftentimes, is they may be, in their mind, recreating a fantasy, or thinking about imagery, or even experiences they've had somewhere else, while they're in the engagement with their lover, their partner, their spouse. And so the idea of not being present, when that's intuited, or experienced, there's a reason to let that be another sign that maybe something's not what it should be.
Very common in relationships, we see that men will start nitpicking the appearance of their mate, their wife, their spouse. And not all the time, but it's often influenced by the desire for the wife to be more visually stimulating as is learned to be in the pornography, where in that world, everybody's perfect. They have perfect bodies. And I don't know about you, but I don't have a perfect body, but if you get conditioned to always looking for a perfect body, if that's what you need to stimulate you, from a visual perspective, then you might begin to critique your mate, and that's a red flag.
One of my favorites is not ever getting straight answers. Like, "Are you looking at pornography?" "I can't believe you'd ask me that question." That's an evasive answer.
Leh Meriwether: So a political answer? A politician answer?
Roy Blankenship: Yeah, "I'm worried about you're not being sexually interested in me," "Well I am sexually interested in you. I'm just tired," and you know, blah, blah, blah, blah. So not getting direct answers, being able to sit down and talk about what's going on in our physical relationship, is a very important sign of emotional health, and marital wellbeing. And when we lose that, it's a sign that something is amiss.
Compulsive internet use. It's not uncommon at all that the wife will go to bed early, and wake up at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and find the husband still in the study, or another room, looking at the computer. And so again, that compulsive internet use would be another red flag. And then finally, I think one of the most characteristic ones would be just a change in the demeanor of a person, where they get irritable, angry, hostile, or anxiety-ridden, or feeling guilty because they're ashamed of what they're doing, and they've got it all buried. So the whole demeanor change of a person can really make one question what's going on inside that would cause these changes in their personality, their psyche, so to speak.
So those are the kinds of things that I would suggest, if you're looking, if you're experiencing them, you might go somewhere and ask somebody to help you do a further assessment of what's going on, and how do you pursue finding help.
Leh Meriwether: So you're saying if you're the person who's experiencing those things, or were you talking about the spouse?
Roy Blankenship: The spouse.
Leh Meriwether: Oh, okay. All right. And you had mentioned to me, when we were talking the other day, about love addictions as apart from sex addictions. What were you ... I don't know if you remember that conversation, but I jotted down-
Roy Blankenship: I do remember that. Again, it might be a surprise to you to hear me say this, but women, females are typically more complex than guys.
Leh Meriwether: That's been my experience.
Roy Blankenship: And I don't mean that in a negative way. They're more interesting, they've got more angles to their emotional and psychological selves, I think, than many men. Well one article I was looking at today, and just thinking about what you might ask me, had this idea of the eight different types of sexual behaviors that women might get caught up in.
Now, when I was a kid, growing up, and even in my 30s, I can remember back, romance novels. Do you remember those?
Leh Meriwether: Oh, yeah.
Roy Blankenship: Where-
Leh Meriwether: Not that I read them, I just remember people reading them.
Roy Blankenship: I wouldn't have thought you would have read those, but yeah. But you would see and hear of women that would get caught up in reading those romance novels, and think about that. What they're looking for is that feeling, vicariously experiencing the romantic involvement with someone that they're not getting in their real life experience. Now when somebody is in a love addiction, they're going, maybe, from person, to person, to person, to person, looking for somebody that will help them feel loved and valued, but their measuring stick is the sexual intimacy, because they don't know how, or they're not able to achieve the emotional connection and intimacy that really supplies that need. So love addiction would be using sex, but being more focused on connecting with the person, trying to find value in the relational union.
Leh Meriwether: Okay.
Roy Blankenship: Contrasting that, men are very different.
Leh Meriwether: Yes.
Roy Blankenship: For us guys, it's about, the sex addiction, it's about the physical experience, and that might be a time for me just to, quickly, just say men have the ability, or we sort of approach relational union, intimacy-wise, with physical union, followed by emotional bonding. We're most open, as guys, after we've gone through the sexual encounter, and then we're engaged emotionally, afterwards. Women are completely the opposite, for the most part. They start with the emotional bond, and that then opens the door for them to be interested in, and possibly sexually aroused in the sexual experience.
Well guys, then, can be sexual, and it's nothing about the relationship. Girls, on the other hand, can be all about the relationship, and not necessarily be so much interested in the sex. So we're very different in that respect, so there's that romance addict, there's pornography that women get into, masturbation, exhibitionism-
Leh Meriwether: So you've actually seen ... have you seen any increase in women with ... I know I've seen some in my cases, recently, women that have been engaged in masturbation while viewing pornography.
Roy Blankenship: Well yeah, it's ... I'll say this. In one of the articles, again I looked at, it was published in 2014, so it's not ... it's fairly recent. Several people have estimated three to ten percent of the US population is involved in a sexual addiction.
Leh Meriwether: Wow. Hey, you know what, let's save the rest of that for up next. So up next, you'll hear the rest of that study.
Welcome back, everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and normally I would say with me is Todd [Orsten 00:22:42], but he's not here today. He's out sick, and we miss him. But you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp radio on the new Talk 106.7. And today, we have been getting into a very interesting subject: sexual addiction. And thankfully, you're not hearing from me talking about it, 'cause I am not the expert on this, but we have Roy Blankenship, from Hope Quest, who is here to explain all about sexual addiction, and we've been digging into some ... trying to understand it better, some warning signs that people might be on the lookout for, if things aren't going the way they seem to, should be going, when it comes to sex. Is there the potential there could be some sort of addiction to pornography? And where we left off that Roy was just telling us about a study recently that said that something, what, three out of ten people could be ... have some sort of sexual addiction?
Roy Blankenship: Yeah, one of the journals that I read, the Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity Journal, in 2014, they published an article, and there was a range. Anywhere from three to ten percent, one author group said. Another group said 17%. So there's somewhere between 17 and 37 million Americans that are thought that could possibly be thought of as having a sexual addiction. Now, interestingly, 40 to 50 percent of that is thought to be female.
Leh Meriwether: Wow.
Roy Blankenship: So one of the things that I've experienced, in my work over the years, is that men are much more willing and maybe we make it easier for men to come forward and say I have a problem in this area, but women, up until recently, and possibly even still, are thought of as being bad people if they have sex in a way where a man can do the same thing, and it's not considered so taboo. And so it increases their shamefulness, and their self-esteem concerns, and so they hide, maybe, and don't come forward saying I need help. But yet there's maybe as many females as there are men that struggle in this kind of way.
One of my dear friends, Marnie Ferree is a recovered female sex addict, and is now a therapist that works in the Nashville area, and works with couples and again, she helped me learn a lot about the female experience. And it's quite prevalent, in our world, to find females that struggle with this.
Leh Meriwether: I know that I've experienced that, in the divorce process, that as many women as men having some sort of just compulsive sexual behavior they cannot stop, to the extent, like if someone would come up to them in a Target, I'm changing the facts, just, it was a very difficult case, but somebody would just come up to her in a Target, and say, "Hey, are you interested?" And she would just about try to find someone to watch her child while she'd find a room to have sex with this person. It was that compulsive. It was out of control.
Roy Blankenship: And oftentimes, what we see, as a base motivator for that kind of behavior, is this inner need to feel loved and accepted by someone, and because of their family experience, maybe some childhood traumatic experiences, their family style, where they didn't learn how to set and maintain boundaries, or there was unhealthy roles and rules in the family, they never learned how to emotionally bond and connect. Sexual addiction, in essence, is an intimacy disorder. I don't know how to be intimate, I can't establish and maintain an intimate relationship, intimate emotional and spiritual union. So I then learned that sex feels intimate, and it is physically intimate, but it's not emotionally intimate, in itself. And so people will go through their life looking to feel connected, through the sexual experience, and then, yet, at the end of it, feel very empty, and very alone. And so it establishes this compulsive behavior to keep repeating the process, to try to feel that somebody loved me, somebody care for, somebody connect with me, is what really is driving that behavior.
Leh Meriwether: So that leads me to another question. So have you seen situations where the sexual addiction was more of a symptom of another disorder, like perhaps depression, or bipolar, or something like that?
Roy Blankenship: I'm going to change the way you said that just a little.
Leh Meriwether: Okay.
Roy Blankenship: I think the way I would say it, clinically, is that I do see that there are what we would call co-occurring disorders that motivate and perpetuate maybe sexual behaviors, where the sexual behavior, in essence, is a maladaptive coping strategy. Now, adaptively, if I'm coping adaptively, that means I'm being an agent in the world, something's not working for me, I go out and I'll figure out how to change either what's going on inside of me, or what's going on around me, in all sorts of contexts, whether it be relationally, or financially, in my work. But I can change things. Well help me out here, I just forgot the question that we were talking about.
Leh Meriwether: Well I had thrown you 'cause I'd said can sexual addiction be the symptom of another disorder, like depression, and you said that more of it's like a-
Roy Blankenship: Yeah, forgive me there, I'm sorry. I lost track of my own thoughts. When you get my age, that happens, you know? But when we look at these underlying concerns, if I'm not able to learn adaptive strategies that work, then maybe I'll learn what I think is adaptive, and they really don't work. So like the illustration I was giving you earlier, I learn that sex feels close, and it looks intimate, feels intimate, but is it really emotionally bonding? And the answer is, sex on its own, is not.
So if the underlying coping issue is anxiety or depression-
Leh Meriwether: Okay, then sex-
Roy Blankenship: Well sexual arousal will displace the effective state of being depressed. It will overshadow the feeling of being anxiety-ridden, and all of a sudden, for a brief moment, you feel better. It just doesn't last.
Leh Meriwether: It doesn't last, and you get depressed again, and then you go, and it almost becomes like a dopamine hit, like the sex is just, you start ... and I guess that's why it sort of starts playing in on itself.
Roy Blankenship: Well, it's multiple brain functions that get involved. There's a pattern of reinforcing a reward for a behavior, 'cause it does feel good, and when it's feeling good, you're releasing endorphins and cortisols into your body, and those are drugs, and you can become addicted to those. So again, we find people establishing this perpetuating cycle of trying to deal with negative emotion states, negative bodily effective states, with behaviors that don't really change anything, but in essence, are reinforcing the negativity.
Shame is ... being ashamed, and feeling shameful, is one of the common things we deal with, in the sexual addiction world. Well if you're doing things that cause people to look at you as if they're ashamed of you, when they find out what you're doing, you can sort of see how that might perpetuate the inner self being negatively influenced.
Leh Meriwether: Let me ask you this question, so shift gears just a bit, let's say that there's a spouse that starts to, or they have suspicions about some sort of sexual addiction, or they're aware of a sexual addiction of their husband, let's just use the wife discovers this, so what kind of behavior does the innocent spouse ... what kind of behavior could they engage in that would unwittingly enable the spouse, or push the spouse further into the sexual addiction?
Roy Blankenship: What I find, and again, I don't like universals, so this is certainly not everybody, but often, I will find that a wife, for example, and I keep saying that, because gender matters, in the responses here.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah.
Roy Blankenship: And the wife may encounter a sexual addictive behavior, but have what one of my staff, Melissa, calls a Suzy Sunshine attitude about it. It's all gonna be okay, God's gonna fix it, we're gonna survive this. Where, in essence, there's a need to be honest, and authentic about the fact of feeling betrayed, and loss of trust, and so the wife needs to be able to call it what it is, set and maintain boundaries that say that this isn't what I signed up for. This isn't acceptable behavior. I won't be in a relationship with you, if we're going to encounter and experience these kinds of things. So drawing a line in the sand, and saying no is the first thing that has to happen. Then being willing to persevere and work through the difficult change process that the husband's gonna have to work through, but just not tolerating, as if it's gonna be okay, the shameful behaviors, and the pornography, and sexual addictive behaviors that are being experienced.
Leh Meriwether: So I ... put it a little differently, so basically it's okay to say this is not okay, that this needs to stop, this is unhealthy.
Roy Blankenship: Yeah, think about just even if the wife finds out that the husband's masturbating, she might have the feeling, well I wish you would save that for me. Have that experience with me, that's something we could share. And so if the husband would be willing to do that, but if he's not, she might say, "Well, if you're going to masturbate on your own, I'm going to interpret that to mean that you really don't want to be with me, and share that with me, and therefore, my response is going to be," and sort of get that kind of concreteness around how she's going to evaluate, assess, and respond to behaviors.
Leh Meriwether: So there's good news here, because there is hope in these situations, and when we get back, Roy is gonna talk about how he goes about helping people with sexual addiction.
Welcome back everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, one of the founding partners of the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp radio on the new Talk 106.7. Now, unfortunately, Todd's not with us today, but he will be back soon, but fortunately, in studio, I have with me Roy Blankenship, and we have been talking about sexual addiction, and pornography addiction, and how it impacts people, how to identify it, but we've been talking about all the negative parts of it, and the reason I brought Roy in is that I know that he has had some success stories through his organization called Hope Quest, it's actually a fifteen acre, I don't know, what's the proper word?
Roy Blankenship: Campus.
Leh Meriwether: Campus, thank you, I was having a brain fart there. So it has a fifteen acre campus where people can go there, and they can get specialized, intensive, on campus treatment for an extended period of time, and work through addictions, not just sexual, but alcohol and drug, but I wanted to end the show on a positive note, talking about the hope, 'cause I know that you have had some success stories. You've gotten people through this, you've restored families. So if you wouldn't mind just here's actually, I want to ... I know this is a short answer, so on just the sexual addiction part, is that covered by medical insurance?
Roy Blankenship: If it's just a sexual addiction issue, the answer would be no, and the reason, again, for that is because it's not a recognized mental health or medical disorder, as of today, but if we can fit it into one of the established nosologies, or categories of disease or disorder, that are in the manual, then we can usually get it covered, and oftentimes there's co-occurring kind of issues, such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, alcoholism, substance abuse disorders, then we put it all together, we can get coverage in a lot of cases.
Leh Meriwether: Oh, good. So what is the treatment for sexual addiction like? If someone comes and they've been brought there, what do you do?
Roy Blankenship: Well, the first thing that I do is recognizing there's multiple levels of treatment. There's individual work, there's group work, there's intensive work, there's outpatient work, there's residential work, and one of the advantages of going somewhere where there's a context like we have at Hope Quest, would be being able to get an assessment and evaluation done, and then making a treatment plan that has the right modalities and treatment options for you, that match your scenario.
Oftentimes, we have people come and spend a three month period with us, in a residential treatment context, and that is warranted, when the assessment work that we do shows that they're unlikely to be successful in modifying their behavior in a life setting, without the structure and support needed.
Leh Meriwether: Wow.
Roy Blankenship: And then from there it backs down. Maybe there's an intensive outpatient work that can be done, or a partial hospitalization work that could be done. But we, again, we try to assess and evaluate and come up with a treatment plan that really would be helpful. And in the treatment planning, I always look, there's three things that drive my attention. One is a phenomenological motivator, and as humans, phenomenology, just to get that out of the way, how we feel.
Leh Meriwether: Okay, yeah I was about to ask, what does that mean?
Roy Blankenship: I saw that question on your face. So how we feel, and what we know today is that when the inner body state gets off-center, we start trying to motivate and manipulate it back to health, so to speak, with a behavior. When I get thirsty, I look for water. When I get hungry, I look for food. Well when you get locked into addictive behaviors, when you are dependent on the addictive behavior to feel normal, so to speak, then when it's absent, you feel un-normal, and you start looking, again, for that. Well when we're in a context where there's an addict, or an addiction problem, that feeling state has to be regulated. And if they could do that on their own, then they wouldn't need a residential setting. And so it's the structure provided by the community environment, the staff, the nursing staff, the clinical team, that does mental health work, the site techs that help monitor their progress, all that together helps them regulate, where they can give their body a chance to change.
The second one, past phenomenology, is biological motivators. Any time we use a substance, or do a habitual behavior, it changes our brain patterns. And if you get a wrong pattern established, then you've got to reverse it. I'm just making it as simple as I can, and again, that has to be reversed, and again, it needs to be structure that helps a person stay steady in the process, because if you don't stay steady in the effort, it won't reverse.
Leh Meriwether: They'll just relapse.
Roy Blankenship: It just perpetuates, the other behavior, and you relapse perpetuation, yes. And then the last one that I look for is psychological motivators. Do I want to change? [inaudible 00:39:28] and I were laughing, coming in, about what's the biggest thing? Well you've got to want to be different, and if you don't want to be different, guess what? You're not gonna be. One of the things I learned about humans, as I've gotten older, is we do what we want to do. And if you think alcohol is good for you, and your implied message in your brain, that that's what you're supposed to do, when you have a party, well you've got to decide that you don't do that at parties, and you don't need that to have fun. And if you can't get there, you won't change.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Roy Blankenship: So do you want to change, and then importantly, do you believe you can change? Do you think it's possible for you to change? And we call that self efficacy, in my work. The belief that if I set my mind to it, I really could accomplish it. I might not be competent at it yet, but I can learn how. I really believe I can do that. And then am I willing to do what it takes to change, and the competency would come from that cycle of learning how to do it differently. And in our multi-disciplinary, team approach, that provides structure and support, interventions, provides treatment and therapy, there's community, it helps with opportunity. All of that is designed to help a person stay in the groove of not only believing that they can, but learning that they really can. Seeing it happen, and then be reminded.
I go to a training experience, at the gym, right now, and my trainer is, all the time, reminding me, "Do you remember when you first came, and we did this, and you couldn't do it?" "Oh wow, yeah, I remember that." "Well see, look what you're doing now." And all of a sudden, I'm reminded, I really can do this. But if I didn't have him to help me with that, I would have forgot.
Leh Meriwether: You might have given up.
Roy Blankenship: I come close to it. So that support that he gives me is the kind of thing that I'm talking about, that's necessary in this treatment. And then not only willing, but am I able? The saddest thing that I run into in my work is that people want to change, but they don't have the resources necessary to get the help they need. And I'm thankful for Christian ministries, even at Hope Quest, we can't do it for free, because it's so costly, but we try a scholarship. Every client that comes through, we subsidize what it costs to do the program so that we can try to make it more affordable and accessible to people. But are they willing, and are they able? Can they muster the resources, and support there, that they need to change?
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, I do know that some of the patients that have come to you, the big struggle is it's often the breadwinner, and so they have to leave, either they lose their job, or take three months off, and the family is scrounging to pay the mortgage for three months, let alone buy food.
Roy Blankenship: It is, it is very problematic, and I would say this to maybe be a hope, an encouragement to people. One of the things that I've seen in my journeys thus far, and even in my own life experience, is sometimes what is the worst thing that could happen to you, it feels that way at the time, maybe ends up to be one of the best things that did happen to you, but you just can't see it right now.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Roy Blankenship: People bond through negative experience, stronger than through positive experience. So when you find yourself in a situation where a spouse has betrayed you, and there's been loss of trust, the encouraging word I would say is that it can be turned around, and it can be rebuilt. It can become stronger than it ever was.
Leh Meriwether: So you've actually seen that, where people came in, they were broken, and that-
Roy Blankenship: Not always. But it's possible.
Leh Meriwether: Okay.
Roy Blankenship: I would say we have, probably, a 60, 65 percent success rate in these kind of things, where the families stay, in fact we called it, we had a slogan, when you save a life, save a family, where our goal is to try to save the family, where it stays intact, and if that can happen, and it often does, that's the best thing.
Leh Meriwether: That's awesome. Well you know, unfortunately, that about wraps up this show. Before we go, Roy, thank you so much for coming on the show, and definitely, I've been educated. But before we end the show, can you, if someone needs the help of Hope Quest, what's the best way for them to find you, or get to Hope Quest?
Roy Blankenship: Go to WWW.HopeQuestGroup.org, or just call, 678-391-5950.
Leh Meriwether: Okay, and then, so you've got staff that can get someone involved in the process, and come in for an evaluation?
Roy Blankenship: Yes. That's typically what we would do. We would screen you over the phone, talk to you about your dilemma, and your situation, bring you in for an assessment, and evaluation process, and then go from there, to see what your treatment options might be, and what you might choose to make of that.
Leh Meriwether: Well, Roy, thank you so much for what you do. I know that you have saved lots of families from the ... what I'm involved in, not necessarily from the family law, but what I do in my personal life. So I really appreciate that, and everything you do, and thanks so much again for coming on the show.
Roy Blankenship: Thank you, Leh. My pleasure.
Leh Meriwether: Hey, that about wraps up the show. You can read more about us, and find more information about us online, at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. Thanks so much for listening.
Speaker 3: This audio program does not establish an attorney-client relationship with Meriwether and Tharp.