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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Psychotherapy: Overcoming Internet and Porn Addiction

As a psychotherapist in NYC, one of my specialities is addictive and compulsive behavior.  Aside from assisting clients with alcohol and drug problems, I've been seeing many more clients who are struggling with Internet and porn addiction. Based on recent research, the number of people who are addicted to spending countless time and money on the Internet, whether it is on social networking sites or downloading pornography, has exploded. The Internet pornography industry is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Why Has There Been Such an Explosion in the Number of Internet Addiction Cases?
With the advent of the Internet and the profusion of pornography sites on the Net, it's easy to access pornography sites and chat sites from the privacy of your home. Whereas someone might be more cautious about going to a porn shop, this same person is assured of the anonymity that the Internet provides. So, it's fast, easy, immediately gratifying, anonymous, and often free. Many more people are now suffering with Internet addiction, and addiction to porn specifically, because of the easy access of the Internet.

What are the Consequences of Internet or Porn Addiction?
As a psychotherapist, I'm seeing many clients who are coming to treatment because there have been negative consequences in their relationships or at work. For example, if a client's wife has discovered that he has been spending an inordinate amount of time looking at Internet porn and less time with her, most likely, she will resent this and, often, insist that her husband get help. Or, if an employer finds out that one of their employees is less productive at work because he or she is spending work hours downloading porn or other Internet images, they would have reason to be very concerned about this, and employers have been known to mandate these employees to get psychological help or, in some cases, terminate the employee.

Aside from whether someone is caught or not by a spouse or an employer, often, people who are overly preoccupied with the Internet are compromising their relationships because they are spending less time paying attention to and nurturing their live, non-Internet relationships with their partners, spouses, children, friends and relatives. With severe cases, as people spend more and time on the Internet, their sex life with their partners wane, bills might not get paid, household chores might fall by the wayside, and other everyday responsibilities suffer because these people are in the grips of addictive and compulsive behavior.

The following composite account of several cases, where all identifying information has been changed, is an example of Internet addiction:

Edward:
When Edward contacted me to begin psychotherapy, he indicated that his employer had caught him downloading Internet pornography at work for the second time. He indicated that he had been given a warning by his Human Resources Department and his director when he was caught the first time downloading porn. Part of that warning was that they would be monitoring his computer activity very closely from that point on, and if they discovered that he continued to download porn, there would be consequences, including possible termination.

According to Edward, having that initial meeting with the head of Human Resources and his director was one of the most humiliating experiences of his life. Fortunately for Edward, he had a stellar reputation at work as being one of their best sales people, and there had been no prior problems at work. So, he got off with a warning the first time. After that, he made a commitment to them and to himself that he would never download pornography at work again. He said he never told his wife about what happened because he was ashamed and he also feared her reaction.

For the first few weeks, Edward said he was able to refrain from looking at porn at work. There were many times during the day when he felt bored at work when he was tempted to look at Internet porn, but he continued to refrain. Instead, he went home, waited until his wife was asleep and spent long hours at night downloading porn at home. Often, his wife, who thought he was doing work on the computer, would call to him from the bedroom to come to bed. But, eventually, she would go to sleep, and she didn't realize that Edward was staying up until 2 AM or 3 AM looking at porn and masturbating.

After a couple of weeks of spending so many late nights looking at porn, Edward began to have problems waking up in the morning for work. He was just making to work on time, and he often felt drowsy at work. His concentration and focus also began to slip, which began affecting the quality of his work. After one of his customers complained to his director, Edward's director spoke to Edward about the complaint. According to Edward, in the 15 years that he had worked for his company, none of his customers had ever complained about him. When confronted about the complaint by his director, Edward brushed it off as a complaint from a difficult customer. At the time, his director seemed to believe him, and the matter was dropped.

Edward knew that he was beginning to slide down a slippery slope. He realized that he was spending way too much time on the Internet, but he told himself that he would stop tomorrow. He gave himself permission to look at Internet porn one more evening at home, and he told himself that he would stop after that. At that point, he believed that he could stop at any time.

But that night when Edward stayed up late to download porn at home, his wife came out to see what he was doing because she was concerned that he was staying up too late at night. Edward didn't hear her walking into his study while he was masturbating to the pornographic images on the computer. So, when his wife walked into the room and saw the images on the screen and realized that Edward was masturbating, she was shocked and angry.

Edward lied to his wife and told her that this was the first time that he had ever downloaded porn and masturbated to the images on the screen. His wife accused him of being more desirous of the women on the computer screen than of her. She also brought up that they were hardly having sex these days, and she wondered if it was because he was masturbating to these images. She told him that she felt that she could not compare with these screen images of women with "perfect" bodies. Edward denied everything but, inwardly, he feared that this was true. Once again, he vowed to himself to stop.

After that night, Edward's wife insisted that he go to bed early, so he was unable to download porn at home in the evenings. He was also still leery about downloading porn at work because he didn't want to lose his job. Over time, he became increasingly aware that, even though he wasn't downloading porn, his thoughts were more and more preoccupied with the numerous images that he had already seen. His preoccupation with these distracting thoughts caused him to start making small mistakes at work. At that point, he was still able to hide them, make excuses or blame others when his mistakes came to light.

Increasingly, Edward was becoming anxious and irritable. He felt that if he was only able to download some porn, he could "take the edge off" his nervousness. One day at work, after a few weeks of abstaining from Internet porn, Edward felt like he was going to explode. He felt that he was barely hiding his edginess at work and he was especially snappy with his wife at home. As a result, he convinced himself that he could go to a porn site at work one more time. He told himself that he worked for a big company and the tech people had a lot of people to monitor, not just him. He felt that, with all that was going on at work for the tech people, he wouldn't get caught if he downloaded porn just one more time.

After Edward closed his office door, he went to one of his favorite Internet porn sites. He felt the usual gratifying sexual arousal, which made him feel elated. With the sexual arousal came an urge to masturbate. Until then, Edward had never masturbated to porn at work because he felt this was just too risky. But after weeks of abstaining from Internet porn and now seeing the images that were so sexually arousing, he decided to go ahead and masturbate. (The word "decided" here is a bit misleading because, as Edward described it to me, it was more of an impulse, without any thought, than a decision.)

Suddenly, Edward's director walked into his office to bring Edward the latest sales report. He was in mid-sentence, telling Edward that his sales performance had slipped that month when he suddenly realized that Edward was half undressed, massaging his penis in his hand, and watching Internet porn. Needless to say, Edward was mortified. Several hours later, he had to tell his wife everything--that he was suspended from work for a month and he was mandated to treatment. He was given a final warning at work, and he had to sign documentation that he understood that if he didn't get psychological help or if there was a reoccurence of this behavior, he would be terminated.

This was the situation when Edward came to see me to get psychological help for his Internet porn addiction. He admitted, for the first time, that he had a serious problem that he couldn't solve on his own. He stopped deluding himself into thinking that he could stop at any time, and he stopped bargaining with himself that he would only do it "one more time." He and his wife were also seeing a marriage counselor to try to repair the damage that his addiction had done to their relationship. At that point, Edward's wife was seriously considering divorcing him because she didn't trust him any more.

With the help of weekly psychotherapy sessions and attendance at Sex Addicts Anonymous 12 Step meetings, including a 12 Step sponsor, Edward overcame his Internet addiction. There were still times when he felt the craving to look at Internet porn, but he was able to channel his cravings into healthier activities. With regard to his marriage, it took a while for Edward's wife to trust him again, but they began to pick up the pieces of their marriage. He also returned to work, feeling extremely humiliated at first, but he redoubled his efforts to improve his work performance and he had no more slips at work or at home.

You Can Become Addicted to Internet Porn and Chat Sites Before You Realize It:
Internet addiction, especially addiction to porn sites and chat rooms, can be very insidious. Without realizing it at first, it's easy to get caught up in this behavior and not realize it until there are serious consequences. People who never engaged in addictive behavior before are getting caught up by the compelling images on the screen and easy access to sexual partners in chat rooms.

Getting Help:
If you are struggling with Internet addiction or you are the partner of someone who is having this problem, you're not alone. Seek help from a qualified, licensed mental health professional who has expertise helping people to overcome Internet addiction so you can overcome this problem. Also, find out about local Sex Addicts Anonymous 12 Step meetings in your area and attend a beginners meeting.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist. One of my specialities is addictive behavior, and I have helped many clients to overcome Internet addiction.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.