It wasn’t always easy for a person addicted to porn to find a therapist experienced in helping people overcome excessive porn use or behavioral addiction. Thankfully, help is available for you, and an ever-increasing number of therapists are well prepared to assist with porn addiction and other forms of compulsive sexual behavior.
At the time this article was first published in 2017 and as of the September 2023 update, what is considered by many to be the authoritative text of mental health diagnosis – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (often abbreviated “DSM” which is currently in its 5th version) – hasn’t yet listed an appropriate diagnosis for porn addicts, such as “porn use disorder.” This is leaving many clinical professionals in the dark about the phenomenon and many compulsive porn users struggling onward alone and uninformed. However, in 2019, the World Health Organization published a diagnosis of compulsive sexual behaviour disorder in the ICD-11, and updated the diagnosis in 2022 to better clarify it includes the compulsive use of pornography. As a result, an increasing number of professionals are becoming better prepared to offer assistance with porn-related problems.
Many therapists acknowledge problematic pornography use and are prepared to offer assistance with it. Some aren’t quite as prepared, which may be a generational thing. Some practicing mental health care professionals came of age in an era when porn was a physical, printed product. Perhaps some of them hid their copies of Playboy or Hustler in their college textbooks. Or, if they were up on the latest tech, maybe they were sharing VHS tapes with their friends. Today’s Internet porn is far more available and abundant compared to pornography of the past.
Some of the older people we’ve spoken to call themselves “original porn addicts.” They tell us they had to spend time and money acquiring porn. That’s a barrier of entry much higher than a couple of mouse clicks or smartphone taps. While they sometimes like to poke fun at the younger people who “didn’t have to work for it,” many are grateful that they didn’t have access to Internet porn until after puberty. Self-reports from rebooters suggest that some older people take less time to recover, perhaps because they didn’t grow up using modern high-speed Internet porn. These days, there is a virtually endless supply of Internet porn available for free within seconds. One human can’t consume all of the Internet porn that exists – and we do not suggest that anybody try to!
This means that some counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists are bringing a paper-age approach to a digital-age problem. Many young people are compulsively using pornography and experiencing unexpected, unpleasant side effects. Some therapists might lump online porn addiction in with “sex addiction.” Even more problematically, some porn addicts will be advised to only work on eliminating their shame around their excessive porn use, rather than also quitting porn or reducing the porn use to more moderate levels. While addressing shame is undoubtedly essential, a therapist aware of “compulsive sexual behavior disorder” should also be prepared to support the client in their personal decision to reduce or quit excessive porn use.
When should you seek a therapist for help?
If you have the financial means to pursue it, we suggest that you consider it. There are plenty of people without diagnosable mental issues who see therapists because, well, therapy can be therapeutic – it often feels good to do it. For those who are concerned about the expense, low-cost options (such as a sliding scale) may be available in your area. If you are a university student, your school may provide counseling. Online options (such as BetterHelp) may offer lower rates. Your primary healthcare provider or health insurance carrier may be able to refer you to somebody.
If you feel like Internet porn use is having a negative effect on your life, it certainly is a good idea to seek professional mental health care. If you feel that you have a behavioral addiction to porn, you definitely should seek out the support of a licensed therapist.
You can still use peer support resources like NoFap® under the guidance of a mental health care professional. Just because you get a therapist doesn’t mean you have to shut off other useful avenues of help. In fact, recovery tends to be more effective when you combine multiple avenues, including therapy and peer support networks.
What about porn addiction recovery “coaches”?
There is also a growing field in coaching that is marketed to help with quitting porn. You might find it helpful to connect with a coach, especially one that has personal experience in porn addiction recovery. However, some people offering “coaching” services online are not credentialed, and some even spread harmful misinformation about porn addiction (some seem more interested in clickbait than accuracy). We’ve even seen one coach who charges over 50,000 dollars for an online “reboot” program: your money would probably be better spent on a therapist.
It’s important to understand what a coach is and is not. Coaches aren’t usually qualified mental health care professionals. You should be in a stable condition and not suffering from significant mental distress to consider coaching. In fact, any reputable coach should decline to offer their services to someone better suited for therapy.
If you do decide to enlist the services of a porn recovery coach, you should at least make sure that they’ve graduated from a program that’s International Coach Federation (abbreviated ICF) accredited. The ICF also has individual accreditation for coaches – and coaches who are registered with the ICF have to abide by a set of ethical guidelines. When in doubt, choose a licensed therapist. Also keep in mind you could always have a therapist and a coach at the same time. Further, an increasing number of licensed therapists also offer coaching services as part of their offerings.
What are some signs that I should seek mental health care?
It is always okay to inquire about therapy. In short, if you feel like your thoughts and feelings are impacting your day-to-day life, that’s a good sign that you might benefit from mental health care. We also recommend visiting with a therapist if you suspect you have a mental health issue, have experienced significant trauma at some point in your life, or have failed to control porn use despite multiple attempts to do so.
The UK mental health charity Mind offers this brief take on why you might want to reach out for help:
- If you are finding it difficult to cope with your thoughts are feelings
- If your thoughts and feelings are having an impact on your day-to-day life
- Or if you feel you want to find out about what support is available to you
Please remember that if your distress is leading to dangerous thoughts of behavior, including thoughts of suicide of self-harm you should seek emergency help immediately. Waiting until an initial consultation might be too long for people going through significant mental distress.
You can go to your local mental hospital, emergency room, or call a crisis center. The USA’s National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and will connect you to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area anytime – even in the middle of the night. For those located outside of the United States, Suicide.org maintains an international list of hotline phone numbers on their page. Here are more resources.
Please note that this criteria is informational and doesn’t replace a mental health consultation. If you are questioning whether or not if you should see a therapist, it is a good idea to get an initial evaluation.
Where do I start?
If your situation is not an emergency matter, you can begin by researching professionals near you. You can start with Google searching “<my city> porn addiction therapist” and see what comes up. Furthermore, you can utilize sexual health membership organizations that maintain directory listings of their members in good-standing:
- SASH – The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health provides a “Member Directory.”
- IITAP – The International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals has a “Therapist Directory” search tool.
These organizations have members outside of the United States but international citizens might need to perform a Google search to find a local clinician. Something like “<my city> porn addiction therapist” should do the trick.
These sites simply list mental health care professionals. You’ll likely have to do some research to find a porn addiction therapist.
Look for professionals who appear to know about problematic pornography use.
You can get some clues about the suitability of potential porn addiction therapists based on how they describe their services. It may be a bad sign if the therapist you are researching uses dogmatic language, for example, clearly expressing a porn advocacy bias. Feel free to ask questions of any therapist you are considering consulting.
Using phrases such as “porn addiction” or “problematic pornography use” on a listing is likely a good sign. Acknowledging online porn as a behavioral addiction and the classification of “compulsive sexual behavior disorder” by the World Health Organization in a service description is even better. And if their expertise extends to other Internet-related issues such as gaming or gambling, that could also be a good sign.
Contact them for an initial consultation.
If you’re ready to meet with a therapist, you can contact their office to set up an initial session. Use this visit to vet them. It’s certainly reasonable for them to ask you questions – indeed, some people who believe they have porn addiction might not actually meet all the criteria for it. However, if they tell you that your perceived pornography addiction is definitely a result of something else being expressed before they even get to know you, that is likely a sign to continue shopping around. If their goal is immediately to help you come to terms with your excessive porn use without also helping you to quit or reduce using porn, that is another good sign to continue seeking alternative therapy options. On the other hand, shaming you for your porn use could also likely lead to issues.
Go with your gut! The relationship with a therapist can be very personal. You have to be able to talk openly to this person, and if you are uncomfortable, remember you are under zero obligation to continue seeing any particular therapist. It may take meetings with several therapists before you settle on one – or maybe you’ll get lucky the first time! You have to find the right fit.
In some situations, any licensed therapist is better than not having a therapist at all.
Sometimes, seeing a non-porn-addiction therapist is preferable to not having any professional support at all.
If you are considering harmful behavior to yourself or others, or are in significant mental distress, you should seek out mental health care as soon as possible. Once you are seeing a licensed therapist, you’ll get the immediate support that you need, and from there could consider other options. You could always change therapists later!
If you are in significant mental distress, make sure that you have another mental health care professional lined up, with the initial consultation out of the way and recurring appointments scheduled, before leaving your current provider. In periods of distress, any mental health care is ideal compared to having no professional support, and even if a particular licensed therapist isn’t familiar with porn addiction, they are still thoroughly trained to help you manage your feelings.
Spread the word.
If you have a good experience with a clinical therapist, please tell us about it. Be sure to post a review for them on online reviewing websites so that other people know that they’re a good option. And be sure to post about your experience on our forum or leave a comment below.
This article was originally published on July 06, 2017.