Attachment Theory and Experiential Group Therapy: An Effective Framework for Working with Recovering Sex Addicts and their Partners

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Attachment Theory and Experiential Group Therapy: An Effective Framework for Working with Recovering Sex Addicts and their Partners Austin Houghtaling PhD, LMFT Clinical Director of Breakthrough at Caron
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Attachment Theory and Experiential Group Therapy: An Effective Framework for Working with Recovering Sex Addicts and their Partners Austin Houghtaling PhD, LMFT Clinical Director of Breakthrough at Caron About the Presenters Austin Houghtaling, Ph.D., is the Clinical Director of the Breakthrough at Caron program and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Austin s clinical background includes work with children and adolescents in a community mental health agency, marriage and family therapy, community reentry therapy for individuals incarcerated for drug and alcohol-related charges, as well as inpatient and outpatient treatment of drug and alcohol dependency. Currently Austin directs the Veterans Healing Through Connection couples workshops and helped develop and facilitates Breakthrough s Couples Healing Through Connection workshops, based in Emotionally Focused Therapy. Austin completed his Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy at Texas Tech University with an emphasis in addictions. He has presented his research at a variety of national conferences including the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the National Council on Family Relations. He has also published in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly and Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal. Austin was the Co-Principal Investigator and Project Director for the Texas Healthy Marriage Initiative. Austin is from the Oregon coast and is married with three children. Objectives Participants will use attachment theory to better understand and treat individuals, couples, and families struggling from the effects of sexual addiction. Participants will engage in experiential examples of therapeutic work with recovering sex addicts and their partners. Participants will review research conducted at a 5-day intensive personal growth workshop, relative to many of the issues recovering sex addicts and their partners face. Impact of Sex Addiction Threatens a sense of inherent worth and value external value and objectification Identity in question who/what am I, or who/what have I become? Internalized shame Relational trauma Relational intimacy is compromised Difficulty regulating emotions and being emotionally aware/honest Disconnection from spirituality Confused and/or compromised personal value system Neurobiological pleasure pathway hijacked Attachment Theory Who s my person and how am I going to get my needs met? When stress and anxiety go up, what s my strategy for connection? 4 attachment styles secure, avoidant, anxious/ambivalent, disorganized Understanding our attachment style illuminates relational patterns: everywhere you go there you are John Bowlby (1959) viewed human beings as inherently relationship seeking, naturally oriented to seek contact comfort and naturally inclined to seek proximity to familiar, comforting figures in times of threat, pain or need. Source: Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics and Change by Mikulincer, Mario and Shaver, Philip R ATTACHMENT THEORY PERSPECTIVE It s all about love Every human being adapts to some degree in an effort to sustain emotional attachment. This human experience does not need a label. Human beings are hard wired to attach for our physical and emotional survival As children we will do whatever we must to keep a connection whether it is good for us or not. In infancy and early childhood our lives depend on attachment. Secure attachment and comforting in childhood creates the ability to self-soothe later in life. (Mikulincer and Shaver, 2004) Adult attachment is equally important. The lack of loving contact creates distress and the need for adaptive measures to compensate for the absence of connection. This is true for both adults and children. Insecure Attachment Anxiety increases when we don t have secure and consistent connection as children. How we adapt and try to maintain connection depends on many factors including: Essence Birth order and Siblings choices Degree of stress or trauma Insecure Attachment Patterns emerge without conscious awareness. Some traits must be used to excess and others may be disowned. Coping mechanisms developed out of necessity in early childhood are used well into adulthood. These brilliant survival patterns will sabotage the search for loving connection as adults. With help, adults can become securely attached! According to Susan Johnson, Attachment Injury Attachment injuries are defined as relationship traumas or wounds that leave the relationship unsafe and limit emotional engagement. When a person feels abandoned or betrayed at key moments where comfort and connection are important, the pain can linger for years and prevent healing until the injury is addressed. In a child, this pain may negatively impact future relationships and his or her ability to trust, whether or not it is remembered. Dr. Susan Johnson, Becoming an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist, The Workbook Family Systems Perspective We do not live in a vacuum Pain in one person in a system results in pain for everyone in that system Each person experiences this stress differently, but all are affected Addiction was not caused by the family, but it thrives in a painful system In order for the family to become healthy all members of the family need some type of help This is not an individual process, a broader perspective is needed to support the relationships Experiential Group Work Powerful lens Gains of group work? Perspective: Mirror and magnifying glass Support Models healthy attachment Feedback Unparalleled access to and illumination of blind spots Couples Healing Through Connection Blind Spots Fish example Inevitability, normalization Central clinical issue Relational intimacy I-95 North Self-examination: Our own blind spots Purposes Safety Zones Tar Pits Sling Shots Blind Spots Self-examination: Our own blind spots Evidence of Blind Spots Impact on others Disbelief in inherent worth and value conditional worth. High emotionality with no known reason, or emotionally shut down. Reactions to life stressors Defensiveness--about + and - Difficulty seeing a positive, hopeful future Universality Everyone has blind spots Consider the consequences of not looking Need to understand attachment theory, and our own and our clients attachment styles in order to be most effective. Need to turn towards relationships rather than away when addressing blind spots Rutgers University Research Study 274 Breakthrough participants 12-Month Study Significant Increase Self-esteem increased significantly and was sustained Emotional awareness and expression Increased assertiveness Significant Decrease Symptoms of distress (anxiety and depression) Self-sacrifice (compromising wellbeing) Avoidant behaviors (participants better able to engage in relationships/seek connection) Rutgers University Research Study Rutgers University Research Study Rutgers University Research Study Research Results Survey of Referring Therapists According to a research study conducted in conjunction with Rutgers University of 78 referring therapists: 85% of therapists felt their clients had increased commitment to personal growth following attendance at Breakthrough at Caron 96% of therapists are willing to refer another patient to Breakthrough in the future Gift of Sight Growth, healing, sight cost something! Need for relationships to see human and spiritual Homeostasis systems don t like change! Even strides towards health-often not met with Hallelujah chorus Analogy to wound healing Summary Sex addiction has real impacts on wellness for all involved. Experiential groups and intensives, whether individual or as a couple, can be very effective at healing and illuminating blind spots, in the process of recovery as well as preventing greater pain and attachment injuries. Need to turn towards relationships rather than away when addressing blind spots Need to understand attachment theory, and our own and our clients attachment styles in order to be most effective. Thanks for attending! Austin W. Houghtaling, Ph.D., LMFT Clinical Director, Breakthrough at Caron Breakthrough at Caron P.O. Box 150 Wernersville, PA
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