If you have a serious porn habit and want to successfully quit porn, eventually you will need to participate in some type of ongoing treat – ment. Without the focus and direction of a treatment routine, it’s easy to lose sight of goals, become overwhelmed by stress, and slip back into old ways of thinking and responding that increase the likelihood of continu­ing your porn use.

The idea of going to counseling or attending group meetings devoted to porn recovery can be frightening and off-putting at first. Taking the step to find treatment requires a level of openness and vulnerability that is higher than just telling a few special people about the porn problem. It takes time and energy to research and locate counselors and organiza­tions that provide porn recovery services. It can be inconvenient to re­arrange your schedule in order to attend counseling or group meetings. You may have to spend money on a treatment program. There has to be a willingness to explore a number of different options because you can never know in advance whether something will suit you and your needs until you give it a try. You’ll also have to learn to put your trust in a person or group of people you most likely have never met before.

Getting involved in treatment is a powerful and important step to take. Many of the people we spoke with said ongoing treatment changed their lives in profoundly positive ways. Through their participation in individual or group counseling, they were provided concrete tools for quitting, found role models for recovery, got insights and new ideas about their own behavior, and were able to evaluate their progress as they moved through the process of recovery. Participating in a treatment program also helps make the recovery process feel normal because you meet people who are on a similar healing journey. Contact with others provides emotional support, reduces feelings of shame, and inspires a porn user to stick with the process of change.

Corey told us that the support and encouragement he received in his men’s recovery program for sexual addiction is what finally enabled him to quit porn. “It’s difficult to stop doing something you get that kind of sexual reward out of. I needed to hear other people constantly remind me that it wasn’t all right for me to keep using it. That was a key in my success. I could no longer justify in my own mind that porn was in any way good for me.”

Treatment programs for people with porn problems vary in ap­proach, format, and cost. Some involve one-on-one meetings with a counselor, health-care provider, or other specialist, while others involve attending group meetings with people who share a desire to quit porn and overcome other forms of sexual addiction. In order to find a treat­ment option that is most likely to help you, it’s important to do some research and spend some time thinking about what’s available and what types of programs resonate with your values, beliefs, and lifestyle. You may have to try out more than one approach before finding one that fits your needs and personality.

Some of the most common treatment options for porn recovery include:

• Individual counseling

• Couples/marriage counseling

• Therapist-run group counseling

• Twelve-step addiction recovery groups

• Faith-based recovery groups

• Residential treatment programs

• Special programs and workshops

A good way to begin your search for the best treatment program is to set up a confidential consultation with a mental health counselor, re­ligious leader, or addictions specialist. This should be a person you feel comfortable discussing your situation with, and he or she should also be knowledgeable about the types of services that are available in your area. With their help, you can begin formulating a treatment plan tailored to your individual situation, concerns, and goals. (See the Resources sec­tion for treatment programs and organizations that provide referral in­formation for counseling.)

After meeting with a mental health counselor, Ed came up with the following treatment plan:

1. I will see a counselor who specializes in sexual addiction re­covery once a week for at least three months;

2. I will attend at least one Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting a week for at least three months;

3. I will reevaluate how I am doing in three months and revise my plan to move on to the next steps in my recovery.

The combined individual counseling and a group recovery program Ed chose is an approach that has a high rate of success for people in the process of quitting porn. Different approaches often complement each other and can help you make steady progress over time. Even so, keep in mind that the plan you start out with may change several times as you reach new levels of recovery.

Let’s look at the characteristics and advantages of each of the differ­ent approaches to porn recovery.

Individual work. Individual counseling involves meeting privately with a professionally trained counselor, clinical social worker, psychologist, or other licensed mental health practitioner. Someone who is specifi­cally trained in sexual addiction recovery would be most beneficial. Ses­sions may be weekly or bimonthly for several months to several years. A therapist can provide guidance and support in addressing underlying emotional wounds and unresolved issues from your past that have fueled your porn use. Meeting with the same person privately over an extended period of time also provides an opportunity to sharpen interpersonal skills and become more comfortable opening up emotionally.

While hesitant to try individual counseling at first, Bill was later glad that he took this step. Of all the options, individual counseling seemed like the safest and most effective place for him to address his problem of being attracted to child pornography. “When you’re like me and you get turned on by looking at children, the biggest problem is isolation,” he said. “I worried that I’d be condemned as a ‘pervert’ or ‘animal’ if I ad­mitted to anyone what I was doing. Talking with a counselor allowed me to break out of my isolation. It was the best thing I ever did. The coun­selor helped me start seeing myself as separate from my problem. And he gave me strategies for being able to change my behavior and focus my sexual interest in a more positive and appropriate direction.”

Couples work. Couples counseling can be beneficial when relation­ship stress is high, because both partners get an opportunity to discuss porn problems in a neutral setting. This type of recovery work can help a couple understand how porn has harmed their friendship, trust, and intimacy. With the help of a trained marriage counselor or relationship therapist, the former porn user and his intimate partner can work to­gether to repair the damage porn use caused to their relationship.

While couples counseling is recommended for any recovering porn user who is in an intimate relationship, it works best as an adjunct or follow-up to individual therapy. Some couples counseling early on in the recovery process can help stabilize the relationship as both partners try to cope with the intensity of each others’ feelings and reactions. Couples counseling can also enable the porn user to more fully understand the destructive impact of his porn use on his partner and on their relation­ship and provide insights that help him stay on track with his own recov­ery. However, the porn user needs to make progress in his healing and recovery before the relationship can heal. Ongoing couples counseling is usually most effective once the porn user has been able to make a solid commitment to recovery and has experienced some success in staying away from porn for a period of time. Only then there will be a strong enough foundation from which the couple can work together to heal the damage porn has caused in the relationship.

Ongoing group work. Group counseling and other types of group ex­periences, such as twelve-step recovery groups, are often an essential part of a porn recovery plan. After all, it is much easier to stay committed to recovery goals over an extended period of time when you are regularly connecting and interacting with other people who have similar goals.

Group recovery programs include therapist-led counseling groups, religious faith-based recovery groups, and twelve-step programs such as Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) and Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA).

Many of the standard ongoing group recovery programs are relatively low cost or free. Group size can vary from five or six people to over twenty. Many groups use a structured format for sharing personal expe­riences and follow an agenda that concentrates on a different aspect of recovery each week. This approach usually helps make everyone in the group feel more comfortable and secure discussing their porn problems and learning from others.

Porn users who attend group programs say the experience can be truly healing and satisfying, because it helps them feel part of a com­munity that not only provides support, but also puts a high value on per­sonal responsibility and honesty. It is easier to stay away from porn when you know that you will be checking in with others about your progress on a regular basis. “The idea that other people know the struggle I’m going through helps me a lot,” Ivan said. “I’m committed to quitting, but there are many times that I want to go back to porn. Every once in a while other people in my group will check up on me. They’ll ask, ‘How are you holding it together?’ Knowing that they might at any time ask me certainly helps me stay with the program.”

Group treatment also has the advantage of helping keep you honest about your own feelings and behaviors by providing regular exposure to the experiences of other porn users. As you listen to stories about the destructiveness porn has had in the lives of the other members of your group, you start to develop a new consciousness about your own problems. Twenty-seven-year-old Brad has been part of a men’s porn recovery group at his church since he was twenty-three. “It’s the reason I was able to quit porn,” he says. “After several group meetings I stopped feeling tempted to use porn. I had no desire for it. I didn’t even crave the porn fantasies or masturbating to it. I’ve heard other guys say they had a similar experience. It felt so great to step away from the addic­tion. I could see more clearly what I had been doing, how it had affected my life, and just how far down it had taken me. I started to understand what I had been dealing with and how I could go about getting it under control.”

Group treatment programs can also help in the development of in­terpersonal skills that are often a problem for people who’ve been caught in the porn trap for a long time. Justin told us, “My porn addiction had stunted my growth emotionally and kept me from entering into trusting relationships with women and other people in general. In Sex Addicts Anonymous we spent time identifying our emotions. The men and women in the group essentially taught me how to have a relationship and share on a feeling level. Once I was able to relate more emotionally and connect with people, I didn’t feel the need to compulsively masturbate anymore. Masturbating to porn just seemed like a cheap substitute.”

When you realize that everyone in the group has similar problems to yours, it can also help you deal with your feelings of shame. Thirty – four-year-old Dick said, “In my men’s group we go beyond the pride and macho bullshit of not ever admitting we have weaknesses and are capable of feeling hurt. New guys come in the group and try to rational­ize using porn in some way, and the rest of us in the group say, ‘Give me a break. We’re just like you. We all get horny! Don’t give me that.’ We’re able to call our behavior for what it is, while not censuring or shaming each other. We are deeply committed to each other. We trust each other and respect confidentiality. I think there is a camaraderie that is almost like being in the military. It’s like we’ve been through a war together, have suffered together, have pain and casualties together, and it’s really bonded us. We’re also helping each other communicate better and treat our intimate partners with more respect. I feel much better about myself because of this group of men.”

Finding a group to go to can be challenging if you don’t live in a metropolitan area. Marie has to drive three hours each way to attend the nearest Sexaholics Anonymous meeting. She told us the trip is definitely worth it because the advantages of the group process are so vital. “I stay over and see my counselor in the morning,” she says. “Sometimes I’m the only woman at the SA meeting. It used to feel strange, but now I’m just one of them. I feel safer there than I do in a lot of places. The men are working on their issues and I’m working on mine. We’re all there for the same thing: to stay away from porn, manage our lives better, and help each other heal.”

Residential treatment. Residential treatment programs can be especially helpful for porn users who are out of control with their sexual behavior and who are experiencing overwhelming emotional distress. Most programs are located on campus-like hospital settings and provide intensive services that include assessment of therapeutic needs, individual counseling, group counseling, educational information, and the development of an ongoing treatment plan upon discharge. Though the financial cost is high com­pared to other treatment options, this type of concentrated individualized care can give some recovering porn users what they need most—distance from their porn habit and established routines, focused clinical attention, and time to rest and recover emotionally and physically.

Special programs. A variety of other special programs and services are available for recovering porn users. These include short-term intensive outpatient programs and workshops that participants attend daily for several days or several weeks in a row. Less expensive than residential programs, these programs frequently are held in classroom settings and are attended by other porn users and sex addicts in recovery. Laura was able to get started on her recovery after attending the Bethesda Work­shops, a sexual addiction treatment program for Christian women in Nashville, Tennessee. “I had always thought of myself as a female kind of ‘Lone Ranger’ in regard to having a problem with porn,” Laura said. “It wasn’t until I took the workshop that I realized there are other women out there who struggle with the same issues.”

Only you can determine the treatment plan that will work best for you, but it is important that you find a program that helps you maintain a level of honesty and commitment to change, and that builds a layer of emotional and spiritual support to guide you through your porn recov­ery process.