Harvey Weinstein is reportedly seeking treatment at a center in Arizona that focuses on sex addiction after more than 20 allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault have surfaced against him. Emails leaked earlier this week also show that the film executive begged CEOs and other moguls to stand by his side before he was fired from his position at The Weinstein Company, promising he’d get mental health help.
“All I’m asking is let me take a leave of absence and get into heavy therapy and counseling. Whether it be in a facility or somewhere else, allow me to resurrect myself with a second chance,” Weinstein reportedly wrote. “A lot of the allegations are false as you know but given therapy and counseling as other people have done, I think I’d be able to get there.”
Weinstein’s resolution to seek treatment as a form of contrition has prompted a pushback, with experts saying the promise may wrongly equate abusive actions with sexual addiction.
Whether Weinstein has a diagnosable disorder remains to be seen. But criticisms that his treatment pledge have sparked have merit: Compulsive sexual conduct is separate from violating consent in sexual relations.
While risky or damaging sexual behaviors are certainly treatable mental health issues, sex addiction alone isn’t a classifiable mental health disorder, according to Kathryn Stamoulis, a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in women’s issues.
The DSM-V, the gold-standard resource on diagnosable mental disorders, does not include sex addiction in its condition list. Experts say there’s a lack of empirical evidence to support its inclusion, and recent research from UCLA on the human brain corroborates this theory.
Additionally, turning to therapy as a remedy for criminal behavior can send the wrong message about psychological support. An openness to seeking therapy is vital for people who have engaged in sexual harassment in order to transform their conduct, Stamoulis told HuffPost ― but it shouldn’t be used as a sole form of retribution for a person’s actions.
“Therapy is important for a sexual harasser because it is the best chance for them to stop their destructive behavior,” Stamoulis said. “Through therapy, a harasser is confronted, in a way that is non-judgmental, with the truth of the harm of their actions.”
“However, that does not mean that the person should automatically be forgiven for egregious or criminal behavior,” she added.
The difference between offending behavior and ‘sex addiction’
Regardless of whether sex addiction is formally recognized by the medical community, experts say there’s still a clear distinction between those behaviors and sexual conduct that involve abusive acts.
Chris Samuels, director of the Sexual Addiction Treatment and Training Institute in New York, stressed that sexual misconduct and what may be considered sex addiction can occur simultaneously, but they are two separate issues.
“The perpetrator (of sexual misconduct) is opportunistic, often motivated by power dynamics and often self-justifying and remorseless,” she said. “The sex addict, by contrast, is fairly constantly dealing with compulsive urges to act-out as a coping modality, is seeking emotional relief from stress rather than seeking to exercise power over another, and is rarely without shame or guilt about his or her behavior.”
“Because sex 'works,' the individual may increasingly turn to it as a panacea.”
Someone who is displaying sex addiction-like behavior may see it as a way to find mental and physical relief, Samuels said.
“Because sex ‘works,’ the individual may increasingly turn to it as a panacea,” she said. “Over time, of course, the problem-solver becomes the problem.”
How sexual behavior can be considered a mental health issue
Stamoulis said it’s possible a person can feel psychologically compelled to engage in overt sexual acts. This hypersexuality can be a symptom of mental illness ― but it often isn’t the whole picture.
“Sexual assault is not the same as sex. The consent piece is crucial,” she stressed. “If someone has repeatedly harassed, chased [or] masturbated in front of someone who is clearly uncomfortable or saying no, there may be another diagnosis more appropriate, such as a paraphilic disorder like sexual sadism disorder”― a condition considered a diagnosable mental health disorder under the DSM-V.
“Sexual assault is not the same as sex. The consent piece is crucial.”
Some experts are working to get sex addiction more recognized in research and in treatment protocols.
“The community is trying to change that,” said Rich Kieling, a licensed clinical social worker and director at the Center for Personal Growth and Creativity in New York. “There are many clinicians in the field now who actually do treat it as an addiction and it is gaining more legitimacy as an actual addiction despite the DSM.”
Kieling said that underlying psychological issues like childhood trauma are often at the heart of sex addictions, and it’s vital for professionals to help patients work through those as well as the need for sex itself.
Treatment for these types of issues vary. For example, the Center for Personal Growth and Creativity includes options like talk therapy, 12-step programs set up similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, psychodrama (where patients act out scenarios and confront them using cognitive techniques they’ve learned) and group therapy.
Ultimately, Stamoulis said it’s important for anyone dealing with a mental health issue ― sex-related or otherwise ― to seek professional guidance. Therapy doesn’t make amends or excuse behavior. But, if executed properly and followed through by the patient, it is a clinically backed way to take action toward personal growth and ensure no more harm occurs ― to the patient or others.
“I believe everyone can benefit from mental health counseling,” she said. “At the very least, it is a chance to focus just on oneself and relieve stress. At its best, it can help relieve suffering, provide insight and help people reach their goals.”