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Men Therapy Getting Help With Problematic Porn Use

Getting Help With Problematic Porn Use

The previous articles in this series examined why men might be motivated to quit porn use and
why the porn reboot method that is popular in online self-help communities may cause harm
instead of help. In this article, approaches to treating porn use will be discussed, and
recommendations will be made for what to look for when seeking help.

Treating the Root Cause Instead of the Symptom

Instead of focusing on porn use, a better approach is to treat the root cause of distress
surrounding porn use. As discussed in the first article in this series, distress regarding porn use
does not exist in isolation. There are thoughts and beliefs that are related to how men view porn
that ultimately result in a negative experience. Therefore, it is important to understand the
psychological underpinnings of the conclusions that men draw about their porn use that lead to
distress (Chasioti & Binnie, 2021).

Returning to our equations based on the Cognitive Model, identifying the root cause for porn
use would involve understanding the full picture of a man’s life, not just the parts related to porn.
For example, if a man is depressed it might be tempting to believe that:

Porn = Depressed

However, a holistic examination of this man’s life may reveal that he feels stuck and that he is
not accomplishing his goals, or he thinks that he is not living up to his potential. The situation
now looks like this:

I’m not accomplishing anything in life + Porn = Depressed

It should be clear from the above scenario that treating porn use would be of little value without
also tackling the problem of feeling a lack of accomplishment in life. Other scenarios might
involve values, such as:

I’m not living in line with my values + Porn = Disgusted

Or feelings of loneliness:

I’ll never get a partner + Porn = Unlovable

Expanding the factors which are considered also offers alternative explanations for porn use.
For example, if someone believes that they are unlovable and that they will never get a partner,
it makes sense that they would turn to pornography as an outlet for their normal sexual desires.

That equation might begin to look more like:

I’m unlovable + I’ll never get a partner = Porn

In this revised scenario, porn use may be a coping mechanism for difficulties in other areas of
life. It also emphasises where the solution to the problem lies: in the beliefs and the thoughts
that result in the use of a coping mechanism that brings distress.

Using Evidence Based Psychology to Achieve Goals

Decades of psychological research support the theory that our experiences of and reactions to
things in life are largely the result of how we think about them. The first article in this series
referred to the Cognitive Model of understanding human behaviour. But long before modern
psychology and psychotherapy, similar ideas existed:

What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think
about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance. – Epictetus,
1st–2nd century (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2019).

As someone thinks within himself, so he is. – Proverbs 23:7 (New American Standard Bible, 1997).

Our life is the creation of our mind. – Buddha (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2019).

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. – Shakespeare (Shakespeare, 2016).

Given the power of our thoughts and beliefs to influence our life, considerable research has
been directed at understanding the connection between our beliefs and our behaviours. This
research has shown that negative beliefs often fall into one of three broad categories related to
unlovability, helplessness, or worthlessness (Beck, n.d.). Effecting changes involves not only
tackling the behaviours (such as porn use) that result from this belief system, but also the
system itself. And when a man seeking treatment also has a romantic partner, it would be
appropriate to seek treatment for couples’ distress as well (Prause & Binne, 2023).

The Benefits and Risks of Professional Help

Online communities such as NoFap are often unhelpful in helping individual men understand
their porn use. Furthermore, they may promote feelings of helplessness as men begin to view
themselves as victims of pornography and embrace the identity of an addict (Chasioti & Binnie,
2021). Evidence-based psychotherapy guided by a trained professional is designed to help
individuals tackle their unique situation and find solutions tailored to them. Additionally, a good
therapist will help to build feelings of self-efficacy (American Psychological Association, n.d.)
and shift focus to things that can be controlled.

Additionally, some men experience bullying and shaming in online communities devoted to the
reboot method (Chasioti & Binnie, 2021). Practice standards for mental health professionals
emphasizes the professional responsibility for safeguarding clients in therapeutic settings
(CRPO, 2019). Therefore, support groups managed by trained and licensed professionals are
more likely to be moderated and bullying would not be allowed.

While professional treatment may be safer and more effective than online communities, there
are risks associated with therapy. Despite the potential advantages of professional treatment, it
must be acknowledged that estimates say that up to 50% of people do not respond to
psychotherapeutic treatment (Kennerley et. al., 2017). And sometimes therapy can make things
worse, which is why therapists are required to discuss the potential risks of treatment with
clients (CCPA, 2015).

Lastly, some therapists may inadvertently minimize a problem that is a source of distress for
clients. For example, it is unhelpful to tell a man that there is no such thing as porn addiction.
While it is true that there is currently no officially recognised diagnosis for porn addiction
(Grubbs & Perry, 2019), the lack of a diagnostic category does not negate the man’s feelings of
distress. This is like telling a client who has regular and recurring nightmares that none of it is
real. Nightmares may not be real but they are still distressing, and therapists should help clients
to identify the reasons for this distress and work with them to find solutions. Finding a therapist
who can empathise and offer evidence-based treatments might take time and can be at times
discouraging. However, putting effort into finding a good therapist offers more potential for
improvement than unmoderated online forums where people can say harmful or incorrect things
without consequence. Even forums that are moderated may not have professionally trained and
qualified moderators, leading to the same concerns.

Conclusion

This series of articles evaluated a common approach to quitting, the porn reboot method, and
found it likely to increase men’s distress about their porn use. Reasons for negative outcomes
ranged from focusing on the symptom (porn use) instead of the cause, and the prevalence of
shaming and bullying in many online forums. Additionally, a variety of reasons for the initial
distress were considered. These various rationales result in different motivations to quit porn
use, and varying stakes for perceived failures. It was proposed that psychotherapy which
focuses on root causes (such as unlovability, helplessness, or worthlessness) might yield better
results. And to reduce the risks associated with treatment, it is important for men to find
therapists who will empathise and use evidence-based approaches to help them.

References

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Self-efficacy teaching tip sheet. American
Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/pi/aids/resources/education/self-efficacy

Beck, J. (n.d.). Question: Does Cognitive Behavior Therapy Include Insight? The Beck Institute
for Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
https://beckinstitute.org/blog/question-does-cognitive-behavior-therapy-include-insight/

Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. (2015). Standards of practice (5th ed.).
http://www.ccpa-accp.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/StandardsOfPractice_en_June201
5.pdf

Chasioti, D., & Binnie, J. (2021). Exploring the etiological pathways of problematic pornography
use in NoFap/PornFree rebooting communities: a critical narrative analysis of internet
forum data. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 50(5), 2227-2243.

College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario [CRPO]. (2019, February). Professional
Practice & Jurisprudence for Registered Psychotherapists. CRPO. Retrieved March 30,
2024, from https://www.crpo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/CRPO-Professional-Practice-Jurisprudence-Registered-Psychotherapists.pdf

Grubbs, J. B., & Perry, S. L. (2019). Moral incongruence and pornography use: A critical review
and integration. The Journal of Sex Research, 56(1), 29-37.

Kennerley, H., Kirk, J., & Westbrook, D. (2017). An introduction to cognitive behaviour therapy –
Skills and applications (3rd ed.). Sage Publications.

Lukianoff, G., & Haidt, J. (2019). The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and
Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. Penguin Books.

New American Standard Bible. (1997). Foundation Publications.

Prause, N., & Binnie, J. (2023). Iatrogenic effects of Reboot/NoFap on public health: A
preregistered survey study. Sexualities, 13634607231157070.

Shakespeare, W. (2016). Hamlet (A. R. Braunmuller & S. Orgel, Eds.). Penguin Publishing
Group.

Andre Brown

André Brown completed his Masters’s in Counselling Psychology in 2022. His approach to therapy is to provide an environment where clients can freely explore the challenges that moved them to seek help. He also facilitates exploration of the link between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, since the way that we feel, talk about, and think about the world affects the way that we live in it. You can expect André to spend time understanding your views and beliefs from a non-judgemental perspective. He will also challenge you to think deeply about the things which help you, and those which hinder you in achieving your goals. Ultimately, his goal is to equip you with the skills to be your own agent of change long after therapy is completed.