If you have ever contemplated looking for a Mormon therapist, or are interested in mental health as it relates to Mormonism or
issues around sex addiction and pornography addiction, this post will be
of interest to you. If not, this might not be your thing, and that’s
How do I even start this?
People often say that human beings love a scandal, and I’m not sure I disagree.
as it turns out, there’s a bit of a scandal happening in our own
backyard. If it’s not a scandal, then it’s at least something to be
aware of if you are an LDS person who ever seeks out professional help
from a therapist.
I don’t report on this “scandal”
to be sensational. As you’ll see, I have very clear and specific reasons
to be talking about this, and for attempting to set the record straight
about an organization who has chosen a name that affords it credibility
and status that, frankly, it doesn’t deserve.
Consider this post as warning.
couple of years ago, I was thrilled to find a new organization called
the “Mormon Mental Health Association.” I am Mormon, I am a
psychotherapist, I love fellow Mormons, and I am deeply committed to
helping people find ways to maximize their mental health. It seemed like joining this organization was a natural fit.
Plus, as I looked into it, I noticed that this organization had a solid
stance against reparative therapy (therapy used to try to “fix” gay
people and make them straight, which, turns out, is impossible
and serves to really mess people up when it’s attempted for reasons you
can probably imagine). As someone who was subjected to reparative
therapy for many years as a youth and young adult, I was incredibly
happy to see a Mormon-based organization that so clearly disavowed this
highly problematic therapeutic practice, which is being outlawed in many
states because of the way it harms people.
I was one of the very first people to pay money to join this group.
then, there have been events that have occurred–from the mildly fishy
to downright manipulative and professionally negligent–such that I, for
one, am no longer associated with this organization, and I regret
giving them a dime.
Things got weird right out the gate.
First, the organizer of the group told me she needed to interview me before I could be “admitted” as a member of this organization. This seemed very odd to me–as a Mormon and a licensed mental health professional, was my credentialing not sufficient evidence of my qualification to be included in a group of Mormons who specialize in mental health? I was disconcerted, but I was also willing to go forward with the interview because I had nothing to hide.
Then, the interview never happened. There was some scheduling difficulty, and then . . . radio silence. I was baffled. I didn’t know what to make of this, especially when a dear friend and colleague let me know that she was never asked to do an interview in the first place.
After that I didn’t hear from the organization for a really, really long time. When the same colleague would mention receiving messages from MMHA (she and I had both joined right around the same time) I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t hearing from them. Eventually, by accident, I discovered the problem. Somehow, instead of sending information to the the email address I had listed in my application, they had begun to send me information to another email address I had created half a decade ago when I started my private practice, and had never really used. To this day, I still don’t know how they got this email address. Did they find it in an online search about me? Were they worried about me being a part of this group, and if so, why? As a gay Mormon, was I not “Mormon” enough for
the Mormon Mental Health Association? I couldn’t figure out what the
Soon, the real issue became clear. And it shocked me.
months ago the head of the organization sent out an email to its
members to hold a “vote” on a position policy regarding, of all things, sex addiction.
I am a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (or CSAT). What this means is
that along with helping people with many issues like depression,
anxiety, marital discord, and communication, I also spend time helping
people who find themselves unable to control compulsive sexual
behaviors. These are often people who are deeply religious, people who
you wouldn’t imagine to have such struggles. They are good, good people.
And they are experiencing the horror of not being able to control their
behaviors, doing things ranging from hours and hours of pornography use
to taking advantage of prostituted women or men on a daily or weekly basis, to
exhibitionism to . . . you name it. These are things my clients–who are
amazing people–experience in their lives. These behaviors are
devastating to my clients. The consequences are real, and the pain these
people feel–often interlaced with profound religious shame–is
breathtaking. And that’s not to mention the betrayal trauma inflicted on
spouses when discoveries of these secret compulsive behaviors are
uncovered, which is another thing I specialize in. I work hard to help
spouses cope with the deep wounds they feel when they have experienced a
betrayal, the pain of which I outline in this article.
with people in these challenging circumstances is incredibly intense,
multifaceted and complex. I have paid thousands of dollars and have
spent hundreds of hours in trainings and supervision with incredibly
gifted clinicians to learn how to appropriately and effectively treat
individuals and families that have encountered these problems. And the
number of people who experience difficulties with these issues is
staggering. This is something that affects many, many Mormons.
I was stunned when I got the email regarding a vote on this issue. Guess what the vote was? It was to exclude sexual addiction from being talked about as a problem amongst Mormons.
Yes. You read that correctly.
were voting to take a position that sexual addiction is not real, that
any behaviors related to sexual compulsivity are the result of religious
messages and other mental illness, and that treating sexual behaviors
that people can’t stop (after years and years of trying) as an addiction
is not an acceptable way to help clients. They were making this claim
even though there is no peer-reviewed science backing up their conclusions whatsoever.
were going so far as to not letting clinician use the words “sex
addiction” as they describe their specializations and even worse, not
letting people like me list the fact that they are officially certified to help
with sex addiction in their biographies.
I find this highly negligent.
I am seeking help with eating disorders, I want someone with experience
and training in treating eating disorders. Therapy with someone without
that specialty can lead to worsening the problem, not helping it.
Likewise, if someone has discovered that they or their partner has dealt
with years and years of compulsive, clandestine sexual behaviors that
has put their marriage (and sometimes their very lives) in jeopardy,
they need to be able to find someone who is trained to help in that very complicated circumstance. CSATs
have extensive training and supervision regarding how to treat trauma,
how to help marriages where betrayal has happened, and how to heal
relationships without worsening the trauma. Couples who see
someone without that training are often told very damaging things. Wives
who have been betrayed by their husbands are often told that they are the reason
their husband is acting out sexually because they are repressed and
prudish–when really they are neither of those things. Instead, they are traumatized by the betrayal, as well as by the ways sexual addiction has
affected a husband’s behavior (both sexually and non-sexually). Not surprisingly, the response to that trauma often includes not
feeling comfortable or safe having sex with their husband, the very person
who has hurt and betrayed them. These spouses’ traumas are then
discounted and explained away by theories of religious repression and lack
of sex ed. Often, they have been told that told they are the
problem by their sex-hungry husband for many years, and this message is
then reinforced by the ignorant clinician (or religious leader). This further traumatizes the
spouse, often leaving the marriage in a shambles. This is just one
example of the deeply complicated, multi-layered complexity of
working with people who are confronting a type of betrayal that, because of its
addictive nature, happens again and again and again.
without the appropriate training would not be able to make heads or
tails of situations as complex as a multi-year marriage interlaced
with multiple betrayals and the profound denial-based messaging this
dynamic creates in a couple. It is my observation that untrained
clinicians often do more damage than good when they try.
Being able to see the designation of “Certified Sex Addiction Therapist” is critical for clients in this vulnerable state.
I got this email, which included a “survey” for the members of the
organization to “vote” on the issue, I was deeply frustrated and very,
very concerned. Not only was the fact that this issue was being put to a
vote incredibly concerning to me, but the voting itself was profoundly
biased. It did not present two sides of the issue and ask a group of
professionals to use their discretion and judgment to make a collective
choice. Instead, it presented one side of the information very
sensationally, cited no research to back its claims (aside from quotes
from a few random Master’s level clinicians), and gave no primer on the
actual issues being discussed. This was how they were deciding an official policy decision!
suddenly realized that this was the modus operandi of the entire
organization–even with the issues I happened to agree with. This was
not a scientifically robust community searching out the answers and
positions that would best help the Mormon community. It was a very small
pocket–perhaps even a pocket of one–of people who wished to project
the biases of their own experiences and opinions onto an entire
organization, and in turn an entire culture–all while brandishing the
name the “Mormon Mental Health Association.” More about that later.
reacted quickly and incisively. I found the email address of every
member of the board of the organization and sent them a lengthy message
with my concerns. (If you’re interested, I’ve included the email I sent
them below.) To summarize, in the letter I point out that the field of process addictions is so young that there is very little robust peer-reviewed science for or against sex addiction, and that to take such a drastic stance against sex addiction with such a paucity of data verges on unethical. (Interestingly, even in the months since sending that letter, I have encountered groundbreaking articles establishing a clear connection between pornography and addiction-based neurological reward centers, like this one or this one. If the MMHA were truly an organization interested in robust scientific inquiry as they claim, they would have already encountered this research, and would not require someone like me to point such articles out.) Additionally, in the letter I pointed out some of the logical fallacies of their
conclusions, explained why a position against sex addiction would not be
good for Mormons, and then said that if this action went forward, I
would no longer be a member of the organization. I also informed them that
if they took this step, I would feel professionally obligated to alert people to the highly problematic nature of this decision.
I heard through the grape-vine that my email had caused major waves,
the formal response was pitiful. A tiny email from the founder of the
group which said basically nothing–one or two sentences long. The
response was so drastically negligent and non-conversational that I had
other members of the board contact me separately apologizing for how
wildly inadequate the response I got was.
sending the email and getting no response, I felt powerless and very
concerned. It seemed apparent to me that the action of taking this
official position was going to go forward–how could it not, when the
system was rigged to get the outcome that fit the leaders’ bias?–and I
didn’t know what to do about it. Part of me wanted to fight. Part of me
wanted to rally all the professionals I know who are passionate about
helping the issue of sex addiction and push against this. But then, as I
thought about it, I wondered if my time would be better spent building
something different and more helpful rather than trying to tear
something down I disagreed with. I contemplated the idea of doing
nothing directly about MMHA and their policy (kind of a “not my circus,
not my monkeys…” stance) and instead focus on building resources that
would help the vulnerable population I was concerned about. I have many
plans in play to accomplish this end. As months passed, I forgot about
the situation and was leaning towards not acting.
last week when one a dear friend of mine contacted me in a panic. This
person texted me asking what my thoughts were about the position she had just read by the Mormon Mental Health Association regarding sex addiction.
Do you see the problem here? Do you see how that question sounds? Do you see how what she saw must have struck her? How it must have felt to read that position coming from a group with that name?
is a personal friend, whose story I happen to know. I happen to know of
her devastation when confronting issues of sexual addiction in her
marriage. I happen to have seen her shed tears, and wonder if she
should leave her husband (an incredibly good man) because of his
dishonesty and his compulsive sexual behaviors. When I received this
text from her, wondering how a Mormon Mental Health Association could so
blatantly disregard her real-life experience–both the pain she went
through for years, as well as the recovery and healing she experienced
when she and her husband received treatment from Certified Sex Addiction
Therapists–I knew immediately I needed to write this post.
is a reason my friend texted me within days of this organization
posting their official statement. It is because she felt harmed by this
position, most especially in the context of the word “Mormon” brandished
in this organization’s name.
There is a reason the
church does not generally allow organizations not affiliated with it to
use the word “Mormon” in their title. It is because that term has
cultural significance. It is a term that adds credibility when being
assessed by populations who have no way of knowing that credibility was
earned by nothing more than typing the word “Mormon” into the name
When people hear that “the Mormon Mental Health
Association” thinks this or that other thing, they are often, just as
my friend did, going to assume that the Mormon church, or an organization endorsed by the Mormon church, thinks that thing. That is not okay.
And I have to take ownership of my own problematic behavior here: back
when it was associated with a cause I believed in (the disavowal of reparative therapy),
this incongruous messaging didn’t seem so bad. I regret not thinking
more deeply about this then. Now that it is affecting me professionally,
and affecting people I love, the highly deceptive nature of the
branding, the poor messaging, and the biases of this organization sing
out loud and clear.
The truth about the Mormon Mental
Health Association is that it is neither Mormon, nor particularly
concerned with the pursuit of scientifically-based mental health. More
so, the organization is a reflection of the cultural biases of its
creator and some of its leaders, who appear to hope to make an impact on
the trends of Mormon culture by using the word “Mormon” as part of its
branding, even when it is highly deceptive, and perhaps even illegal, to do so. This is ironic when their own code of ethics reads: (2.4) MMHA members seek to be aware of
personal bias, such as religious or ideological views, which could
interfere in allowing clients to explore freely within a therapeutic
Obviously, it would behoove them to follow their own stated guideline.
And here’s the real kicker: being Mormon is not even one of the requirements of
becoming listed in the directory of the Mormon Mental Health
Association, nor is there any requirement to clarify one’s connection
to the LDS church at all. You can be Mormon, former-Mormon, never-been-Mormon, or even excommunicated-Mormon–and there is no requirement to outline your link to the church. The only thing ostensibly connecting any of
these therapists to the Mormon Church is the very
title of the organization itself–a very flimsy umbrella of association
for a public who will be hungry to find therapist who who share their
beliefs. To be clear, I have great confidence in well-trained clinicians
of any religion or creed to treat LDS folks–indeed I often refer my
surplus of LDS clientele to professionals who are not LDS (and always
inform said clients of the religious difference so that the client can
make an informed choice). What I am saying here is that I believe that
to become a member of an organization called the “Mormon Mental Health
Association” as a non-Mormon, and then to not clarify your status with
the religion, is tantamount to false advertising. Yet the organization
makes no provision that a practitioner make explicit these differences in
Apparently, they’re so busy making sure
professionals aren’t allowed to mention their documented certification as a sex
addiction therapist that they can’t be bothered with minor details like
making sure an LDS client seeking out a Mormon therapist from the Mormon
Mental Health Association is informed whether or not the therapist
listed is, in fact, an actual member of the Mormon church.
conclusion, I want to say that I really don’t relish in posting this.
There are people I know and very much respect who are part of the MMHA,
and I don’t want them to be maligned in any way because of this
association. I dislike the idea of trying to tear something down instead
of spending my energy elsewhere–building something I believe in. After
this post, I plan to do exactly that, and let the cards (if any) fall
as they may. That being said, I would feel deeply negligent if I didn’t
publish a post outlining what I know about this situation so that people
like my friend (when searching for Mormon therapists or even Googling “Mormon Mental Health Association”) can
find helpful information regarding some of the more troubling details of
this group instead of just assuming–as the advertising implies–that
this is a legitimate group affiliated with the Mormon church.
All right. Enough serious talk for me for one day. Time to go play with my kids.
Below is the letter I sent to the board:
got your email with the proposed changes and direction regarding sex
within the MMHA community. I am sending you this email because I have
some significant concerns about it that I thought you might want to be
aware of. I have written the following in response to the
emailed proposal, but wanted to email it to the board specifically
submitting it in the form) so that it can be a dialogue as opposed to a
anonymous response. Consider the
following as if it were written in the “comment box” on the survey you sent
The opinion that sex addiction does not exist is not based in science. It is
based on the personal biases and conclusions of individuals like the clinicians
quoted in your proposal. To wit: instead of peer reviewed science backing the
claims contained in your proposed statement/position, you have included nothing
more than quotes from practitioners who hold the opinion that sex addiction does not exist, or could be explained
through differential diagnosis. However quotes from probably-very-good
clinicians do not a peer reviewed, robust scientific analysis make. For the
MMHA to take such a definitive stance on this issue without proper scientific
backing is very concerning and, in my opinion, verges on being unethical.
While general addiction science and treatment is well established and
recognized in the psychological community, the science behind process
addictions (like hyper sexuality, gambling addiction, food addiction (binge eating disorder), and
internet gaming addiction) is still very nascent, as evidenced by some of the
research proposed within and about the DSM-V itself. While at least one field
study has already indicated that proposed criteria for hypersexuality are valid
and reliable, it will be many years before our field has definitive answers
regarding the diagnosis and classification of any of these disorders. And
that’s okay. That’s how science works. Sometimes it takes time.
the quotes from your proposed statement, a clinician admits that the
“struggle” of hypersexuality (or at least its symptoms) “is
real.” That means that these symptoms are showing up in practitioners’
offices, and must be responded to. At this point, the science is so fledgling
that no specific modality, treatment model or even diagnostic criteria for
said “struggle” has been decided on by the broader scientific
community. As such, taking a stand that bars a completely valid treatment model
(addiction therapy) when there is not sufficient scientific research to justify
its exclusion is jumping the gun in a big way, and in this case seems to
reflect deep bias and a profound misunderstanding by MMHA of the sex positive,
non-religious-based stance taken by Certified Sex Addiction Therapists, of which I am one.
anecdotal articles exist that will buttress the biases of either side of
this dialogue, but there is currently a paucity of robust, peer reviewed
literature on this topic in either direction. It is important to note that a lack of robust scientific
studies is not proof that sex addiction (hypersexuality) isn’t real in the
same way that a lack of people testifying that the sky is blue does not
prove that it is purple. This is a logical fallacy called argumentum ex silentio (argument of silence) and it is a grossly
negligent basis for a policy decision like the one(s) proposed by MMHA.
science and a lack of definitive research does not preclude clinicians
from treating presenting symptoms of this “real struggle” using best
practice, research based modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational
interviewing, and group therapy, etc, which are the bedrock of the addiction
model. To claim otherwise before there is robust scientific data sufficient to
back that claim is a severe overreach.
the policy that MMHA adopts around this issue, not only will I no longer
endorse, support, or participate in this organization, but I will feel a
professional obligation to publicly discredit the non-scientific, non-research
based nature of this decision. Obviously, I am only one voice, but I feel
strongly that publicizing accurate information about this decision would be especially
critical for the LDS community, given that the sex negative messages propagated
by the LDS church arguably create a larger population than average of people
who–because of negative messaging around normal developmental behaviors
like masturbation, arousal, developmentally appropriate experimentation,
etc.–have especially maladaptive sexual dysfunctions that call for
appropriate, best-practices-based interventions (like addiction therapy, among
others) to resolve.
to say that addiction therapy is the only solution. Naturally, any good
practitioner will rule out differential diagnoses, as the quotes in your
proposed action suggest. But when those rule-outs come up empty,
treatment is a perfectly legitimate, scientifically sound therapeutic
choice for the treatment of the aforementioned “struggles” of those who
with symptoms of hypersexuality while we wait for the science to further
elucidate this issue. Furthermore, to conflate religiosity with
sex addiction treatment is a blatant mischaracterization of a
professional modality that is not connected to faith traditions of any
kind, has a fundamental aim to reduce shame around sexual behavior, and
that arguably helps thousands of people effectively respond to the
deep wounds and poor sexual health caused by negative religious
kinds of wounds and poor sexual health we so often see in the Mormon
I feel that all practitioners within MMHA have similar goals in helping LDS
people who have been hurt by the religious pathologizing that happens around
sexuality in our congregations: we want our clients to rid themselves of shame,
and we want them to be able to live sex positive, healthy intimate lives with
their partners. Cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and
group therapy, etc. (the essence of addictions treatment), and the sex addiction treatment model as a whole, are perfectly
reasonable modalities to employ in order to achieve that aim.
this is a new organization, and growing pains are inevitable. However issues
like the one I address here have me questioning whether this organization,
which I was thrilled by initially, can adequately represent Mormon mental
health practitioners like me who are tired of the church-tethered, insular
practices of former decades and wish for an organization based on sound
scientific research instead of fear-based, reactive biases. (Biases,
misunderstandings, and fear-based exclusions of healthy clinical models are
something that the church has been plagued by for many years, so it is
frustrating to see that happening here as well, in the other direction.) It
makes me question this organization’s perception of science, its assessment of
what constitutes best practices, and its ability to participate responsibly in
cutting edge social activism that would promote the mental health of Mormons.
In other words, I contend, and plan to publicly point out, that if the MMHA
takes this stance on sex addiction, it will fail to meet its own objective
“to be up-to-date on credible, peer-reviewed, best-practice approaches to
all issues surrounding mental health and serve as educators of such
time, I appreciate the methodical nature of your decision making process, and
the opportunity you have given your members to contribute to the dialogue
around this issue. I would be happy to engage in a conversation around these
ideas if that were of interest to you. Thank you so much for your time.