Dec 16

Sex Addiction and “Shame,” A Movie That Validates

The cover story by Chris Lee in a recent Newsweek issue quotes Steven Luff, an expert on sex addiction, as stating that we are now experiencing a “national epidemic.” At the same time, it’s pointed out that sex addiction as a construct is still controversial.

And that has been one of the main issues about sex addiction, hasn’t it? The idea that it may not be real enough.

Writer Tracy Clark-Flory‘s recent article in Salon, “Don’t Believe the Sex Addiction Hype,” serves, for example, as one of the counterpoints to the Newsweek article. Clark-Flory calls sex addiction a “cultural phenomenon, not a legitimate medical diagnosis.”

Psychologist David Ley, author of the upcoming book The Myth of Sex Addiction, is quoted by Clark-Flory as perceiving this diagnosis as a “moral attack on sexuality” that’s not substantiated by science. He’s afraid that if the DSM proceeds with adding “Hypersexual Disorder” to its new edition next year, too many people with a high frequency of sexual behavior will be inappropriately labelled and thus harmed.

Isn’t this blaming the diagnosis instead of the misguided diagnoser?

Lee’s Newsweek article also informs us about the new movie Shame. Actor Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a sex addict, and Carey Mulligan his sister. Fassbender has already won awards for his performance.

Sheila Marikar in her review for ABC : “If you’re still in doubt about whether or not sex addiction is real, see ‘Shame.’ There are few things as depressing as watching a man defile a series of prostitutes while his suicidal sister sobs into his answering machine.”

Here’s the trailer:

According to Newsweek, Steve McQueen, the director of Shame, is among those who doubted the validity of this addiction—until he researched it by attending meetings of Sex Addicts Anonymous. Much as anyone with an open mind might when exposed to others’ stories of anguish, he became a believer—and made his movie.

From “An Invitation to Recovery” on the Sex Addicts Anonymous website:

Through long and painful experience, we came to realize that we were powerless over our sexual thoughts and behaviors and that our preoccupation with sex was causing progressively severe adverse consequences for us, our families, and our friends. Despite many failed promises to ourselves and attempts to change, we discovered that we were unable to stop acting out sexually by ourselves.

As for shame. Maybe Garrett O’Connor‘s article, “To Understand Shame Is to Understand Addiction and Maybe Even Life Itself,” on the Betty Ford Institute website, can explain it better than I can. But one thing he states is that addicts of all types “.. tend to exist in a more or less chronic state of permanent and immutable malignant shame.”

Shame, in turn, is also what often propels the addiction. This vicious cycle is what some would call the “shame spiral.”

You may be sorely disappointed if you see Shame expecting sexual thrills, then. In fact, be prepared to experience the opposite. Ann Hornaday, film critic: “What movies so often relegate to the margins of pornography or sophomoric titillation is radically redefined here, stripped of its erotic charge and depicted as a numbing erasure of life and emotion.”

On the issue of whether or not there’s such a thing as a sex addiction disorder, noted film critic Roger Ebert cuts to the chase: “Whatever it is, Brandon suffers from it.”

And his conclusion about Shame? “This is a great act of filmmaking and acting. I don’t believe I would be able to see it twice.”

Dec 15

Understanding the Brain: It’s Harder For Some of Us

I’ve been wanting to write about the brain for a while—but my brain keeps getting in the way. I mean, it’s The Brain. Understanding the brain is hard. And what can you say about it that people with better brains haven’t already said?

The thing is, it’s important as a therapist to understand how the brain works and how it affects mental health issues and treatment. More and more professional workshops have been offered recently on this very topic. I’ve been attending some of them.

The two most recent:

  • Brain-Based Therapy: Evidence-Based Mental Health Treatment from Neuroscience and Attachment Theory (John Arden, Ph.D.)
  • How the Brain Forms New Habits: Why Willpower Isn’t Enough (Bill M. Kelley, Ph.D.)

Even workshops I’ve attended that haven’t specifically been about understanding the brain—for example, on the topics of ADHD, PTSD, Severe Psychiatric Disorders, etc.—have involved significant lessons regarding the brain’s involvement in these conditions.

All good, interesting topics. Then, why oh why, when focusing so much of my therapist-like attention on these informative speakers, is something like this John Cleese lecture the only thing I tend to hear?

In all fairness, Dr. Kelley, the presenter of one of the aforementioned workshops on understanding the brain, told us right off the bat—before starting in on the parts of the brain and what they do—that we didn’t really have to get it. Or even try to get it. Get what all the parts are, that is, and what they’re responsible for. I appreciated that he got that we don’t tend to get it. Something about the way his brain works.

He wanted us to learn other things about brain functioning, like “why willpower isn’t enough to form new habits.” And I did learn some stuff. Like the answer, by the way, to that specific question, which was…

Well, I’m pretty sure it had something to do with neurotransmitters, and the basal ganglia, and the frontal lobes, and…you know—stuff like that. Because I learned about those things. And there were a lot of those things.

And one other of those things that I think I definitely now know for sure—I didn’t really get it.

Dec 14

Wounded Warrior Project: Help For Physical and Emotional Injuries

As the deadline looms for all U.S. soldiers deployed in Iraq to return home, I want to post about another organization that helps war veterans: Wounded Warrior Project. Its vision: “To foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation’s history.”

The video clip below serves to remind us that soldiers’ wounds can include not only physical injury but also emotional. This brief PSA introduces us to Nara Lorbie, who served in Iraq.

Wounded Warrior Project’s Combat Stress Recovery Program (CSRP) “…addresses the mental health and cognitive needs of warriors returning from war.” Services include Project Odyssey—which involves rehab via an outdoor retreat—and assistance in finding and using various mental health resources.

According to Wounded Warrior Project, the list of possible mental health issues encountered commonly by our returning soldiers includes:

  • Anger or aggressive behavior
  • Alcohol/drug abuse
  • Depression
  • Suicidal Thoughts
  • Moral Injury (“A moral injury is a lasting and powerful psychological wound that is caused by doing, failing to prevent, or observing acts that go against deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Here’s a longer video about the Wounded Warrior Project, accompanied by the moving song, “I’ll Stand by You”:

Dec 13

“Another Happy Day”: Therapy For Unhappy Family Members

The new film Another Happy Day (“a title laced in sarcasm,” notes The L.A. Times) is yet another one about a wedding at which family dysfunction galore reigns supreme.

As described by Meg Grant for AARP, the director Sam Levinson “…brings a freshness to the story by exploring the interrelations of three generations and exposing their pathologies: adolescent addiction, self-mutilation, spousal abuse and suicidal ideation related to terminal illness.”

Whereas the film as a whole hasn’t received stellar reviews, the screenplay and many of the performances, particularly that of Ellen Barkin as Lynn, have.

In scanning the reviews, I realized that therapy was referenced frequently. So, naturally, that’s where I’m placing my focus:

  • “…Lynn schedules a family therapy session with her ex-husband and his bimbo-ish wife, played with gusto by Demi Moore. That session predictably turns into a scream fest as the two women go at each other.” (
  • “Most of the conflicts will sound familiar — which mother, bio or step, will Dylan take down the aisle? Others feel contrived, like the therapy session Lynn orchestrates with her ex on the eve of the wedding.” (
  • “It would be like Cinderella if only Lynn had a fairy godmother. She doesn’t, however, and years of therapy haven’t helped her achieve any emotional distance from her incredibly vile family…”(
  • “’Another Happy Day’ stands as an unintended argument against treating relationships as exercises in primal therapy when venting your anger only makes it worse.” (New York Times)
  • “…like a two-hour group therapy session to nowhere.” (
  • “Lynn manages to turn every conversation into a therapy session, which only gives the troops more ammo…” (

Interested maybe? For your consideration, the trailer is below:

Dec 12

“Children” Keep On Singing: VV Brown’s Social Message

VV Brown, a British singer/songwriter, released a track this fall called “Children,” which will be on her second and upcoming album, Lollipops & Politics, coming early in 2012.

In 2009, just before the U.K. release of her debut album, Travelling Like the Light, Ms. Brown herself received the following description in an interview for The Guardian: “There is an other-worldliness to Brown, an offbeat eccentricity that leaks out in disarming bursts of honesty. She seems to belong to a different era or, perhaps, an era that has not been invented yet.”

The song “Children,” as reviewed by website Pretty Much Amazing, is “…an infectious, if not slight, old fashioned feel-good pop gem.” Brown has stated that she wrote the song around a jingle sample she heard one day that was playing from an ice cream truck. That jingle happens to be a recognizable and classic children’s song, “Do Your Ears Hang Low?”

But Brown’s song is in no way a superficial ditty for kids. From her website:

‘The song was written about a generation that has uninspiring aspirations and believe material wealth is what happiness is,’ V V says, adding that it feels particularly topical given the riots that occurred last summer in London. ‘You have to give people a voice,’ she says. ‘Everyone has to be heard, because otherwise they will make themselves heard.’

It’s added that in the wake of the summer riots in London, this song became “…a torch song for those who are fed up with the status quo, and want to let positivity flow and make things better.”

Some of the lyrics:

...Oh, if I had my way
I’d give everything I have
To make everything okay

Sing it with me

Darkness falls and kills the light
Don’t surrender, be alright
Fuse blow up like dynamite
And the children keep on singing, singing

Darkness falls and kills the light
Don’t surrender, be alright
Innocence like flying kites
And the children keep on singing, singing…

When I’m listening to this song, I key in particularly on “the children keep on singing” part. I picture scenes I saw on TV in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, for instance, when in the midst of the utter devastation, there were children who were able to keep on singing and dancing.

The official video for “Children” is set in downtown Los Angeles and is available below: