It might have struck some as a convenient excuse for Tiger Woods to explain his adultery, but sexual addiction is a very real problem, Augusta therapists say. It will likely mean he needs to face up to underlying issues and commit to a lifetime of work to get better, they say.
Woods admitted Friday to "repeated irresponsible behavior" in numerous affairs and said that he had unspecified inpatient treatment for 45 days, "receiving guidance for the issues I'm facing." He planned to return to therapy today.
Woods has been linked by tabloids with a sexual addiction treatment program in Hattiesburg, Miss. Dr. Connie Stapleton, a certified sex addiction therapist in Augusta, trained in Hattiesburg with that program's director, Dr. Patrick Carnes.
Treatment at the center will likely be both individual and group therapy, based in part on a 12-step method for addiction recovery, Stapleton said. Part of that will be dealing with underlying issues, too, she said.
"It might be a lot of control kinds of issues," she said.
Often in these cases there are issues from childhood "related to having been highly criticized or expectations of perfection or abandonment and neglect or abuse," Stapleton said.
Compulsive sexual behavior is like many others, such as compulsive eating or gambling problems, said Dr. Diane Solursh, a clinical psychologist in Augusta and a member of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists.
"There's some underlying need that the compulsive behavior is feeding -- literally, in terms of someone who is a food addict, who eats compulsively," she said. "Often there is a sense of emptiness or loneliness or the only pleasure they have is when they're eating. And it fills a kind of void in their life."
Compulsive sexual behavior could be a kind of ego-stroking or "thrill-seeking" feeling, she said.
"For a while there is this excitement, and somebody thinks you're special and wonderful," Solursh said. "And that is one of the things that is addicting about relationship addiction. It fills a hunger. That is also part of therapy: What is driving this? What do you get from the relationship that you seem to need? Why?"
Some studies estimate that 3 to 5 percent of the U.S. population suffers from sexual compulsion. Others say it's between 6 and 8 percent. While many studies insist it is much more prevalent in men, "women are prone to this as well," Stapleton said.
Both therapists agree that group therapy is important in treating sexual addiction.
Woods appeared to acknowledge this in his statement.
"I've learned to seek support from my peers in therapy, and I hope someday to return that support to others who are seeking help," he said.
One step in recovery is making amends to those you have wronged, but Woods' statement of regret to friends and family won't fulfill that, Stapleton said.
"An amends is a very personal kind of thing where you talk individually to people," she said.
Unlike drugs and alcohol, sex is a part of a normal healthy life, "so it is really difficult not to cross that line," Stapleton said. "The goal is to learn to have a healthy sexual life."
In that way, inpatient treatment at a center is important for many patients, Solursh said.
"You're in such a psychological meltdown that you just have to get out of it for a while and just focus on what's wrong," she said.
It is the work after the center, however, that is the most important, Stapleton said.
"I think the success is not dependent on the program," she said. "The success is dependent on the effort the person puts into maintaining what they've learned in the program afterward."
While Woods did not say when he will return to competition, his work on his problems stretches out far beyond that. There will likely be a few months of intensive aftercare therapy upon leaving the center, including more group therapy if it is available.
"To me, aftercare is every bit as important or more important because you learn to live life on life's terms, which is a 12-step philosophy," Stapleton said. "But it's a lifetime of effort."