Couples travel from around the world to visit Dr Pamela Kohll and start the process of rebuildingby Anna Blundy / September 26, 2018 / Leave a comment
Sitting in a cosy exposed-brick office with Manhattan roaring outside, I find myself staring at a large pot plant and moved to tears by the plight of… well, of Harvey Weinstein. Earlier the same day I would have bet pretty much anything on this never happening.
Couples come to Dr Pamela Kohll because one of them is a sex addict. Of course, it’s worth making the distinction between a sex addiction that stays within the boundaries of the law, and a sex abuser whose compulsions lead him to break laws. Clearly Weinstein is in the latter category. But any sex addiction involves an objectification of other people that is in essence abusive.
Those who seek changecometo Kohll. Some come half way round the world, book into a nice hotel, get down to business. They will spend $4,800 and three grueling days with her in her New York consulting room in the hope that, at the end of it, they will be in a position to rebuild their broken lives.
On the first day the addict will detail his (usually his) every sexual episode from his first masturbatory experience to the violent (illegal?) porn he watched yesterday. The therapist and partner listen without judgment and the partner will be helped with the often extreme trauma of dealing with what she (usually she) hears. I pictured this awful scene from Pamela’s daily life, and thought how villainised the addict must feel, sitting there baring the worst of himself while someone he’s betrayed weeps at his side.
What, I wonder is the someone doing there? Why hasn’t she left? To me it looks masochistic to put up with feeling like you’re not enough. Even if her spouse’s behaviour is an evacuation of his own feelings about himself. Even if he feels worthless and is making her feel worthless in order to escape. Even then.
Because surely the partner of an addict is herself half of the picture. Co-dependent is the unappealing phrase I fish for. After all, she has chosen someone fundamentally unavailable for reasons of her own. She is perhaps as keen to avoid genuine intimacy as he is, and then, masochistically, she stays despite serial betrayal. And she always has someone else to blame for her misery.
Kohll smiles calmly. “Well, these couples may not have chosen each other at all. I work with couples from the Hasidic community who are in arranged marriages and, on top of that, they don’t feel they have the option to separate.”
Kohll stresses that it’s not about villainising anyone. In fact, she has learnt great sympathy for the men she sees. I picture Harvey now, sitting where I am sitting and I wonder how he would look—lumpen and ashamed, perhaps. And I realise that if someone is brave enough to come, brave enough to hope there might be help, then sympathy, if not empathy, is pretty much immediate. Even for someone as monstrous as Weinstein.
“This addiction is very much based in shame. From a disturbed six-year-old boy who is self-soothing, disappearing into masturbation and fantasy, to watching porn as a teenager and that then escalating into multiple affairs, prostitutes, more and more extreme situations and pornography,” Kohll tells me. Masturbation, porn, are the boy’s attempt at self-care, believes Kohll, a band-aid for the hurt he has experienced.
From a more psychoanalytic viewpoint, the male sex addict is attacking women’s bodies out of a hatred that may have its origins in pain. After all a woman’s body equals mother—women who feel let down by their mothers attack their own bodies, men attack women.
However, Kohll explains, it is always very important to stress to the addict’s partner that “this isn’t about you.” She shows me a cartoon diagram of the partner’s thought spiral, a hideous black, worm-like tornado with the words “investigation,” “doubt,” “question” repeating endlessly into the vortex. The experience of the addict’s partner is one of complete annihilation—her whole life is consumed by her partner’s addiction. And isn’t accompanying him to therapy yet another way in which her life is controlled?
Of course, the plan is to free them both from addiction’s tyranny and there is no way of doing that without confronting it head on. I wonder how Pamela herself copes with the traumatic material she hears every working day, particularly since it will almost always involve the objectification and denigration of women and she is a woman. “My daughter told me to get a tree,” she smiles, pointing to her large, jungly pot plant. “And I wash my hands in very cold water.”
Anna Blundy is co-founder of www.themindfield.world, Skype therapy wherever you are.
Pamela Kohll can be reached at newyorkintensives.com