In the long, self-lacerating statement that he read to a nationwide audience last week, Tiger Woods never used the words ‘sex addiction’. Yet by publicly apologising for his infidelity, saying he was returning to his religious faith and admitting he has “work to do,” he appeared to be carrying out several steps of a common 12-step treatment for just that.
Experts note that Woods hit several key points in the programme used by the Gentle Path clinic, at whose front door he has been photographed. In Steps 8 and 9, for instance, patients are admonished to list everyone they have harmed and make amends.
In his seeming embrace of the 12-step approach — first formulated by Alcoholics Anonymous but since adopted by Narcotics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous and groups for gambling, food and shopping addictions — Woods waded into a longstanding debate over sexual disorders and how to treat them.
The very idea that someone can be addicted to sex is controversial and inevitably leads to chuckles and jokes. But psychiatrists have long recognised clear cases in which people ruin their lives because of sex. Diagnosis depends on how much pursuing sex interferes with other goals, on whether the patient has tried to stop and failed, and on what mood the activity brings on.
Bart Mandell, a New York sex-addiction therapist who trained at Gentle Path, said Woods’s daily schedule presumably included morning meditation and exercise —including obstacle courses to build trust with other patients and eye movement exercises to “get through his defences.”
It would also have included interviews probing for childhood trauma or abandonment, several daily rounds of group therapy, art therapy — in which he would draw stories about himself — and “a tremendous amount of writing his sexual history,” including his first memories of sexual arousal and his first encounter with pornography.
Mavis Humes Baird, another therapist familiar with Gentle Path, said Woods would have been separated from family contact for weeks and forbidden masturbation, pornography, contact with female fans or anything else that might engage his sex drive. “You can’t have sex with yourself or anyone else,” Ms. Baird said.