Barb Steffens on Victim Blaming | BTR.ORG

Barbara Steffens on Victim Blaming

by | Abuse Literacy

Clergy, therapistsb and others often blame and shame betrayal victims.
This is called Treatment-Induced Trauma and if you’ve experienced it, you’re not alone.
Dr. Barbara Steffens, author of Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, How Partners Can Cope and Heal, affirms that no woman deserves to be blamed for her partner’s abusive behavior. Listen to the free BTR podcast, or read the full transcript below to learn more about what Dr. Steffens has to say to women who have been through this kind of insidious abuse.

Treatment-Induced Trauma Harms Victims

I was abused by my church leader. That has actually been more traumatizing to me than the actual betrayal because I was going to someone for help and I was being abused by proxy because he believed all of the things that my ex was saying.
Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
When women go to a therapist, religious leader, family member, or friend for help and are dismissed, minimized, and/or blamed, they experience secondary trauma. This secondary trauma can be even more painful and devastating than the initial abuse.
Dr. Steffens explains it this way:
I compare it to a child who is being sexually abused who has the courage to speak up and tell someone and when that person does not believe them or tells them they must have imagined things, or they shouldn’t talk like that, the victim pulls away and is even more hurt. When I have worked with abuse survivors, the ‘not being believed’ they say is worse than the actual abuse. I think for partners there is a level of this that is true as well; not being heard, believed, seen, valued adds to, and in some situations, intensifies the trauma.
Dr. Barbara Steffens, author of Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal

Abuse and Addiction Are Not “Couples Issues”

When an abusive partner who acts out sexually, or identifies as a “sex addict”, harms his partner by his behavior, it is his problem that he has brought into the relationship.

Addiction is something in the individual that affects a marriage but a lot of times people try to treat it as a couple’s issue. And it’s not.

Dr. Barbara Steffens, author of Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Cope and Heal

Why, then, do therapists and clergy so often counsel women to treat his decisions to control, manipulate, and act out sexually, like it’s a “couple’s problem” by initiating couple’s therapy and counseling sessions?

Couples Therapy Harms Victims of Emotional Abuse

It is harmful for victims to attend couple’s therapy or religious counseling with their partners because abusers will usually manipulate therapists and clergy to believe that the abuser is actually the victim, and that the victim is crazy, unstable, or abusive.
Often, therapists will seek to identify relational issues, like communication, and tell both partners that they need to “work on it”; rather than correctly identifying abuse in the relationship.
I think that therapists are trained to recognize domestic violence physical abuse but they don’t have a lot of awareness of emotional, verbal, and especially psychological abuse and manipulation. So again, they are going to see this as a communication issue rather than a power issue, a control issue, or an abuse issue.
Dr. Barbara Steffens, author of Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Cope and Heal
This harms the victim because the longer that the abuse is not called out, the longer the abuser is enabled and she will continue to be harmed.

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Is On Your Side

At BTR, we do not enable abusive men. We stand beside trauma victims and support them through their pain.

The Betrayal Trauma Recovery group meets daily in every time zone; women all over the world process their trauma, share their triumphs and their pain, and find friendship and connection. Join today and begin your journey to healing with a safe and loving community of survivors.

Full Transcript:

I am honored and delighted to have Barbara Steffens here today. She is a PhD, LPCC, CCCIS, CCPAS, CPAS, APSATS . . . she has every certification! She specializes in helping women recover from sexual betrayal and related behaviors and is a sought-after speaker and presenter on special issues related to partners of sex addicts. She is the president of the Association for Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists (APSATS).

At her practice in Cincinnati, Ohio, called Safe Passages Counseling, she provides both individual and group counseling for wives of sexual addicts who are also experiencing the related behaviors of emotional abuse.

Dr. Steffens is the author of Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal, which has dramatically affected and changed the lives of those who are victims as well as the professionals who are trained to serve them. It is one of my favorite books. Welcome, Barb!

Dr. Steffens: Thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity. There are a lot of initials after my name. My kids really get after me about all of them!

Anne: It’s awesome! You are well-trained and an expert in this area. This is why I am so honored to have you here today. What and who is APSATS? We know it stands for The Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists, but why was it formed?

APSATS Helps Women Get Appropriate Treatment For Betrayal Trauma, Including Establishing Emotional Safety

Dr. Steffens: APSATS was started out of discussions between myself and other clinicians and other coaches who were talking about the extreme need to provide better care for partners, better support, because at the time there was very little available; what was available didn’t seem to be meeting the needs of the majority of partners we interacted with. So a group of us got together and did a brainstorming phone call. Out of that, we decided to start our own training and certification program.

Which, by the way, was on the very last place on any list of things I wanted to do in my life; I never wanted to start a non-profit! But we did. It was formed out of a real sense of a felt need. Partners were being hurt or not being able to find appropriate treatment and so we stepped up and tried to figure out what we could do. We now have a strong board. We have a great curriculum and provide three trainings a year; we do them in a webinar format so people can stay home or once a year we do a face-to-face training.

We have trained over 150 people now. We’ve trained people from all over the US, Canada, the UK, Singapore, and in July we are doing a training in New Zealand. This will give us APSATS trained providers in New Zealand.

Get Help For Your Husband’s Lying, Gaslighting, Cheating, And Emotional Abuse

Anne: That is awesome. I love APSATS because they are people who understand it from the very beginning. I’ve said so many times that I went into therapists and I sat on their coach and I paid them to train them about betrayal trauma! And then it was like, “this isn’t helping.” So six weeks later I would try to find a new therapist rather than actually pay someone to help me–which is what I needed.

Dr. Steffens: And that’s not fair. You shouldn’t have to train your help provider. And sometimes in the process of this, you get harmed and hurt.

Anne: Partners of sex addicts have difficulty finding appropriate support and help for themselves. Why do you think it is so difficult to find appropriate support?

Finding The Right Support After Discovering Your Husband’s Sex Addiction And Narcissistic Traits

Dr. Steffens: First, there isn’t a lot of knowledge about the topic in general. I teach in a counseling program and I know that when I look at the course offerings, there is very little being taught to therapists that are getting trained about sex addiction or compulsion in general, let alone talking about the impact on the family. So I think it starts there for the help providers. There isn’t a lot of public education on the topic and it still tends to be one of those things people don’t understand so they don’t want to talk about it. So there is very little information out there.

I think the general therapist or counselor, if this problem comes into their office, maybe they have some awareness of addiction but they don’t make the leap to trauma for the family member or the wife, the spouse. Also, sometimes people think they know just enough because they read one book or something, so they begin to say they can help this population and end up not being helpful and sometimes hurtful. But I think overall, it is just a lack of conversation and information. Certainly a lack of training.

We Understand What It’s Like To Live With A Sex Addicted Man Exhibiting Narcissistic Traits

Anne: I’ve been talking to my mom about this and it seems I’m fighting two different fronts . . . society in general and its misunderstanding of the issue and also the church which has such a misunderstanding! You’d think they would be on opposite sides, and they kinda are, but at the same time, because it’s so misunderstood with both populations it’s difficult to be able to teach it.

The religious community sees it a certain way and they think you should heal in a certain way that, at least for me was not helpful at all; and then society in general accepts pornography or they don’t accept the trauma aspect of it. I think this makes it very difficult.

Responses To Betrayal Trauma In Faith Communities

Dr. Steffens: It really does. I’m really glad you brought up faith community because I, too, have found they don’t talk about it, they’re afraid to talk about it, or when they do, they lack adequate information and especially when the wife or spouse goes for assistance, they can get crazy advice that can really be hurtful; ie. just be more sexual, if your husband is looking at pornography you must not be doing something you are supposed to do.

Those kinds of things don’t help at all. Trying to get into faith communities to educate them about this is extremely difficult. I think they have a lot of fear; they don’t want to talk about it. I think also that, as we know, leadership in faith communities are struggling with this as well; so this can be a hinderance to talking about this.

Anne: Plus the fact that it’s trauma and with the trauma model, we are identified as actual true victims. Not that we need to stay in victim mode, and not that we can’t make choices or be empowered, but I think that for a faith community that might have many men who are struggling with this, they don’t want to admit that their behavior is causing this much trauma in someone else and that they have left a trail of destruction.

When It Comes To Lies, Pornography, And Narcissistic Behavior – Yes, One Person Can Be Completely At Fault

They would rather have it be, “This is my part and your part is….” (You’ve asked me too many questions or you’ve done this or done that, or you didn’t make dinner) One of my coaches said that her religious community told her that she needed to win him over with her ‘Godly demeanor.’) This type of stuff is re-traumatizing to women.

Dr. Steffens: What you are describing is a lot of the common features in someone who is engaging in compulsive sexual behavior. They have distorted thoughts and beliefs. Those responses from faith communities sound like so much of the distorted thinking that people have when they are engaged in this compulsive behavior: It’s someone else’s fault; it’s not really that bad; no one needs to know; no one needs to get hurt.

They minimize and rationalize and blame shift, so unfortunately, in a lot of places where there isn’t adequate training or they don’t want to talk about it, they do the very same level of harm that the person does who is betraying their spouse. They use the same tactics.

Anne: Absolutely. I was abused by my church leader during this time. That has actually been more traumatizing to me than the actual betrayal because I was going to someone for help and I was being abused by proxy because he believed all of the things that my ex was saying.

Treatment Induced Trauma – Also Known A Secondary Trauma Or Institutional Trauma

Dr. Steffens: Treatment-induced trauma is a way of describing the process when this happens. In this situation we are talking about the partner of the spouse who does to someone with an expectation that the person can help them.

And then in that process they find themselves feeling harmed and sometimes the harm in that setting can feel worse than the original betrayal because the person goes, feeling betrayed and very needy and needing to tell someone and get help, and then when you are not believed or blamed or minimized, it just adds to the level of trauma.

I compare it to a child who is being sexually abused who has the courage to speak up and tell someone and when that person does not believe them or tells them they must have imagined things, or they shouldn’t talk like that, the victim pulls away and is even more hurt. When I have worked with abuse survivors, the ‘not being believed’ they say is worse than the actual abuse. I think for partners there is a level of this that is true as well; not being heard, believed, seen, valued adds to, and in some situations, intensifies the trauma.

There is a clinician that also calls it ‘institutional betrayal.’ She describes it as an expectation that this place or person I am going to is there for me; and when they turn against me, they add more level or harm and trauma to the individual.

I can tell you that since I have begun doing this work, I hear it all the time. I get emails, letters, phone calls from women all over the US and other countries and they are describing the similar experience of taking the risk to tell someone and then not being heard and being harmed in the process. It really angers me because by now there is enough information out here that I would think people would know what not to do. But it still occurs.

Lying, Gaslighting, & Narcissistic Traits Play A Part Creating Secondary Betrayal Trauma

Anne: One of the things that I see is that the addict is so good at lying and manipulating that they are believed over the victim, repeatedly, and so this is difficult to get away from. How do you get away from someone who is lying about you or manipulating the support you are trying to get? This leads me to think that it is much better to get help for yourself without dragging your husband in so that you can get a clear picture of what is happening and get solid with what you are doing.

In cases of abuse, couples counseling for example is contraindicated until two years after the last abuse episode. And yet I would tell therapists this and they would say, “Ok, let’s keep doing couple’s therapy.” They wouldn’t say that we needed to stop and he needs to get help for his abuse. It’s really difficult to want to get help, to be willing to get help, to actually make the effort to get help and then to be harmed further.

Sex Addiction, Emotional Abuse, And Narcissistic Rage Are Not Marriage Issues

Dr. Steffens: Yes. I think a lot of times what happens because we don’t have a lot of information about what sex addiction is and what treatment looks like, a lot of times the first person a spouse goes to is their clergy who is going to look at as a marriage issue or to a couple’s counselor who will view it through the lens of a marriage issue as well. An addiction is not a marriage issue.

Addiction is something in the individual that affects a marriage but a lot of times people try to treat it as a couple’s issue. And it’s not. I think this is where a lot of partners are, just as you described, harmed, not understood, or abused within the session and the therapist doesn’t catch it. I also want to talk about the word “abuse'” that you are using.

I think that therapists are trained to recognize domestic violence physical abuse but they don’t have a lot of awareness of emotional, verbal, and especially psychological abuse and manipulation. So again, they are going to see this as a communication issue rather than a power issue, a control issue, or an abuse issue. They need more training on how to identify those types of abuse.

The Wrong Type Of Therapy Or A Therapist That Doesn’t Understand The Trauma Wives Of Pornography Addicts Suffer Due To The Lies & Narcissistic Behaviors May Cause More Harm

When we do our APSATS training with therapists and coaches, we spend a lot of time talking about the emotional impact, the psychological manipulation, gaslighting, controlling behaviors, intimidation…all of those things that can go hand-in-hand with active addictive behavior that really contributes to the harm and trauma that a partner experiences.

A lot of times people think the only trauma is the discovery of the secrets. That’s horrific! That’s traumatic! What is missed in a lot of help settings is the on-going emotional abuse that has occurred before the addiction is even found out…and it’s already done tons of damage and harm to the relationship and particularly to the person who is on the receiving end of that.

Anne: And then sometimes the continued abuse from addicts that are in “recovery” who are actually not in recovery, showing recovery behaviors.

Dr. Steffens: Right. They may have stopped the acting out behavior but they haven’t taken on or begun practicing healthy relational behaviors.

Anne: In some cases, I don’t know if they have stopped acting out sexually at all. Sometimes they may be lying and hiding things better, just talking the talk because they have figured out what to say in order to get their wife off their back.

When Women Aren’t Healing From Betrayal Trauma, It’s Usually Because Their Still Being Lied To, Blamed, And Abused

Dr. Steffens: I did a workshop a few years ago at a large conference that is there for the sex addiction community. I called it “When the Chaos Doesn’t Stop.” I wanted to do this workshop because when partners, say at six months to a year after a discovery and partners are still not getting better, and so I tried to uncover the issues that get in the way of partner recovery.

Most often it is either because there is ongoing sexual acting out that has not been uncovered yet, and/or the ongoing chronic emotional abuse, manipulation, psychological abuse, and gaslighting–the things you were describing. The recovery behavior hasn’t kicked in yet. So how is a partner supposed to begin healing when the traumatizing has not stopped?

We pathologize the partner for not getting well rather than looking at what is going on in the relationship that she still doesn’t feel safe. To me that is a huge place where treatment-induced trauma occurs; where the partner is blamed for her not getting better when she still is not safe in the relationship.

Establishing Emotional Safety Is The First Step To Healing From The Effects Of Someone Else’s Pornography Addiction and Narcissistic Personality

Anne: I see this time and time again. It’s so distressing to me because the women in these situations are feeling guilty and terrible and they can’t figure out why they don’t feel good when the behavior they are describing to me about their husbands sounds terrible. I’m wondering why their therapist isn’t picking this up! They aren’t being protected? They aren’t safe?

There has been a lot with the anti-pornography movement and the movement to bring pornography addiction into the light, to not shame addicts and to give them more voice and to maybe “normalize” it somewhat so they don’t feel as deviant or terrible; but in this same vein, I think in some ways the “normalizing” it has made it so that maybe it’s not as bad to some people.

The Related Behaviors Aren’t Being Addressed When It Comes To Pornography Addiction

Dr. Steffens: What isn’t being addressed are the behaviors that go along with this and the behaviors that come as a result of chronic viewing of pornography or the other types of acting out that can happen with this type of addiction.

They are looking at the acting out behavior alone, not looking at how it is impacting the character; this gets in the way of that individual caring about having empathy for the people they are harming. So therapists can talk about how to control behaviors so porn isn’t being used but they are not addressing how this is impacting people as human beings in relationships with others.

The Effects Of Betrayal Trauma Treatment Related Injuries

Anne: As people are trying to get help but they are not getting appropriate help, what are the effects of these treatment related injuries?

Dr. Steffens: One of the saddest impacts is that is gets in the way of spouses, of partners, going to get help for themselves. Who wants to get help and be told they are part of the problem, that there is something wrong in you or this wouldn’t have happened to you…and then if they don’t agree with this then they pull away and say they can’t trust telling this to anyone because all I am doing is getting blamed for it.

And so they pull away and don’t seek help again. To me, this is the greatest damage.

We know that people who do not get help, who are being traumatized or who are in chronically unsafe abusive relationships, can develop long-term mental health issues. This adds to the level of distress for the spouse. For me, this is the greatest impact. Also, there is the secondary trauma that the partner experiences.

Emotional Abusers Can Abuse Their Victims Through Other People

So not only are they working through the betrayal trauma in their relationship, but now they are working through the betrayal trauma that they experienced at the hand of a clergy member or a therapist or some other health provider…such as a physician. Many people go to a physician to talk about what is going on and try to get medication or something. The physician can do something that is harmful as well.

It’s the extra trauma that doesn’t need to be there. The shame that comes to a partner when they are blamed for what is happening. Partners experience this anyway; it’s part of the first response (“Wow. How did this happen to me? How did I not know? What did I do or not do that my husband is acting this way?) And then when a care provider shames them and blames them as well, this heaps more shame upon the partner.

Anne: It’s an extended form of the abuse.

Dr. Steffens: Yes. There is a lot of gaslighting that happens to partners and it’s not all within the relationship.

How To Avoid Treatment Induced Betrayal Trauma

Anne: In your estimation, what can partners look for in treatment or what health care providers to avoid this secondary injury?

Dr. Steffens: Partners are getting a lot more wise now that there are a lot more resources available to them, much like what BTR is doing. It is phenomenal that you are offering this kind of information for spouses. Getting educated and really asking questions before you begin working with a care provider is important.

Asking what kind of model do they use in working with partners; how do you view the partner? Do you believe all partners are co-dependent? Ask the therapist or coach, “If I don’t agree with you, is it okay for me to ask to do something different?” another questions is, “This isn’t working for me, can we try another approach?”

If you have a therapist or coach that says the one way is how they always do it and it works, then you might want to get someone else. You want a therapist or coach who is aware of what you need and their primary focus is on getting to know you and identifying to be able to help you and allow you to be an active part of the process.

Unfortunately, I hear a lot of times that partners go to get help and they are given a program to follow…and there isn’t a lot of room for individual needs and unique treatment opportunities. The therapist is looking at a “one size fits all” way of working with partners. I’ve never found this to work.

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Only Gives Personal Assistance For Betrayal And Abuse Survivors

Anne: This is why we don’t have static modules at Betrayal Trauma Recovery. We don’t have static classes. All of our educational materials are free to everyone. The support calls and groups and a crisis drop-in group that we will begin soon have individual assistance from an APSATS coach. This is where the real change can begin.

Dr. Steffens: We deal with the real person who is in front of us, with their unique history, their unique now, their unique strengths, their unique personality so people can’t be put in a module and expect it to work for everyone.

So, just ask questions. Ask questions about how to work with partners. What is their belief about how this happened; what is their understanding around the model of co-dependency and co-addiction verses trauma. What books have you read? What training do you have?

I’m always encouraging people to find someone who has specific training. As clinician (I’m both a clinician and a coach so I’m putting on my clinician hat), I am bound by ethical codes that say if I am declaring I am a specialist in something, I better be able to demonstrate that I have specialized training, experience, and supervision in that area.

Unfortunately, a lot of therapists say they treat something but if asked where they got specialized training, they say they have not but that they have a read a book or something like that. So ask how they got their training and who supervised them and what is the model of the training they received.

Anne: I’m excited because I am going to get APSATS trained in June!

What can wives or girlfriends expect if they attend a family week at a residential treatment center where their husband or their boyfriend might be receiving treatment?

Residential Treatment For Betrayal Trauma

Dr. Steffens: They can expect a variety of things…I don’t claim to know what all of the various programs do. Most of them have some kind of family week program where family members, including the spouse or girlfriend, can come and get information about sex addiction as well as perhaps participate in some sessions.

The problem with this was that a lot of harm was done to the spouses in these kinds of settings because the partner didn’t have a therapist who was uniquely there for them; they didn’t have preparation; they usually traveled out of town and were in a hotel room. There wasn’t enough support for victims.

So ask the questions: what do you do and what if I do not want to participate in this piece of it. I also let partners knows that they do not have to go. They can offer it and be told it will really help but if the partner doesn’t think it sounds safe or like it will meet a need, then “no thank you” is fine…”I am working on my own and if my husband has things to tell me, we can work it with our therapists after he is out of residential treatment.

Take initiative. Ask questions and be empowered to ask for what you need and say what you don’t want.

Educate Yourself About Betrayal Trauma So You Know What Questions To Ask A Potential Care Provider

Anne: Listening to this podcast or to this information so you know what questions you can ask. I had been with my SA spouse for 5 years before I started learning about all this.

Immersing yourself in books is good and learning about it because then you will know which questions to ask the treatment center before you go. Sometimes women are at the point of not knowing what to ask or how to go about it. Having a little bit of a foundation is helpful I think.

Dr. Steffens: I think it’s hard too because if someone is going into residential treatment, most people with controlled sexual behavior don’t go there. If someone is there, it’s pretty extreme and been going on for a long time. It’s a crisis situation.

To think about flying to another city while the individual is in crisis, trying to go to a family week…to me just doesn’t make a lot of sense. I wish more residential programs had a designated partner component that really met the unique needs of that partner, rather than putting them through a step-by-step program while there. They don’t need programs. They need support.

What Can A Wife Do If She Has Experienced Treatment-Induced Trauma?

Dr. Steffens: I think the most important thing to do if you can is to not take responsibility for what someone else did or didn’t do that you needed. I think like we were talking about earlier, one should not have to train their treatment provider or caregiver. So don’t own it. Go and talk to someone about it.

When I’m talking to my clients, if there is prior treatment or treatment-induced trauma they have experienced like from their faith community, processing this is part of what we do, working on ways to find healing so it doesn’t fester. It makes it more difficult in the healing process but it certainly is not insurmountable; it just needs to be discussed and worked on.

Anne: Do you recommend picketing? (Laughing.)

Dr. Steffens: No but if the treatment-induced trauma is severe and you talk through it with a therapist and it seems like they not only didn’t understand but it that it is a clear, ethical violation. A partner certainly has every right to complain in this instance. This can be done privately by going to the therapist or clergy member and talk to them how it hurts. Don’t do this right away because it’s important to feel safe and empowered and strong. This may be helpful.

Sometimes there is a level of complaint to a state board if it’s a licensed individual. Again, this is usually more extreme. A therapist using an antiquated model may be an extreme and filing a formal complaint in regards to it, but it is an option. I always encourage talking this through with someone to know what your options are and then do what fits for you.

Anne: For me, being stuck in the wanting to picket phase is where I said, “This has to change. This is an institutional problem that I see within the church. It needs to change. I don’t know how to change it or how to start . . . ”

Last night I actually spent a lot of time praying and asking God what I should do . . . I don’t know how to overcome this…I don’t even know if it’s healthy for me in my recovery to worry about the institution as a whole or feel like the weight of it is on my shoulders . . . but because I talk to so many women about it, I think that someone needs to do something and maybe that is me. This is such a difficult thing to understand.

The Sex Addiction / Abuse Model For Treating Partners Of Sex Addicts Is Changing

Dr. Steffens: It really is and going back to where we started–this is a large part about why APSATS exists. We all said, “Something needs to change. Something needs to happen.” There are various ways to do this short of picketing! Going and talking, getting an education, the services you provide through your podcast and coaching are making a difference and bringing about change.

Education Changes Things

The model is changing in the sex addiction field. In large part it’s because spouses and partners have become educated, they have found support, they are connected with other people that believe similar things, and the consumer in this case is changing the institution. People are speaking up–like APSATS. When we do an educational program, we are making change too.

As an organization we are looking at what else can we do. We want to promote more research and community education in different communities to help raise the topic and talk about it. There are a lot of things we can do. It is up to the individual and what makes sense to them and what is safe. This is risky stuff. If you start talking out loud in a community setting about this, because we don’t talk about sex addiction, it really can feel emotionally dangerous and risky.

Talking About Betrayal Trauma Is Risky, But Important

Anne: Dangerous in other ways too such as reputation and emotionally. It’s really risky and not something that I would necessarily would like to do and I appreciate everything you have personally done to help APSATS move this forward. We owe a great debt to you actually.

Dr. Steffens Advocates For Victims

Dr. Steffens: I’ve experienced it as a call all my life. Anytime I have the opportunity to talk to someone about partners and spouses of sex addicts and what they need, I know I am not just speaking for me and I am not just speaking just for APSATS. I am speaking on behalf of spouses and partners everywhere that don’t have a voice or don’t know how to use it. Whatever opportunity I have to verbalize and stress how extreme this need is for ethical and appropriate care for partners, I’m going to do it!

Anne: Thank you, thank you, thank you! from all of us. I will be the collective voice for all of us!

Dr. Steffens: I’m not alone in doing this. We have a phenomenal group of people in the APSATS community, which is amazing!

Anne: Yes, I am very grateful to associate with the coaches I do and I also frequently talk to Dr. Jill Manning who is also very helpful.

APSATS Therapists & APSATS Coaches

Dr. Steffens: An APSATS therapist is someone who is clinically trained such as a professional counselor, social worker, psychologists; we have some physicians and MDs who are clinically trained and a therapist will usually be working on symptoms like anxiety, depression, the trauma symptoms and trying to resolve some of them.

A trained APSATS coach will do the coaching around calling out the strengths in the individual, helping them identify what are the barriers to what they want and need; really coaching and encouraging them by working with them to meet their goals and get past those barriers and gain resources.

Coaches Can Help You Build Resilience

There are some similarities and overlap such as building resilience. Both a coach and therapist can do some of the same things. Coaches have specialized training on how to pull on the strengths and vision for the future and get past the barriers that are there. I love it when partners can work with both.

Perhaps in the beginning when all the symptoms of trauma are intense, working with a therapist may be the place to begin and then work with a coach once the symptoms have subsided; or, I have a lot of clients where I work with them on the trauma and then I will have them meet with a coach who helps them provide more support, work on resourcing, work on recognizing gas lighting when it happens, and then taking steps to learn how to communicate and how to take care of themselves when it happens.

Trauma-Informed Coaches Can Help You

So they work really well together as a team. The APSATS coaches give a phenomenal job or providing support groups for partners. For a lot of therapists, we don’t have time, we don’t have the setting, there are barriers to partners going to face-to-face groups. Sometimes I have partners who don’t want to be seen because their loved one is high profile in their community.

So a coaches group is a safer place to go. A lot of pastor’s wives will go to a coach for support rather than going to a local face-to-face group. The training is the same in terms of the APSATS training. Our coaches are already trained as coaches and have demonstrated skill there. Then they are getting additional training on how to help in a trauma informed way, doing what good coaches do.

Betrayal Trauma APSATS Coaches Are The Best For Women Experiencing Trauma Symptoms Due To Their Husband’s Pornography Addiction

Anne: BTR coaches are in all different time zones. All of our services are provided online. The support calls can happen during your son’s soccer practice and you’re sitting there for an hour waiting for him. You can call in and have your support call then. The groups are all online so it can be done while your child is napping.

BTR Is There For You

We are going to try to get one at 2 am because one of our coaches is in the UK so for a crisis drop-in group for women who can’t sleep, this works. We are trying to provide for women for where they are and when they need it because so many are busy with children or work that one more thing in addition to the trauma is very difficult–which may be a reason why women don’t get help: they are so overwhelmed with everything that they have going on.

Dr. Steffens: Absolutely. I’m always amazed when my clients who are in the throes of crisis somehow or other find their way to think clear enough to get to my office and to get back home. Knowing they can have additional support by picking up the phone or going online is great. I love that. As a coach, I love doing partner groups.

Coaching Is Available To You Any Time, Anywhere

I haven’t done one for awhile but when I’ve done it, it is amazing because we can have people from all over the country come together as the same time and support one another.

The other difference that some therapists don’t like is that there are no bounds, no state or country bounds. For therapists in the US, we are licensed by our state. So as a licensed counselor in Ohio, I can only do counseling with clients from my state. I live 30 minutes from two other states but I can’t practice in those states as a therapist.

But as a coach who is coaching and not doing treatment, I can do that with anyone, anywhere.

Coaching Through Betrayal Trauma Recovery Can Happen Anytime, Anywhere

Anne: This is the bonus of doing coaching through Betrayal Trauma Recovery…that people can do it everywhere. We’ve had sessions scheduled in five different countries so far and . states. It’s beautiful. I think of myself as shouting out into the void of the universe: We are here. You are supported! You can come! It doesn’t matter where you live, you can find us.

Dr. Steffens: We know there are so many areas where there is no trained specialist in treating sex addiction or compulsion and certainly no partner specialists; there are many areas in our country and outside of our country where there is nothing. I mentioned that we have an APSATS trained person in Singapore now, soon to be a partner specialist…in Asia–she is the only one. I hope it doesn’t stay that way but that we get more and more. Having coaches so that people can have access no matter where they are is absolutely essential.

For Women Who Don’t Have A Trained APSATS Betrayal Trauma Professional In Their Community

Dr. Steffens: If they are having some real distressing symptoms, trauma related symptoms, extreme stress, trouble eating and sleeping, feeling depression, it’s really important to see a mental health professional so my suggestion usually is to find someone who is trained in treating trauma and/or find someone who is trained in working with relational abuse and betrayal.

Someone who has worked in the area of domestic violence or helping people who are emotionally abused will understand what partners are experiencing. I prefer this than going to someone who understands chemical dependency because they are different…the impact on the family members and spouse are so different.

Abuse Specialists Can Help You

Anne: I also think an abuse specialist or domestic violence specialist is better than a marriage counselor in this particular counselor.

Dr. Steffens: I would agree, unless that counselor has specialized training in recognizing betrayal trauma and working with the couple. We have a lot of APSATS trained therapists who do really good couples work in this situation because they are aware of the dynamics.

Dr. Barbara Steffens Speaks Directly To Betrayal Trauma Survivors

I want to say to the partners who are listening to this that I am so proud of you for doing what it takes to get support and information, that you are seeking it out. It takes risk, especially if you’ve ventured into reading things or hearing things that don’t make sense to you or hurt you. If you are still seeking, you are courageous and amazing!

Those of us that understand this and are specially trained in how to help you, we want to do whatever we can to help connect you to whatever you need. I’m really, really grateful for these types of podcasts. Thank you so much for the work that Betrayal Trauma Recovery is doing. There is nothing more isolating, I think, than being a spouse of someone who is sexually compulsive; it is so isolating; so shaming; so scary to think about telling someone. Just taking a risk to listen to a podcast takes courage! I commend you for that!

BTR Is Here For You

Anne: Dr. Steffens, thank you so much for being here and for pioneering this for women all over the world who are desperately seeking information and help that can be found through APSATS. Betrayal Trauma Recovery coaches are APSATS trained and ready to help you today.

We are so grateful you listened to this podcast. Please keep coming back. If this podcast is helpful to you, rate it on iTunes and SoundCloud. Each rating helps women who are isolated to find us. This podcast is supported by your donations.

I pray for all us to have the strength to find our voice, to speak our truth and to heal as well as help others who are recovering from sexual betrayal and related behaviors like gaslighting, narcissistic behaviors, and abuse. Until next week, stay safe out there!

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  1. Melissa

    Yes! I personally have found a therapy group that works with addicts and partners, as who do EMDR, and suport the Trauma Model… BUT, what I didn’t find helpful was that the words co Dependent were given out very early on. Yes, it’s part of my dynamic. I see that. BUT in early trauma, it was confusing and painful. They explained it was not my fault. But, my abusive childhood left me an open target for toxic realasionships. That my Co dependance added to the dance… UHG.
    It felt like I’d asked for it, or possibly could have possibly beefed up with someone healthy. As I was unhealthy.
    Not until I read My Sexually Addicted Spouse did I feel like some one nailed my feelings. I shared it with everyone in my recovery group. We all felt similar.
    Yes, I have trauma from childhood wounds. This trauma has re opened all my old wounds and also made new ones.

    I’m 18months in since discovery. Trauma 1.
    Then slow disclosure… with out help of therapist. 2. Then a few porn slips.
    Then formal disclosure ( horrific and re traumatizing.)3.
    Then my STD diagnosis and then major surgery. I’m healing. But my therapist is telling me I should be farther along in recovery. My partner is doing so well.

    I was to scream, I’m traumatized. And still don’t feel safe all of the time. Give me a break!

    • Anne

      Thanks for sharing! It is such a long process!

  2. Susan

    Thank you, so much…so much, for putting this information out there. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I need because it’s been a couple of years…but I’m still a bit of a mess. I appreciate being able to feel the support even though I’ve not been brave enough to grab on.

  3. martha

    he cheated on you and you where lucky to have found out.. would he cheat on you again ? no one can answer that question not even your husband. But if he has got a good heart . . . maybe?

  4. Shan

    Your podcasts have been my saving grace. They speak directly to my heart. I found out a month ago about my husbands pornography addiction. My spiritual leader told me many things that really bothered me. He told me that my husband didn’t commit a sin, that I need to forgive him, promising me that if I would forgive him my marriage would became stronger than I could ever imagine, instructing me to read books on forgiveness and telling me that if I truly understood the Atonement I would be able to forgive and trust him again. But the most hurtful was when he asked me why Eve was placed in the Garden of Eden. He then went on to answer his own question by saying, “to be a help meet to Adam. Likewise you were placed on this Earth to be a help meet to your husband and you must be true to your marriage covenants and be there for him as his help meet.” All of these things were said within the first week of me discovering his addiction. We as women are so much more than this. We are so much more than just a help meet to our husbands. Your podcasts have guided me in ways I could never express. Thank you for doing what you do. You have helped bring understanding and healing to my heart in a world I can not begin to comprehend.

    • Anne Blythe

      Dear sister, we are loved Daughters of God, and God does not want us to be abused. I’m sorry that you were also abused by your Bishop. Your husband has committed adultery and abused you by lying to you and manipulating you, and should be held accountable. I’m sorry that you’re spiritual leader didn’t act in a Christlike way, in fact, acted contrary to the commandments – hurting a victim and enabling an abuser. He is / was wrong. You deserve to be loved and cherished. I’m so glad you found us:).

  5. Paula

    I have waited literally 29 years for help like this. My marriage is probably over because of the trauma abuse. I’m seriously working on me now and just can’t worry about him any longer. It hurts because at one time he would have done anything to get real help. I believe sexual addiction has destroyed his heart and mind like the years of trauma has totally destroyed my trust in him and the church/professional counselors who sent me back in for more harmful abuse unknowingly.
    Thank you for being here in a time such as this.

    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so glad you find it helpful!

  6. Leah Forrest

    I need help ASAP. My husband and i separated 2 years ago in August because he physically abused my son. He is a war vet that started doing porn pre deployment. I couldnt put my finger on it until we had our daughter. A few months aftee his return from Iraq i found myself down on the ground with his forearm on my neck. He ripped my son out of my arms and threated to take off with him to another state where his mom lived. I told him he had PTSD and needed counseling. We took marriage counseling for a few months with counselor that wasnt trained for PTSD. I complained about his video game addictions and him pretty much locking himself in our closet leaaving me to do most of everything. His complaint to the counselor was I wasnt sexual enough. We both agreed we were intimate a minimum of 4 times a week and that wasnt enough. He quit being affectionate and started groping me all the time. Ridiculed me for watching movies like the bachelor or bachelorette. It wasnt until my daughter was born in 2015..8 years after his addiction started that i discovered his addiction. I walkes in on him masturbating to porn with my daughter within viewing distance. I had my daughter checked out because of unusual behaviors that she had started at the age of 1. Plus her dad started sleeping with both of my kids more than me except when he wanted something. My future ex finally started to seek help for PTSD in Feb 2017. He quit his medication regimen around August 2017 when he attacked my son. CPS temporarily suggested i supervise all his visits but later cleared him. He then acted like he wanted to work things out with me an I thought he was still activly seeking help. In december 2017 i discovered he was having an affair with my coworker. We then wenr to mediation in February 2018. At that time i planned joint custody. He sent my kids home not fed and sick 2 times without seeking medical attention. He continued to hurt my son all which ahs been overlooked by CPS. In August 2018 i discovered a cell phone my ex gave my son with Porn on it. I was advised to turn over to police and cps. They failed to do thorough investigation and continued his rights. When phone was given back to me my lawyer suggested having a computer specialist download it for evidence. That is when it was discovered mult. Porn sights that were looked at while the kids dad had the phone. I was able to see where he would look at the filth and then turn phone over to kids to play games. My kids didnt make any outcries to cps so they just said it was an accident. Fast forward to Dec 2018 that is when after 18 years i discovered my future ex is a narcissist. So many incidents of what i learned to be gaslighting. My daughter came home from a visit in January acting out sexually. She told her counselor that she saw what makes me believe porn on his netflix. Unfortunately it was brought up in one of the 4 times he chose to attend counseling the past 2 years. He denied it and said she was lying. Fastforward to 2 months ago and my daughter made sexual outcry about her brother who has been quite the opposite. If she acted out previously he would be the first to tell on her. We now have cps, po, and his court ordered attorney involved. Cps worker has pinned me as a vengeful ex wife and made it be known to all involved. Any time things dont go his way he is messaging the PO and my sons lawyer who demand i do what he is telling me. I have turned over tons of evidence showing these people where my kids have been exposed to such things and the abuse and neglect my kids have went through but have gotten nowhere. I need some advice please.

  7. Rory

    I have been 10 years no contact with a toxic, abusive family who utililzed mental health workers as their preferred flying monkeys. In particular, those who had zero awareness of narcissistic abuse. This article resonates with me. Is there a place for me here?


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