Dr Thaddeus Birchard has spent decades working to support clients with sex addiction issues, and has also turned his hand to training future generations of psychotherapists in the issue by founding the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity and offering the UK’s first sexual addiction training programme for counsellors and psychotherapists.
This is an area which more and more therapists are finding they need to understand, as online pornography becomes rife and easily accessible, as more clients are using fetish or online sex sites, and more young people consider funding their way through college by selling their used underwear online (yes, this is a thing). Increasingly more clients than ever before present themselves with elements of compulsive sexual behaviour.
We got the opportunity to sit down with Dr Thaddeus Birchard, and speak to him about his career. After three decades as an ordained minister, he shifted his attention to supporting people with sex addiction. You’ll learn more about him and why he made this shift in this insightful interview. Dr Thaddeus Birchard will also be delivering a masterclass in dealing with sex addiction for Brighton Therapy Partnership on 13th July 2019.
Speaking to Dr Thaddeus Birchard
How did you start out in counselling & psychotherapy?
I began around 1994 with an MSc in Psychosexual Therapy and went on to do my Doctorate at Metanoia. My interest had always been around change and progression – transformation.
I understand you had a different career before becoming a therapist. Can you tell us a little about that and also what led to your career change?
I was ordained at Exeter Cathedral in 1970 and went on to serve in four parishes: Devonport, Southend, East End and in the West End of London. I stayed over twenty years at St John’s, Hyde Park. It was either continue doing what I had always done, in other words, work out my time, or, do something different but sequential to what had gone on before. I decided to take the plunge and start up a different but similar work. Goethe said ‘jump and the net will appear’. The problem is that you don’t know that for sure. In parish life you do a work of reconciliation which has social dimensions. In psychotherapy you do the same work within the human heart. When I went to St John’s, the Bishop said ‘receive this cure of souls which is both yours and mine’. Psychotherapy means ‘cure of souls’.
What was the motivation behind the founding of the Marylebone Centre in London? Your website says that you work with people on “relationships, sexuality & mood disorders”. Why this mix of issues in particular?
I work with combination because it covers all my training: relationships, human sexuality and mood disorders. I am among other things a CBT therapist and there are particular patterns for working with mood disorders. CBT is particularly suited to working with compulsive sexual behaviour.
You are a well-known expert on compulsive sexual behaviours. What is a compulsive sexual behaviour, what kinds of behaviour are we talking about?
There are four criteria for suggesting an assessment of compulsivity: it feels out of control, it brings harmful consequences, it is hard to stay stopped and finally the behaviour has a function. The function is escape negative affect. Baumeister calls an addiction as ‘an escape from the burden of self-hood’.
I bet there are a lot of therapists reading this who are quite sure they have no one on their caseload who acts compulsively around sex. What would you say to that? How common are compulsive sexual behaviours?
I am not sure of the answer to this question. I have read frequently that it affects 6% of the population but I have never seen this figure substantiated. In the room I do not talk about sex addiction but say that there is a problem brought about by the sexual behaviour. I tell people, it is only a problem if it is a problem.
You have written two books on compulsive sexual behaviour, the latest in 2017 a self-help book called Overcoming Sex Addiction. Is sex addiction the same as any other sort of addiction, for example, to drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc, or are there characteristics about sex addiction which make it different to other types of addiction?
The answer to this question is both yes and no. Yes because of the function is to escape a negative feeling state. Sex addiction and all addiction is about affect dysregulation. No, too, because all behavioural addictions are run by internal chemistry and therefore different from taking in a substance. You put the top on the bottle and after a time, the craving goes away. Sexuality is also the strongest of human drives and the most consistent and insistent.
What got you interested in delivering training?
I liked preaching!!!
If you weren’t a therapist, what would you be and why?
I am getting near the end of my time in the here and now. I have taken up cloth weaving, gardening and book writing. The weaving seems particularly apt. It symbolically takes the threads of life and joins them into a whole. The whole is very beautiful.
Where can people hear more from you? (eg, your own Blog, Website, Twitter, Email?)
I am, to date, not that tech savvy but hope to be soon. Emails are welcome.
Learning about sexual addiction
A huge thanks to Dr Thaddeus Birchard for taking the time to talk to us. For more from him and the topic of sexual addiction, grab yourself a ticket to our forthcoming workshop on 13th July 2019. We look forward to seeing you there!