On Friday August 15, 2014 approximately 50 San Francisco area psychotherapists gathered at the San Mateo Marriott for a one-day symposium featuring presentations by a trio of mental health and addictions treatment industry leaders: Dr. Christine Courtois, Dr. Pamela Peeke, and Robert Weiss. The single-day event, sponsored by Elements Behavioral Health, concluded with a case studies panel featuring all three experts.
Dr. Courtois, author of numerous books on trauma and an originator of the complex trauma concept, kicked off the event with her presentation, “Treatment of Complex Trauma: A Sequenced, Relationship-Based Approach.” Dr. Courtois opened with a general definition of trauma before moving on to her primary topic of complex trauma (chronic and layered trauma that builds upon and reinforces itself over time). She then talked about the lifelong effects that chronic trauma has upon its victims – depression, anxiety disorders, dissociative disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders (including the relatively new concept of “PTSD Plus”), attachment deficits, addictions, loss of personal meaning and spirituality, and more. Her presentation concluded with an overview of complex trauma treatment, focusing on the need for client safety and a sequenced, highly integrated bio-psycho-socio-spiritual approach.
Dr. Peeke, author of the bestselling book The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction, presented next, with “Food, Addiction, and Recovery: A New Approach to Healing the Body-Mind.” Dr. Peeke’s presentation focused on recent scientific research linking eating disorders to other addictive processes – most notably studies using PET and fMRI scans to show that the brains of chronic overeaters are damaged in the same ways as the brains of alcoholics and drug addicts. She then introduced the concept of epigenetics, which is the ability to control, through science (by changing diet in various ways), genetic conditions that predispose certain individuals to food addiction, noting that hyper-palatable foods (sugary, fatty, salty) cause the genetic predisposition to kick in, while certain healthy foods can shut the genetic predisposition down. (Eating right doesn’t change a person’s genes, but it does change the effects.)
Robert Weiss, author of numerous books on sexual addiction and a media-proclaimed “Master of Sex,” gave the closing presentation, a talk on technology and its effects on relationships and sexual addiction titled, “Hyper-Stimulation and Intimacy Disruption in the Digital Age.” Weiss began by noting that addictive behaviors have always been facilitated by technological advance (distilling alcohol, refining coca leaves into cocaine, incorporating processed sugars in foods, and now 24/7/365 digital access to intensely stimulating sexual imagery and potential sexual partners). He then discussed the “Triple-A” engine of accessibility, affordability, and anonymity that the Internet and related technologies now provide, noting that barriers to pornography and in-person sexual encounters that existed just a few decades ago have disappeared, leading to a marked increase in sexual addiction. He then discussed what sexual addiction looks like in the modern world, and ways in which it can effectively be treated.