A frank discussion of sex addiction before a mixed audience might seem an unlikely event under chassidic auspices. But refraining from judgment is a guiding principle at Chabad Lifeline, a Montreal centre that offers support services to those recovering from a variety of unhealthy compulsions.
Founded by the Lubavitch community, Chabad Lifeline offers crisis intervention, counselling, support groups and referral on a non-sectarian basis to individuals struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, eating disorders and emotional dependency.
Support services for sex addiction, which are led by certified sex addiction therapist Jennifer Kotry, have been used more and more.
Last year, 13 per cent of Lifeline’s clients came to the centre for sex addiction.
Chabad Lifeline’s staff include centre director Rabbi Benyamin Bresinger and his wife Karen, the clinical director, who holds a master’s of social work from Rutgers University.
Since 2011, Chabad Lifeline has been located in a gracious old house on Côte Ste. Catherine Road, near the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), which owns the property and with which Lifeline closely collaborates, as it also does with McGill University.
The centre is an outgrowth of Project Pride, a modest drug rehabilitation and prevention program started in Montreal by Rabbi Ronnie Fine (Karen Bresinger’s brother) in 1989.
The Bresingers recently invited professionals in the health and educational fields, as well as members of the public, to an open house, at which they explained how Lifeline has developed and expanded.
They emphasized that, in 2015:
• 845 support group sessions and workshops were held
• 16,150 visits were made to the centre
• 345 new clients were assisted
• 210 people were participants in Lifeline’s Aftercare Recovery Program
• 85 families in crisis were supported, and 46 minors were seen in-house
“Our motto was and still is, ‘You never have to be alone again,’” Rabbi Bresinger said. “If you come to us in crisis, we will find someone to be with you within a few hours. If treatment is needed, it is arranged within three days. We have no waiting list.”
The latter is made possible without any funding from the government. Chabad Lifeline relies entirely on private donations to meet its $500,000 annual budget.
“No one is turned away. Our intake, counselling and most of our groups are free,” Rabbi Bresinger said. “We do have two clinicians [including Kotry] who are fee for service, with a sliding scale offered.”
Two new team members were introduced at the open house: The first was Malorie Moore, an MSW from McGil University and a certified yoga and mindfulness instructor, who offers courses in these practices twice a week. Moore believes that nurturing a mind/body connection is beneficial to overcoming the anxiety often associated with addiction. The second was the clinic’s new youth co-ordinator and Université de Montréal graduate Jonathan Sbrollini. Himself a rehabilitated former drug and alcohol abuser, Sbrollini emphasizes healthy habits for young people, such as nutrition and exercise.
Over the last couple of years, Chabad Lifeline has been expanding services to serve children and young people up to age 24, particularly to include those Rabbi Bresinger calls “the hidden victims,” individuals with parents or siblings struggling with addiction. The basement of the centre has been renovated for youth programming.
Above all, Kotry’s presentation on sex addiction, and what is referred to as its flip side, sexual anorexia, that appeared to catch the listeners’ attention at the open house.
Kotry acknowledged the relative controversy surrounding sex addiction and sexual anorexia, noting that the neither are listed in the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the standard of the American Psychiatric Association. She noted, however, that the American Society of Addiction Medicine does recognize them.
“Both addiction and anorexia are “intimacy disorders,which prevent or sabotage relationships“
An exploding manifestation of sex addiction is connected to Internet pornography, Kotry said, citing a figure of 68 million porn site searches every day.
Kotry treats men and women, and said that she believes female sex addicts are under-diagnosed as a result of the shame still attached to women’s promiscuity and women’s tendency to deny they have a problem. One in three adult visitors to porn sites are estimated to be women, she said.
Sexual anorexia refers to an obsessive avoidance of sex, often because the sufferer feels he or she is a “bad or unworthy person.”
Both addiction and anorexia are “intimacy disorders,” Kotry said, which prevent or sabotage relationships.
She insists that a client’s partner, if they have one, be involved in therapy sessions.
A new support group led by Kotry, which meets every two weeks, is called “Love, Romance and Sex Addiction” and is geared to women, offering guidance in dealing with dependent behaviours.
As for whether, this being a Chabad program, there is a hidden agenda to make Jews more religious, Rabbi Bresinger responded in the negative. “Our goal is only to help everyone be healthier and happier people.”
For more information, visit www.chabadlifeline.com.