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Utah residential facility to offer treatment for porn 'addicts'

Published February 22, 2012 12:05 pm

St. George • If approved, Desert Solace would offer talk therapy, integrate family into process.
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A St. George couple hopes to open what they believe would be Utah's first residential treatment center for pornography "addiction."

Mark Jorgensen and his wife, Jerri, are seeking state approval to open the 5-acre Desert Solace for up to eight men whose treatment would consist of 45 days of talk therapy combined with outdoor exercise and a healthy diet. Cellphones and computers will not be allowed, and sex offenders will not be eligible. The treatment will cost $8,000, but the Jorgensens believe insurers will cover at least the psychotherapy portion.

"It will give those addicted to porn a chance to get away from everyday life and just focus on their problem," said Jorgensen, who describes himself as a former pornography addict who wants to help others overcome their obsession. "It will give them freedom and a chance to take back their lives."

While the Jorgensens use the term addiction, there is ongoing debate over whether compulsive use of pornography is a true addiction.

Ted Wander, a Salt Lake City psychiatrist and member of the Utah Psychiatric Association governing board, said there is no consensus on that question within the treatment community.

Drug addicts and porn abusers have some commonalities, he said. Dopamine, an organic chemical that plays a role in the brain's so-called pleasure and reward centers and is present in higher levels in drug addicts, is also found in the brains of pornography users, according to Wander. And people whose lives revolve around pornography can demonstrate behavior similar to alcoholics and drug addicts, including a lack of understanding of the negative consequences of their actions. But excessive use of pornography "is not recognized [as an addiction] in the diagnostic manuals used by the American Psychiatric Association," he said.

He didn't know of any existing residential program in Utah dedicated to porn users.

The Jorgensens said they plan to apply by March for a permit from the Division of Family Services to treat eight male residents at a time, and may want to expand that number to 12 in the future. The couple has been hosting open houses of the facility, located in northern St. George near Snow Canyon State Park, and describe the community as accepting of the idea.

Kelly Anderson a licensing specialist with the Department of Human Services in St. George, said he has talked with the Jorgensens but has not yet received any paperwork. The application must include a study on community impact, a procedural manual and $300.

Mark Jorgensen said his own experience with pornography led to a loss of self-esteem, secrecy and lying, and strained ties with family members by substituting fantasies for real relationships. He believes his pornography use probably led to the failure of his first marriage because he was unable to sustain a healthy relationship.

"It's a house of cards," said Jorgensen about trying to hide the problem.

Jerri Jorgensen, who will be the program's family liaison, said integrating families into treatment will be critical to the clients' success. Too often, family members who also suffer from the effects of a loved one's pornography use are ignored. And even if the user is treated, they often are isolated from those close to them who can play a crucial role in the recovery process.

"We don't want send them home to the same environment," said Jerri Jorgensen. "This is really a family disease, not just for men. ... It can be very traumatic for wives."

She said clients will need follow up once they leave Desert Solace by associating with something like the 12-step program offered by the LDS Church's Addiction Recovery Program.

She compares the perception of compulsive pornography use to alcoholism in the 1940s and 1950s, when addiction was secreted in shame. In Utah, she says, addiction is often viewed as a moral weakness.

"Utah has a huge problem," she said of compulsive pornography use.

Lynne Clark, a marriage and family counselor with a master's degree in psychology who will head the therapy program at Desert Solace, said the new program offers a different approach.

"They can come to a place out of the mainstream where there are no pressures or issues and they can focus on their addiction," she said. "We're not inventing the wheel, but taking a holistic approach looking at the behavioral, physical, emotional and spiritual [aspects] of the addiction."

Mark Jorgensen said treatment requires a support program because an addict is always in a state of recovery. He admits he sometimes misses pornography because it was such a large part of his life for so long.

"It is something I have to deal with all the time," he said.

mhavnes@sltrib.com