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Mayor Filner as he apologizes for disrespecting women (L) and the moment he announced he will undergo intense therapy in response to sexual harassment allegations.
The idea that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner can cure himself of alleged inappropriate sexual behavior with two weeks of intense behavioral therapy is unrealistic, according to one expert in the field.
The mayor plans to enter a behavior counseling clinic Aug. 5 to undergo two weeks of intensive therapy following allegations that he groped women, made crude comments and made unwanted sexual advances.
“The behavior I have engaged in over many years is wrong,” Filner announced Friday without going into specifics. “My failure to respect women and the intimidating contact I engage in at times is inexcusable.”
The mayor’s office has not discussed what disorder Filner suffers from or what type of behavior counseling he will seek.
James A. Reavis, Psy.D., the director of the Treatment Program for Compulsive Sexual Behavior at the Relationship Training Institute in San Diego, works with men who engage in problem or illegal sexual behavior, as well as men who are struggling with compulsive sexual thoughts.
He sees a high-degree of unhealthy narcissism at the root of the behavior described by alleged victims in the Filner scandal.
While admitting he cannot diagnose the mayor without treating him, Reavis said Filner appears to engage in “light humiliation, devaluing these women to make himself feel more valuable.”
Making crude comments and the so-called headlock – both alleged by seven women over the course of one week – is behavior that helped Filner in “furthering his own sense of grandiosity.”
Unfortunately, Reavis said that personality trait is not something that can be treated by what he called “a two-week sleep-away camp.”
If, as Filner has publicly admitted, he’s been engaging in his behavior for years it’s an absurd notion he will be able to resolve the problem in two weeks, he said.
At RTI, counselors see men dealing with similar problems for as many as five years. Often the patients don’t begin the process for months.
“It’s very cynical on the part of his team to suggest that any kind of two-week program is going to do an iota of difference,” he said.
Instead it may be the public humiliation that has the most success.
Public rebuke is the one thing narcissists try to avoid at all costs, according to the psychologist.
“The slap on the hand may have a tremendous affect on him,” Reavis said.
A second expert, San Diego-based addiction & forensic psychiatrist Clark Smith, MD, believes compulsive sexual behaviors are treatable if the patient is willing to change.
“Often these kinds of behavioral disorders, people don’t seek treatment unless they are coerced. The person may say to themselves ‘I’m tired of getting in trouble, tired of having all these problems, then I really want to change,’” Smith said. “Then they will benefit from treatment.”
Smith said he cannot discuss Mayor Filner’s diagnosis since he hasn’t examined him but said the behaviors alleged in the scandal describe someone who may put people down or put people in their place to feel more powerful.
When a patient is in their 70s, Smith said dementia could also be a cause of sudden changes in behavior.
“One of the things that happens with dementia, you lose your social inhibitions,” he explained.
A person with dementia may begin inappropriate sexual touching or just making inappropriate comments, according to Smith.
Another possibility would be Frotteurism which is a paraphilia or sexual impulse disorder that involves inappropriate sexual touching of a stranger.
Most people with the disorder are male. Frotteurism is defined as gaining sexual gratification from rubbing a person in a public place where the victim cannot easily get away.
If this were to be the case, a two-week stay in an inpatient treatment center is not usually sufficient, Smith said.