Psych Central

Men, Addiction Treatment, and Sex: An Interview with Dan Griffin (Part Two)Dan Griffin is a mental health and addictions treatment specialist working in Minneapolis, MN. He has been in the field for nearly 20 years. Currently he does fulltime training, consulting with treatment programs throughout the country, primarily about re-conceptualizing and redesigning treatment for men. At the inaugural Males, Trauma, and Addiction Summit in May of 2013, Dan helped craft the Eight Agreements regarding males, trauma, and addiction treatment. Additionally, he is the author of A Man’s Way through the Twelve Steps, and co-author, with Stephanie Covington and Rick Dauer, of Helping Men Recover, the first trauma-informed curriculum to specifically deal with men’s unique issues and needs. I recently spoke with Dan about his groundbreaking work, and I wanted to share his thoughts here. This is part two of a two-part blog. Part one, focusing on trauma, can be found here. This second portion talks more about male sexuality and addressing that concept in treatment.

Before proceeding, it may help to recap the initial question I asked Dan (in part one) about the ways in which male socialization is anathema to the treatment process, as his response informs the material here, as well. In part, he said:

We tell men don’t cry, don’t show your emotions unless it’s anger, be strong, don’t ask for help, don’t be vulnerable, be sexually aggressive, put work before relationships, put success before relationships. Basically we tell them that power and having power is central to being a man. Then we put them in an environment where we say we want you to be vulnerable, we want you to ask for help, we want you to talk about your feelings, and anger is not OK. This tension is the elephant in the middle of the room. What I’ve found is that when we work with men in ways that help them verbalize and understand this tension, when we point out to them that it makes complete sense for the situation to feel difficult and challenging, there’s a whole new context for them in terms of treatment, their addiction, powerlessness, and any of the other challenges they have in recovery.

RW: It’s no surprise to me when you say that substance use disorders are often related to sexual issues. What specific approaches/methodologies do you utilize to help your male clients openly and honestly discuss sexuality so they can determine what is healthy and what is problematic? What are the roadblocks you encounter in this process?

DG: Sex is a core part of our curriculum. We worked really hard on the sexuality module. One of the main things we employ is what we call the “Interactive Lecture.” This is where we actually have the men in group create and teach the material. So with sex and sexuality we engage in a conversation with the men much more than we do didactics or any kind of cognitive behavioral component. We really put everything on the table when it comes to talking about sex and sexuality. We start the exercise with the men just listing everything that they can associate with sex. Anything they can think of, and anything goes. As long as the conversation is not devolving into sexist or heterosexist comments we let it go wherever it goes. Next we look at the list they’ve created and ask, “What are some of the feelings you’re experiencing around this?” That opens the conversation. Then we go into some of the Sexuality 101 sort of stuff. We talk about the fear of being sexual. We talk to them about masturbation and pornography. We talk about homophobia. We help them see how those things are part and parcel of the rules for being a man, and how that gets in the way of their relationships with men, their relationships with women, and their relationship with self. We talk about healthy sexuality. We talk about body image. We even talk about rights, that men have a right to own their sexuality as much as women do.

We’ve found that when men begin to respect their sexuality, they also begin to act differently and to behave differently. What we’ve done here is we’ve kind of complemented and matched some of the better interventions and modalities of sex addiction treatment, bringing that work into other addiction treatment settings. Basically we believe that for men, sex and sexuality are core issues, and understanding and appreciating healthy sexuality is essential to men’s recovery no matter what their addiction is.

RW: You suggest breaking male treatment groups into clusters of three, not just when talking about sex but in general. Is this an idea you came up with on your own? Why does it work so well?

DG: I really have to credit my partner Rick Dauer with this concept because I think it’s brilliant and he is really crucial with this contribution. The idea is that if it’s two men working together it’s very easy to be buddy-buddy and not do the work of recovery. When it’s three men, however, it’s a little more difficult to buddy up, which makes it a little easier to engage in the treatment process and to focus on whatever it is we’re trying to accomplish. Another thing we’ve found is that when you’ve got a larger group, say nine or ten, you always have the guys who are talkative and the guys who don’t say much. What we’ve tended to say is that the guys who don’t say much are just men who have a hard time opening up, or who don’t want to open up. If you put men in much smaller groups, especially groups of three, then everything changes.

RW: What other methodologies are effective in terms of getting men to open up, especially when it comes to talking about sex?

DG: One of the things we do in general is we talk about an anger funnel. That’s not an original concept. The anger funnel speaks to how we place so much of our basic human feelings and emotions into a funnel, and then it comes out the other end as anger. Anger becomes the primary way in which we’re able to relay our feelings to the world, especially for men. When we talk about sexuality we use a similar concept, calling it the sex funnel. It’s basically the same thing. As men we take our feelings about affection and attraction and closeness and vulnerability and intimacy and love and we put them in the sex funnel, and it all comes out as purely sexual. As men, then, we have a hard time connecting sex with intimacy, sex with emotion, sex with connection. We also have a hard time understanding that sex does not have to define a relationship or who we are as men. So in treatment we have the men begin looking at these ideas, helping them to understand that their lives are already full of intimacy if they’ll just accept it.

Another thing we do is we work gradually from a perspective of intensity. Really there are all sorts of interventions involving different pieces of information and different exercises that we do with the men to gradually expand their concept of sex and sexuality without being heavy-handed, without being shaming, without being overly didactic, and without being condescending. Ultimately, when we talk about the work that we do with men we find there are two core concepts: compassion, and non-judgment. If we can truly incorporate those two ideas into the work that we do with men, it transforms their experience.


Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. A licensed UCLA MSW graduate and personal trainee of Dr. Patrick Carnes, he has developed clinical programs for The Ranch in Nunnelly, Tennessee, Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, and The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. He has also provided clinical multi-addiction training and behavioral health program development for the US military and numerous other treatment centers throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.



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    Last reviewed: 31 Oct 2013

APA Reference
Weiss LCSW, R. (2013). Men, Addiction Treatment, and Sex: An Interview with Dan Griffin (Part Two). Psych Central. Retrieved on April 17, 2014, from


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