Anthony Weiner stepped down from Congress two years ago with a promise to "heal from the damage" of his sexual Twitter scandal. But sex therapy and addiction experts say the program he enrolled in shortly after his resignation wouldn't have done much to address the root causes behind his behavior.
Shortly after announcing his comeback bid for mayor of New York City, Weiner told reporters he spent three days in July 2011 at the Gabbard Center, a psychiatric evaluation center in Houston, Texas. The program "wasn't an addiction thing," Weiner told the Daily News last month. "I mean, it was just a place to get away and to meet people ... who might be able to help."
Weiner added that his stay at Gabbard was central to his start as a "new man."
But the center only provides evaluations, not treatment — and with a patient like Weiner, sex therapists said, there is a big difference. Weiner's case — an extended period of communication, involving illicit texts and tweets, with multiple strangers — would require not just a three-day evaluation, but an extended treatment program, they told BuzzFeed.
"No one gets treatment in three days," said Robert Weiss, a sexual addiction therapist with more than 20 years of experience treating high-profile clients. "Three days is an evaluation, but an evaluation isn't treatment."
"Somebody who's crashed and burned at that level needs very intensive short-term treatment, followed by long-term less intensive treatment," Weiss said. "You get them in residential treatment for 30 to 40 days, then follow through with more therapy."
The Gabbard Center, according to its website, provides a three-day "outpatient psychiatric evaluation." When reached Monday by BuzzFeed, the office declined to comment on Weiner's stay because of physician-patient privilege, but did say that their program is wide in scope and not tailored to evaluating sexual behavior.
Catered to "professionals who are in personal or professional crises," Gabbard sends off each patient with "a comprehensive written report specifically tailored to reflect the team findings and recommendations about the evaluee," according to the website, which does list "sexual disorders" as one of its 10 "major diagnostic groups."
The clinicians at the center would have "tried to rule in or out why he would have taken a risk like that," said Dr. Joe Kort, who specializes in sex therapy. "Was he abused as a child? Did he have personality issues? Was there something going on in the marriage? They would have looked at all types of assessments to get him clear about why he did what he did."
Weiner, for his part, has consistently declined to self-identify as a "sex-addict." In an interview with WNYC's Brian Lehrer last month, he said, "Maybe it would be an easier answer to say, 'Well, I've got some addiction or I was abused as a child or something else.' It's none of those things. It was simply a blind spot."
He also told the New York Times Magazine, in an extended interview to test the waters for his mayoral bid, that he does have a therapist who has worked with him. "It's none of the easy stuff," he said in the interview. "She didn't tell me: 'You have a sex addiction! You were abused as a child!' None of that stuff, which in a lot of ways, I'd kind of prefer."
But the very fact that Weiner can't identify the root cause for his behavior, Weiss said, raises concerns.
"I've never worked with a client yet who got through treatment and couldn't say, 'I know exactly why I did that.' If you don't know why you did something, why wouldn't you do it again?" Weiss said.
Weiner has also given voters the impression that his 2011 scandal was merely an aberration — "It is behind me," he has told reporters on more than one occasion. But if Weiner's sexual misconduct was in fact a symptom of addiction, psychotherapist Zelik Mintz said, Weiner would need indefinite continued treatment.
"Addiction runs deep. It takes a lot of time and work," said Mintz, who specializes in sex therapy. "I get the impression that he sees this as an anomaly, that he's fine and fixed now. It doesn't read to me that he is dealing with the issue and problem — he's just presenting it as a mistake."
"Three days seems really ridiculous," he added.
A typical patient seeking intensive care for sexual disorder, experts said, would check into a gender-separate residential treatment center, where psychiatrists would "go through your whole sexual history, and what you've done from beginning to end," Kort said.
A sexual addiction center would be "very different" from a general evaluation program like Gabbard, Brad Salzman of the New York Sexual Addiction Center said. "The treatment has to be tailored. There are still professionals now who don't realize that sexual addiction is a legitimate disorder. It needs to be addressed as a chronic disease."
"I don't know how politically savvy it would be to announce that he was a sex addict," Salzman added. "It's an interesting choice to go to a center that's not specifically for sex or sex addiction."
"But even if you take the sex out of it and look at it as a maladaptive behavior, three days of anything is just not gonna do," Weiss said. "But I understand that someone political might want to be coming out of this with the ability to say, 'Yeah, I went to some three-day thing and I have some things to work on, but it's fine.'"
Ruby Cramer is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Ruby Cramer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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