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Is Filner’s Behavior Really Driven By A Psychological Disorder?

Starting next week, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner will seek professional help for his self-described "failure to respect women." But will two weeks of behavioral therapy be enough to change the harassment he's accused of?

Next week, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner will enter a behavioral clinic for his self-described "failure to respect women." But will it be enough to change the harassment he's accused of?

Phrased another way, this time by The Washington Post's Alexandra Petri, "What is this magical two-week therapy program?"

Local clinicians who treat this sort of behavior say 'yes, people accused of what Filner's accused of can change.' But they question whether Filner's actions are actually driven by a psychological disorder.

Elizabeth Becker designed the Professional Boundaries track for UCSD's PACE Program. It's set up for doctors who've done inappropriate things in the workplace, including sexual harassment.

Photo credit: City of San Diego

Mayor Bob Filner addresses allegations of sexual harassment in a video.

With the caveat that she can't diagnose Filner from afar, Becker said there's currently no reason to think the mayor's behavior stems from mental illness.

"He may be a guy who just doesn't get it," she said. "And it's an abuse of his authority and it's an abuse of his power. But that doesn't mean it's psychopathology. It means he could just be a jerk."

So terms like "addiction" and "rehab" — invoked in many outlets since Filner's Friday press conference — don't necessarily apply here.

Contrasting Filner with Anthony Weiner, the New York City mayoral candidate who continued sending sexually explicit online messages to young women even after resigning from Congress amidst a sexting scandal, Becker said Weiner's behavior is more suggestive of psychological problems.

"Even after he got into trouble and removed himself from office, he continued this behavior," said Becker.

Some scientists believe that sex isn't something people can be addicted to.

If Filner doesn't suffer from any kind of psychological disorder, Becker thinks two weeks of full-time counseling might not be the most fitting course of treatment.

"If he just needs education, then that doesn't need to be done on an inpatient basis," she said.

"I certainly have not heard anything yet that would make me think he's a sex addict or addicted to anything in particular," said Dr. William Norcross, who currently oversees the PACE program.

Norcross has seen people change this kind of behavior after treatment. But only when they're personally committed and strongly motivated. Even then, it takes time.

"It's unlikely to be two weeks and you're done," said Norcross. "He's going to have follow-up. And, in fact, the follow-up might be the most important part of the program."

Filner has stated that he plans to receive ongoing counseling.

Both Becker and Norcross said patients make the most improvement when they leave work behind to focus on their treatment. Filner said he'll continue handling city business during therapy.

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