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What would help for Weiner look like?

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
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Weiner seeking treatment
  • The way that a person cheats on a spouse signals underlying issues to the therapist
  • Treatment might focus on the roots of potentially self-destructive behavior
  • A therapist could also help mend ties between Rep. Anthony Weiner and his wife

(CNN) -- It seems like there's therapy for everything these days, including sending photos of yourself in various states of undress to members of the opposite sex on the Internet.

After a picture of his crotch appeared on his Twitter feed in May, Rep. Anthony Weiner admitted last week to sending "messages and photos of explicit nature with about six women in the last three years." Over the weekend, Democratic leaders called for his resignation; Monday, the White House called Weiner's scandal a "distraction." And President Obama told NBC's "Today" that if he were in Weiner's position, he would resign.

But the New York congressman has declined to resign and instead sought a leave of absence to seek help. He's decided to seek treatment "to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person," his spokeswoman said Saturday.

Although the nature of this treatment is not known, psychologists unconnected with Weiner say that, based on the public information available about his behavior, the congressman should enter therapy to explore the underlying reasons for engaging in repeated indiscretions that may have threatened his career.

Tapping into childhood memories

It's not just cheating, but also the way it happens, that reflects a person's issues, said M. Gary Neuman, author of "Connect to Love" and a family counselor in Miami.

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Some people go to great lengths to hide their indiscretions; others cheat in ways that can easily be discovered. Those who are more daringly public in their unfaithfulness tend to have a lower sense of self-worth, Neuman said. However subconscious, it's as if they want to get caught and be shamed, he said.

"They are impulsively doing something, without thinking, that says, 'Deep down, I'm not this good. I can't have people looking at me saying I'm so wonderful. I'm going to set the record straight,'" Neuman said.

The most important part of such a person's treatment would be to understand what would lead him to want to put himself a potentially self-sabotaging situation, he said.

Weiner's photo leaked out because he was sending it through Twitter, a social media platform that is largely public. While it can be used for private messages, a small typo can result in a public broadcast, which is what happened to Weiner. "I intended to send (the photo) as a direct message to a woman as part of a joke to a woman in Seattle," Weiner said last week.

With the help of a counselor, a person with these issues would perhaps have to look into his own sexual past, as well as the relationship of his parents, to examine what might influence the way he relates to females, Neuman said.

The roots of these kinds of issues often begin in childhood, said Lauren Mackler, psychotherapist and author of "Solemate." A therapist might help the person explore early life experiences, environment, self-image and role models, which all contribute to the "inner template" of how a person sees himself or herself.

"It's like a telescope glued on their head. It's how they see themselves, how they see the world, and how they react and behave to world around them," she said.

It's hard work to realize that you have acted in wrongful ways. It may take a few months of intense analysis of your own behavior to control certain behaviors, and the overall process may be lifelong, Neuman said.

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Restoring trust

Another key piece of therapy is damage control: Repairing ties with his wife and the rest of his family, Neuman said. Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, have been married for less than one year, and are expecting their first child.

Some husbands say they're sorry, and they might mean it and never want to repeat the bad behavior, Neuman said. Unfortunately, there may be deeper issues that result in relapse.

"Whatever the problem internally, psychologically, that got them to do this is going to rear its ugly head again. Saying 'I'm sorry' is not going to stop that," Neuman said.

In a group therapy setting, a person in this position might join others who have suffered consequences of cheating, Neuman said. If he goes to one-on-one therapy, his wife may come in for some of the sessions to talk things out, experts say. But the intent to get help must be serious; the person shouldn't just say what he thinks people want to hear.

Rebuilding their relationship is possible, but it could take years, Mackler said. And it will take more than couples' counseling.

The person might have to commit to giving his wife all of his computer and online passwords to help rebuild trust, Neuman said.

"He will have to be an open book about everything he does technologically, so that she is not sitting there worried that he's doing something under the radar that's going to come back to shock her again," Neuman said.