Section 3: Assessment
2 Hours

Lecture Topic TOPIC: ASSESSMENT

Models for Engaging Clients

At this point, I’d like to turn your attention to a couple of specific frameworks for interacting with clients—“Invitations to Responsibility” and “Motivational Interviewing”—both of whichare designed to enhance engagement during the assessment and intervention process, and both of which have been applied to the sex offender assessment and management process.16 Let me take a moment to briefly highlight these approaches in order to give you a sense for how they can be useful in considering your style and approach to the assessment process with juvenile sex offenders.

Use SlideUse Slide #15: Invitations to Responsibility

The first, Invitations to Responsibility, is designed as a way to engage typically involuntary clients who are involved in the criminal and juvenile justice system due to sex offending and other abusive behaviors.17 It was developed as an alternative to the more adversarial approaches that attempted to coerce offenders into taking responsibility for their actions, and in which strong confrontation began at the point of assessment as a means of externally motivating the offender to accept the need to change.

The Invitational model uses a respectful line of questioning and reflecting in an effort to engage the offender in the process. It is about developing a partnership, rather than a power–based relationship. Recognizing the importance of personal choice, a key goal of this approach is to assist the offender with identifying internal motivators for accepting responsibility and their own reasons for change. Essentially, the model emphasizes what many of you already know—that offenders are unlikely to engage in the change process or make lasting change unless they recognize their need for help and have a genuine desire to do things differently.

Very similarly, Motivational Interviewing is a specific approach that is designed to help professionals tailor their style and approach in a way that will reduce a clients’ resistance and will promote their engagement in the assessment and intervention process.18 And it has become increasingly popular for working with both adult and juvenile sex offenders.19 It is closely linked with the Transtheoretical Model of Change developed by Prochaska and DiClemente, which suggests that when individuals have engaged in problem behavior they progress through common stages of motivation to change, and therefore we must tailor our strategies of interaction accordingly.20

For example, in the first stage, individuals have not yet acknowledged a problem or a need to change. Later, clients may acknowledge that there is a problem, but may not have made a decision to change yet. After a decision to change has been made, individuals begin to take action, engage in the change process, identify strategies for change, learn to manage “slip ups,” and ultimately focus on maintaining the changes that they have made.

The way in which we frame questions or interact with a client should vary depending upon the client’s stage.

Use SlideUse Slide #16: Motivational Interviewing: Guiding Principles

Motivational Interviewing is driven by four guiding principles,21 which are especially relevant at the earlier stages, when we are most likely to encounter clients for assessment purposes.

First, as we mentioned a few minutes ago, juveniles and their families may be experiencing a number of issues that impact how they appear at the time of an assessment, which has implications for us in terms of perspective–taking and being empathic. Indeed, one of the guiding principles of Motivational Interviewing is to express empathy, by using active listening, offering statements that reflect the client’s expressions, and remaining non–judgmental and non–adversarial.

And knowing that clients are better positioned to be open to the assessment and intervention process when they recognize—on their own—the importance of changing, a second principle of Motivational Interviewing is to develop discrepancy in the client. In other words, by using specific types of questions, professionals can help the client with a critical self–assessment, so to speak, where they are able to see the discrepancy between what they want to be like or what they believe in and the actual things that they have done; this often leads clients to recognize their desire for and need to invest in the change process.

A third guiding principle is to roll with resistance. This essentially means that when working with offenders, we need to recognize that resistance is a normal process. Rather than actively confronting and battling this resistance, we need to accept it, attempt to understand it, and “go with it.” Again, using active listening and reflection, combined with specific types of questions, the professional may be able to facilitate or enhance the client’s amenability to the assessment and change process.

Finally, Motivational Interviewing emphasizes the importance of promoting self–efficacy. As you all know, acknowledging problems and changing them is difficult. It is important, therefore, that we help clients see that change is possible and, to the extent possible, take active steps to help them to feel more confident in their ability to make change.

It is beyond the scope of this training to provide a detailed review of the Invitational or Motivational Interviewing approaches, and it certainly isn’t designed to make you an expert on these or any other assessment issues, but I would encourage you to explore them further if you are interested. Suffice it to say that these approaches can be very useful in your work with these youth. In addition, you might consider some additional tips or techniques that may prove beneficial for conducting interviews as part of the assessment process.22

Use SlideUse Slide #17: Additional Interviewing Tips

First, keep in mind that we are working with youth, so we need to be developmentally sensitive in our interviewing approaches. Obviously, it is important that the youth understands what we are asking, so we should avoid using too much technical, legal, or clinical “jargon.” Rather, when asking questions, use words and terms that can be easily understood. And further explain what you are asking if you have any questions about the youth’s level of comprehension.

Another useful technique is to ask open–ended questions, rather than asking questions in a way that only allows for a simple “yes” or “no.” During an assessment, particularly when talking about sensitive, shame–inducing, or embarrassing behaviors, the youth may be more prone to respond with a “no” if given the opportunity. For example, rather than asking “Have you ever…,” think about posing the question as “How many times have you…” This can have the effect of normalizing the behavior about which you are inquiring, and can help the youth feel less threatened.

Similarly helpful can be the use of what is referred to as “successive approximation.” With this strategy to questioning, the interviewer sequences questions around a specific issue beginning with something less threatening or more benign to allow for the youth to acknowledge some part of the issue. Gradually and incrementally, questions are more detailed and move closer to the more complete or troubling aspects of the behaviors in question.

Take for example, a case in which the police report and victim statements indicate that a youth penetrated his younger brother, with whom he shared a bedroom. Rather than beginning by asking a question directly about that, the interviewer might start by asking a question about how often he and his brother “ended up” sleeping in the same bed, regardless of the reason. The next question may be something like this: “Sometimes, when people sleep in the same bed, they end up making contact with each other in non–sexual ways, even if they don’t intend to be touching. How often would you wake up and find that your bodies were close together?” This may be followed by questions about other “incidental,” non–sexual contact, followed by questions about disrobing, and so on.

When this approach is used well—and when a trusting professional relationship and therapeutic climate has been established—the youth may be more likely to respond to the more “neutral” questions, and may be less resistant to answering the increasingly more probing questions. Each affirmative answer to a question gets the interviewer closer to asking about the behavior in question.

This next tip is one that can be difficult for many professionals during an interview: resisting the urge to challenge or confront every contradiction or minimization. Remember that a primary goal of the assessment is to obtain information. You will have at your disposal a range of records and other data points that can inform your assessment. During the assessment process, it is common for youth to offer information that does not match up with official records and to deny or minimize what has been reported. When a youth demonstrates a consistent pattern of denial, minimization, or contradiction during the assessment, do you think that provides important data points for the interviewer?

(ALLOW FOR A BRIEF AFFIRMATIVE RESPONSE FROM THE AUDIENCE.)

That’s right, it is very important information. And it is common for assessors to immediately confront and challenge these kinds of inconsistencies as they arise during the interview. However, despite the best of intentions, this may cause the youth to “shut down” early during the interview, which in turn can result in less information being obtained throughout the remainder of the assessment process.

If there are critical issues that must be questioned or challenged—or when the assessor will benefit from exploring the manner in which a youth responds to being confronted with inconsistencies—it may be more helpful to wait until the interview draws to a close. And then, rather than using a critical or harsh style, consider saying something like the following: “It’s been very helpful to speak with you today, and I appreciate all that you have shared with me. Before we finish, there are just a few points that I am a little bit confused about—and I am hoping you can help me with them.”

Finally, the importance of positive reinforcement cannot be overemphasized during the assessment process. We know from the field of psychology that positive reinforcers increase the likelihood that a specific behavior will be repeated. Therefore, we can apply this to the interviewing and assessment process to better our chances of obtaining more complete information. So, when a youth is candid and honest, is engaged and cooperative, and discloses information, it is important that praise and “positive strokes” are consistently provided. Remember, since a major goal of the assessment process is to obtain good information, we should reinforce disclosures during the interview.

To summarize this section with a single phrase, and before we move into discussions about the pre–sentence/pre–disposition report and the psychosexual evaluation, remember the old adage, “You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.”

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