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Medium Version
Section 3: Lecture Content and Teaching Notes
Components of Supervision: Specialized Approaches to Managing Sex Offenders

3 hours

(15 minutes)


Use Slide # SymbolUse Slides #41-42: Traditional vs. Sex Offender Treatment
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One of the most helpful things for probation/parole officers to be aware of is that the cognitive-behavioral therapy proving to be successful with sex offenders is distinctively different from traditional counseling or psychotherapy.

  • Although traditional therapy focuses upon the offender as the "client" or "patient" primarily, sex offender treatment has a goal of preventing future victimization and striving to ameliorate the harm done by the offender to the victim of the crime. Some therapists say that the community and potential future victims are their real clients. Indeed, as states begin to develop standards for treatment, at least one has adopted the "victim/community as client" perspective officially in its standards.42

  • Traditional psychotherapy seeks to reduce feelings of anxiety and inadequacy, while sex offender therapy seeks to confront the offender with his thinking errors and to bring him to accept accountability for his actions. Where traditional treatment may take place in the context of individual psychotherapy/counseling or in a group setting, most sex offender therapists find that the group therapy setting is essential to treatment. The group setting including offenders with similar backgrounds helps to undermine the secrecy and denial typical in a sex offender's view of himself.

  • Traditional therapy is undertaken voluntarily by the client, while sex offender treatment is often ordered by the court and may not be considered entirely voluntary. Therapists traditionally operate in a context where the patient-client privilege shields both parties from disclosing the matters discussed during treatment. In the sex offender treatment process, a waiver of confidentiality is usually required, allowing the therapist to freely exchange information with criminal justice system agencies and other stakeholders such as the polygraph examiner. A sex offender therapist must also be willing to testify in court.

  • Therapists who engage in traditional psychotherapy are often accustomed to working as individuals, without insights or information from professionals in other fields. In the context of a larger, more comprehensive approach to sex offender management that includes treatment, the therapist may work as a member of a case management team, exchanging information and sharing in decisions with the probation/parole officer and the polygraph examiner, and others, including the victim's therapist.

  • Traditionally, therapists have seen their training as preparing them to handle a wide variety of emotional and psychological issues. In the sex offender treatment arena, for precisely the reasons listed above, specialized training and experience is essential.


Goals of Treatment

To begin to understand specialized sex offender treatment, it is perhaps most important to review its goals. First of all, the primary, overall goal is to reduce recidivism. According to Cumming and Buell, typical steps toward reaching that goal in sex offender treatment include—43

  • Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #43: Primary Goal of Treatment—Reduce Future Victimization
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    Accepting responsibility and modifying cognitive distortions. Offenders are masters of deceit—even of themselves. The treatment process will confront thinking errors and attempt to correct them so that offenders will accept responsibility for their actions.

  • Developing victim empathy. Part of the denial and deceit that sex offenders employ is that victims are complicit in the activity, do not mind, and—at least—are not really harmed. Being able to understand the fear and trauma experienced by victims is an important goal of therapy.

  • Controlling sexual arousal. Treatment will focus on sexual arousal as a part of the offense cycle, along with methods of controlling or rechanneling arousal toward acceptable partners and activities.

  • Improving social competence. Difficult social situations may generate the type of anxiety that is a precursor to re-offending. Treatment will help offenders identify those situations and develop skills to address them.

  • Developing relapse prevention skills. Treatment will help offenders understand the sequence of events that lead to their offense behavior. Offenders will then be helped to interrupt that cycle or chain of events in order to prevent future victimization.

  • Establishing supervision conditions and networks. Working with probation or parole officers, treatment providers will help to identify high-risk situations, behaviors, and locations to help customize supervision conditions with the goal of managing risk. They may also help identify other individuals in the community who might become part of a supervision network.

  • Clarification. Many treatment providers have as a goal that their offender clients will complete a process of clarification regarding their sexual offending. The purpose of the clarification process is to have offenders express full responsibility for their offenses to victims in order to relieve victims of any responsibility for the sexual abuse and to clarify what occurred in language victims can understand. Victims may or may not play a role in this process, through their choice. Clarification involving victims is permitted only after offenders and victims have adequately completed the majority of their respective treatment programs. This is often done through a letter. However, such a letter is never presented to victims without the approval of therapists and probation/parole officers, the approval of the victims' treatment providers, and custodial parents or guardians.44 Ideally, clarification should always occur before any victim recontact or reunification.

New Topic IconSUMMARY

The primary goal of treatment is to reduce future victimization. The goals of treatment, including reducing cognitive distortions and accepting responsibility, developing victim empathy, controlling sexual arousal, improving social competence, developing relapse prevention skills, and establishing supervision conditions and networks are all means to the end of reducing future victimization.

Treatment providers must be willing to—

  • Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #44: Treatment Providers Must Be Willing to…
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    Work as part of a team;
  • Share all information;
  • Protect the community as their primary responsibility; and
  • Evaluate their work by these standards.