A Project of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice

Short Version
Section 5: An Overview of Sex Offender Treatment for a Non–Clinical Audience
What to Look for in a Treatment Provider
10 Minutes

(5 Minutes)

Use SlideUse Slide #2: Lack of Standardization

Refer to HandoutsRefer to Handouts: Copies of the Colorado, Illinois, Texas, Virginia, and Washington standards and requirements are included among the participant materials.

Use SlideUse Slide #3: What to Look For in the Absence of Defined Standards

We now have established that many sex offenders can benefit from appropriate treatment. But how do supervision professionals and others identify sex offender treatment providers in order to be able to work effectively with them?

Identifying qualified treatment providers can be a challenging task, in part because there is no standard certification or other universally–accepted credential that ensures necessary qualifications in sex offender treatment providers (see, e.g., O’Connell, Leberg, and Donaldson, 1990; Sinclair, 1998). Some states, including Colorado, Illinois, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, certify or otherwise regulate sex offender treatment providers. In these states, to become certified or licensed as sex offender treatment providers, mental health clinicians must obtain specific academic training, clinical experience, continuing education, and commit to specified ethical standards.

What to Look for in the Absence of Standards

How do you know what to look for in a treatment provider if you are from a state that has no such regulations? Most community–based sex offender treatment providers have graduate degrees in such fields as social work, counseling, and psychology.1 Some have doctoral degrees, and a few are M.D.’s (psychiatrists). There are not, however, any mainstream degree–granting programs that train students to treat sex offenders. As we’ve discussed in an earlier section, working with sex offenders typically involves working with individuals who do not want to be treated, at least initially. And many of them are very manipulative. Furthermore, there are specific skills and knowledge that are utilized with these individuals that typically are not used with other types of clients. Graduate school education rarely includes training that is necessary to work with sex offenders. Thus, a degree in psychology or social work is insufficient preparation to work effectively with sex offenders; additional training and supervised experience are required. Experience in working with involuntary clients is particularly important.

If the treatment provider is ineffective, the consequences are potentially quite serious—there may be additional victimization where effective treatment might have reduced the likelihood of that outcome. Thus, training, experience, and ethical practice are of utmost importance in the field of sex offender treatment.

Use SlideSlide #4 and Slide #5: ATSA Suggests Specialized Training

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Helpful Guidance from the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers

The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) has developed Practice Standards and Guidelines for treatment providers.2 These Standards indicate that providers should “have education, training and experience in the evaluation, treatment and management of sexual abusers.” They suggest that clinicians should have a relevant graduate degree, and for those who do not, they must have specific training and experience in working with sex offenders and work under the direct supervision of a qualified mental health professional. Further, they stipulate that before providing unsupervised clinical services to sex offenders, treatment providers must have at least 2,000 hours of experience working under the supervision of another skilled provider.

Use SlideUse Slide #6: Other ATSA Requirements for Treatment Providers

More specifically, ATSA suggests that treatment providers complete courses and training, and gain experience in assessment, psychometric and psychophysiological testing, psychopathology, risk assessment, counseling and psychotherapy, cognitive therapy, couples and family therapy, family reunification, pharmacological therapy, relationship and social skills training, relapse prevention, sexual arousal control, social support networks, and victim awareness and empathy.

Sex offender treatment providers are expected to participate in continuing education as well. ATSA requires of its members a minimum of 15 hours of such continuing education annually. In addition, sex offender treatment providers are required to be informed about mandatory reporting requirements as they pertain to information obtained during their work.

Use SlideSlide #7 and Slide #8: Ethical Treatment Practice

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Slide #8
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Note: Alert participants to the ATSA Web site where the Practice Standards and Guidelines and the Code of Ethics are available for purchase (currently $40 for both documents). The Web site address is www.atsa.com.

Use SlideUse Slide #9: Sex Offender Treatment Providers as Collaborative Partners

In order to engage in ethical practice, sex offender treatment providers should adhere to conduct–related requirements, including obtaining informed consent of the individuals being evaluated and treated, maintaining appropriate confidentiality and informing the offenders in their care of the limits of confidentiality, providing for security of others and themselves, taking steps to provide continuity of care for offenders with whom they work, and maintaining appropriate boundaries. In the evaluation of sex offenders, treatment providers must base their assessments on information that is obtained from independent sources.

Sex Offender Treatment Providers as Collaborative Partners

As you have learned throughout this training, in order to be effective, sex offender treatment providers must collaborate with other professionals.3 These other professionals include supervision officers, other treatment providers (such as those treating the offender’s victim(s) and other family members), polygraph examiners, plethysmograph and Abel Assessment evaluators, victim advocates, attorneys, prosecutors and other criminal justice representatives, and others. A willingness on the part of the treatment provider to fully engage in these collaborative relationships and freely exchange information relevant to the effective treatment and management of the offender is, therefore, another important quality to look for in treatment providers.