Specialized Knowledge and Experience for Treatment Providers

At this point, it should be fairly evident that providing treatment for adult and juvenile sex offenders is in many ways a distinctive undertaking. Although some aspects of sex offender treatment are similar to other types of treatment, other components are quite different. Even experienced sex offender treatment providers can find themselves challenged, perhaps most notably because of the ever–evolving nature of the field. As noted previously, the models that drive treatment for adult and juvenile sex offenders have changed considerably over time, based on new research and theories about the individuals who commit these offenses. Contemporary theories suggest that sex offending behaviors among adults and juveniles are the result of a complex interaction of sociocultural, biological, and psychological processes (see Ward, Polaschek, & Beech, 2006 for a review of theories). And as new research and theories emerge, the field will continue to transform. To illustrate, treatment for adult and juvenile sex offenders has been influenced in recent years by several key advances in the field, including the following (see, e.g., Hanson & Morton–Bourgon, 2005; Hanson & Harris, 2000, 2001; Hunter et al., 2003, 2004a; Ward et al., 2006; Worling & Langstrom, 2006):

Taken together, these complexities underscore the need for specialized knowledge and experience for those who intend to provide treatment for adult and juvenile sex offenders (see, e.g., ATSA, 2005; Carter et al., 2004; English et al., 1996). Obtaining that specialized knowledge and experience, however, is not an easy endeavor. Ideally, practitioners who intend to work with adult sex offenders should have specialized training and experience with forensic assessment, forensic mental health or correctional psychology, involuntary clients, sex offender management, group dynamics, and cognitive–behavioral therapy. For those who plan to work with juvenile sex offenders, specialized knowledge and experience should include juvenile justice, adolescent development, adolescent mental health, family dynamics and family–based interventions, and sex offender management, including a thorough understanding of the differences between adult and juvenile sex offenders.

With few exceptions, graduate training programs do not typically offer focused coursework pertaining to sex offender treatment. This leaves most interested students without a specialized focus in this area. In some instances, graduate students may have the benefit of a forensic specialization track through their programs, which may allow them to gain valuable experience within criminal or correctional psychology, juvenile justice, and other psycho–legal settings. These types of experiences provide an important foundation for understanding the interface between the mental health or psychology field and the court process, criminal and juvenile justice systems, and forensic mental health environments.

Forensic rotations in field placements, practicum settings, and pre– and post–doctoral internships provide a much greater likelihood of exposure to the field, but even then, opportunities to work in an intensive environment with the benefit of specialized clinical supervision and guidance may be limited. It is often upon their actual entrance into the workforce following graduate school that interested clinicians will have the greatest opportunities to become fully immersed in the provision of sex offender treatment. Ironically, most novice clinicians will have had relatively limited experience with sex offender treatment at that point in time. Therefore, rigorous on–the–job training, clinical oversight, and ongoing supervision are essential so that these practitioners develop the necessary skills and competencies to provide quality treatment for adult and juvenile sex offenders. Moreover, they must always remain abreast of advancements in the research and practice literature, and continuing education is critical.

In an attempt to promote consistency, specialization, and quality service delivery, some states have created certification processes, statewide standards, and policy–driven guidelines within agencies that establish minimum qualifications for sex offender treatment providers. And some professional membership and affiliate organizations have also established practice standards and guidelines for their members (see, e.g., AACAP, 1999; ATSA, 2005; NAPN, 1993). Even with standards and guidelines, rarely are there monitoring or oversight entities to provide assurances that qualifications “on paper” translate into quality service delivery. And in states where no standards or guidelines have been promulgated, the variability in expertise is likely to be considerable.

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