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Juvenile Sex Offenders: Opportunity for Early Intervention
10 CEUs Juvenile Sex Offenders: Opportunity for Early Intervention

Section 16
Counseling Interventions for Adolescent Sex Offenders

Question 16 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Conduct Disorders CEU Courses
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

Individual counseling alone often is considered to be less effective with the adolescent offender population than group or family counseling. However, mental health counselors may find that individual counseling is an important supplement to group and family counseling (Breer, 1987).

Individual Interventions
In individual counseling with adolescent sex offenders, mental health counselors must address a range of problems to provide holistic treatment. First, the offender's denial must be reduced and acceptance of responsibility for the offense must be increased (Davis & Leitenberg, 1987; Kahn & Lafond, 1988). Ryan, Lane, Davis, and Isaac (1987) asserted that the offender's denial must be confronted and the offense admitted before treatment can proceed. These authors suggested that the level of confrontation must bring the offender to a level of personal discomfort sufficient to stimulate disclosure and facilitate change.

Second, the offender's understanding of the impact of the assault on the victim must be increased (Davis & Leitenberg, 1987). According to Burgess, Hartman, McCormack, and Grant (1988), the offender needs to reexperience the pain associated with personal victimization in order to develop empathy for other victims. Specific victim empathy sessions can be used to sensitize the offender to the impact of offending behaviors and reduce the objectification of people. These sessions can include reading victim impact statements, confrontations with the victim, and viewing movies about victims (Ryan et al., 1987). The development of empathy decreases the likelihood of further sexual offenses (Friedrich, 1990).

Third, the offender needs to develop insight into specific motives and events that precipitated the offense (Davis & Leitenberg, 1987). The goal is for the offender to become aware of the triggers which begin the cycle toward offending and immediately engage in new thinking and behaviors in order to interrupt this cycle and prevent further sexual offenses (Ryan et al., 1987).

Fourth, counseling should focus on the offender's own victimization experiences (Davis & Leitenberg, 1987) and how this impacts the offender's current lifestyle (Kahn & Lafond, 1988). This includes dealing with any damage that may have occurred to the offenders sexuality or perceptions of sex (Krivacska, 1990). The offender's childhood victimization should be detailed in order to establish baselines for thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Burgess et al., 1988). Issues of shame, unworthiness, and powerlessness also must be addressed in this context (Barker, 1990).

Fifth, education about human sexuality, sexual values, and sex roles should be provided (Becker, Kaplan, & Kavoussi, 1988; Davis & Leitenberg, 1987; Ryan et al., 1987). Treatment for offenders should emphasize taking responsibility for sexually assaultive behavior and learning socially appropriate behaviors to replace sexually deviant behaviors.

Sixth, deviant arousal patterns must be changed (Kahn & Lafond, 1988). Various techniques such as masturbatory-reconditioning procedures and averse-conditioning procedures can be used for eliminating deviant arousal patterns and fantasies (Davis & Leitenberg, 1987). Fantasies should be elicited and interpreted with the purpose of neutralizing their motivational potential for sexually acting out (Burgess et al., 1988).

Finally, cognitive restructuring should be a component in the individual counseling treatment plan (Becker et al., 1988). Cognitive restructuring should focus on destructive beliefs and myths regarding sexual abuse of children and rape (Davis & Leitenberg, 1987). Cognitive restructuring is used to confront distortions which enable and support deviant fantasies and behaviors (Ryan et al., 1987).

Family Intervention
A working knowledge of common family dynamics among adolescent sex offenders is useful. One of the major challenges of effective service delivery with this population is to break through the denial of both the perpetrator and family members. Straus (1994) delineated eight family issues that should be assessed and addressed during the treatment process.

Age appropriate involvement. Families of adolescent sex offenders often lack age-appropriate involvement with their children. Physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual boundaries may be blurred or nonexistent. Treatment efforts may need to help families develop more appropriate boundaries for their parent-child interactions.

Isolation. Families of adolescent sex offenders may perceive the outside world as so hostile that they close the family unit off from others. This may lead to family secrecy, lack of community support systems, and a loss of reality checks. These families often have multiple family secrets and the adolescent's sex offenses may be only the most recent cause of shame and embarrassment. Family secrets often are pervasive and span many generations. One challenge in working with these families is that family members see the danger of the family secret is in the telling rather than the keeping, a mindset that must be confronted and challenged.

Family stress. Families of adolescent offenders often suffer from extreme external and internal stress and typically have many different types of problems (e.g., financial and legal difficulties, extended family conflict) that must be addressed. These stressors deplete the family's resources and coping mechanisms.

Intergenerational abuse. A fourth issue is the presence of intergenerational sexual and/or physical abuse. It is not uncommon for the offender to have been abused by older family members and for the parents to have been victimized as well. This issue may contribute to the denial frequently exhibited by families.

Communication. Families of adolescent sex offenders suffer frequently from impaired communication styles. Family communication tends to be indirect and obscure. Family members (including the offender) often have trouble experiencing and expressing emotions and communicating directly.

Family structure. Adolescent sex offenders often receive conflicting messages from parents. One pattern involves one distant, unavailable parent and one intrusive, overcontrolling parent (Straus, 1994). Put another way, one parent is disengaged from the offender while the other parent is in an enmeshed relationship with the offender. One goal of family counseling is to move both parents to a more moderate level of interaction with the offender.

Emotional needs. A seventh issue is the emotional deprivation of the offender. Emotional needs for nurturance and closeness typically are not met in these families. The goal becomes either to help the family develop these skills or, where this does not seem feasible, to find alternatives (e.g., community support programs). However, it is important to consider the risk of the adolescent offending again prior to encouraging participation in a community program.

Power. Finally, the issue of power is often a central theme, albeit usually unconscious, in the families of adolescent sex offenders. Parents in these families often feel powerless. When this is so, the parents tend to abdicate their responsibilities, or engage in power struggles with the adolescent.
- Cashwell, Craig S. and Michele E. Caruso, Adolescent Sex Offenders: Identification and Intervention Strategies, Journal of Mental Health Counseling; Oct97, Vol. 19 Issue 4

Personal Reflection Exercise #2
The preceding section contained information about counseling interventions for adolescent sex offenders. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Straus identifies what eight family issues that should be assessed and addressed during family therapy with a juvenile sex offender? Record the letter of the correct answer the Answer Booklet.

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