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).
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
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).
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).
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
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 .