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Living with 290

Living with 290: The Inevitable Question

Part of the process in being a student in the field of psychology is trying to figure out the career path that you think will be the best fit for you. In psychology there are many different paths you can take with the degree such as private practice, forensic, schools, hospitals, teaching etc. While attending school, we are encouraged to try different populations and different settings whilst keep an open mind so we are better able to choose a path after graduation. I have always been interested in forensic settings, so naturally I tried the forensic settings offered by my school, one of which was a sex offender treatment center working primarily with those who have been convicted of a federal sexual offense. I loved it and continued to work in the setting even after my stay as a student ended. While my colleagues and I have been encouraged to keep an open mind, I found myself constantly defending my choice against the same question, and it wasn’t just my fellow students but family members and friends as well. The question was inevitably, “Why would you want to work with sex offenders.”

***I always felt a bit caught off guard when asked this question because my mind immediately goes to the response, “Why wouldn’t I?” To me, it seemed like such a cut and dry issue. However, since it is a question I continuously find myself answering, I decided to write this as a way to fully process my answer to this question. The thought behind my response, “Why wouldn’t I” was that I did not see this population as really any different than any other population. People seek therapy for a myriad of reasons but generally it comes down to that there is an issue or behavior that they want to examine and potentially change. It is no different in working with clients that have committed sexual offenses. They are still people. They are just people who made a mistake and are their to learn about it and prevent it from happening again. Now this is in no way intended to minimize or excuse the offense or the traumatic pain that victims’ experience. I do not come into the picture until after the arrest, conviction, and sentence have been completed. Therefore, my role becomes one of understanding and facilitating moving forward. There is a collaboration of reasons why they engaged in their offending behavior and group or individual therapy helps them to explore, understand, and develop plans to prevent it from happening again.*** added 1/23

One argument I have heard in response to this answer is that sex offenders are pedophiles that cannot be cured; they will reoffend, so why help them. There is a perception of those who have committed sexual offenses that, in my experience, is generally not correct. In fact, research has been conducted on this topic and has shown that the majority of those who commit sexual offenses are not pedophiles and have low recidivism rates for committing another sexual offense. Regardless of the research, if the fear of society were that those who have committed sexual offenses will commit one again, then why wouldn’t we want competent psychologists helping them to better understand their offense and develop plans to prevent a subsequent sexual offense. It would only seem logical to me that the best way to protect society and prevent another crime from happening would be to intervene and do something about it.

Another part of my response to the question, “why sex offenders” would be my potential to make a real difference. Many of the guys that I have worked with feel discriminated against, judged, despised, and shameful. There is a feeling that once a sexual offense is committed, they will pay for it for the rest of their life in the form of registering, probation, residency restrictions, mandated treatment, and constant judgment by others. If I have the ability to come into the lives of these people and provide a supportive, understanding, and therapeutic relationship, I again say, “Why wouldn’t I?” Working with those who have committed a sexual offense and being able to provide a different experience, one that is an open and non-judgmental space for them to explore topics that are very difficult to explore has been more rewarding than I could ever put into words.

I am not saying this work is easy, it can be very difficult and it is certainly not for everyone. In my experience, it takes a professional who is patient, empathetic, and has the ability to separate ones’ actions from the person themselves. Those I work with are mandated to come see me and, at times, they absolutely do not want to be there. Furthermore, confidentiality becomes an issue as probation is involved in the treatment process and polygraphs are used on a regular basis as a therapeutic tool. All of these add another layer of issues to work through in a therapeutic relationship.

All in all, would it be easier working with guys who aren’t forced to see me, maybe; could I make more money in private practice, probably; would I be questioned less working with any other population, possibly. But none of those could ever outweigh the feeling I get when a client tells me how I have made a difference in their life. Just because a job is not the easiest doesn’t mean it should be looked over; in fact, I would say that because this work is challenging there should be more skilled professionals desiring to enter the field and make a real difference. I would encourage anyone working towards a degree in psychology to seriously consider working with this population. If your initial reaction is an absolute no, then I would further encourage you to examine why you are so against it and educate yourself to be sure that your thinking is based not on bias or misperception.

My hope in writing this is that others, not only those in the field of psychology but anyone out there who crosses the path of someone who committed a sexual offense, will be able to keep an open mind and come from a place of understanding. Perhaps you will find, as I have, that your differences are not as great as you might think. Then when you are asked, how could you work with, date, be friends with someone who committed a sexual offense, your answer will be the same as mine, “Why wouldn’t I?”

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  1. Q

    “There is a feeling that once a sexual offense is committed, they will pay for it for the rest of their life in the form of registering, probation, residency restrictions, mandated treatment, and constant judgment by others”

    It’s not a feeling; it’s a reality. And there is much, much more.

  2. someone who cares

    Q is right. So much more comes into play when you or someone you know has been charged with what is deemed a sexual offense. Other countries don’t classify certain offenses as sexual offenses, or they don’t even consider them offenses at all. Too many people are and are still being added to a list that belongs in the middle ages. It portrays every registrant the same, as sexual predator. This is how the public is being misinformed, deceived and lied to. Lumping everyone into the same category makes it seem as if we are a nation of sex offenders, not realizing that the majority of so called offenders have long moved on, have families of their own and “crimes” that date back decades. The public has a right to know that these people are not a threat to anyone. They have families of their own and are your everyday normal person you meet on a daily basis. Thank you for taking the time to work with this class that is wrongfully treated in the worst imaginable form. Plus, it affects their family members, friends, spouses, and yes, children the same. This craziness has to come to an end, and I think, thanks to Janice and many others, fighting for this cause, we are slowly heading into the right and only direction. If I was a little bit younger, I would love to pursue a degree in psychology and specialize in working with sex offenders. I appreciate this article.

  3. Harry

    I think if a pol was taken of the sex offenders, including, pedophiles. If there was the opportunity to stop their behavior in their early or pre-offensive episodes would they utilized it? I say, most would, I for one. The money and recourses for prevention and early intervention, should be the main focus for protecting the public.

  4. Bruce Ferrell

    There was a time, not all that long ago… “They’re hopeless and can’t be helped. Let them die”. “They” were talking about alcoholics. AA changed that. Then the same was believed of addicts… NA is changing that. Now, you and other like you, are helping to change the misinformation surrounding sexual offenders.

    Thank you!

    • Harry

      Yes, and the best treatment provider for sex offender is a former sex offender.

  5. ab

    While I welcome an open minded approach from psychologists and others working with individuals convicted of sex offenses I do believe your inevitable question is incorrect. Rather than ask why wouldn’t you work with individuals convicted of sex offenses ask why anyone would not want to prevent* people from committing sex offenses in the first place?

    *By prevent I do not mean stop, but rather divert away from prior to the offense being conceptualized in a person’s mind. Counseling or treating someone after they broke the law by committing an offense classified as a sex offense ignores the front end issue. In other words the fact that someone got to a point where they committed (knowingly or unknowingly) a sex offense. The sorts of conversations and research needed to put forth programs that send people away from the potential of committing sex offenses or any other offenses are not happening.

  6. mike t

    Can we agree that public bias towards sex offenders will never change as long as the term “Sex Offender” exists to label a person whose offense took place 10, 20, 30,… years ago? How can it? Until an official decree is made that this is politically incorrect, the image wont change. Also, try to imagine how a persons psyche is affected by this indelible label. Irregardless, every step and amendment I’ve made to protect myself from being viewed as a monster, I can’t wash this tag off.

    Protection
    ———— = big Money! (Look at our defense budget)
    Fear

    It’s the bottom line that counts in our capitalistic society today. An entire industry exists behind the “Sex Offender” label. Prisons, lawyers, psychs, victims advocacy groups, and aspiring politicians all with one goal in common. To protect the public from the least likely, but most evil threat, and make a darned good living at it. Polls have shown that the public is more afraid of Sex Offenders than terrorists. Anyone see an opportunity here?

    To the writer of this article:
    I urge you to continue helping “Sex Offenders” provided you have evidence that they’re currently offending. Otherwise continue studying this field and at some point help the rest of us registered citizens by representing us in articles as such. and be the one to help coin a new politically correct term that represents those of us who are trying to move on. Thank you.

  7. wonderin

    First of all you need to realize that you are in a circle of quacks who want to believe that your profession has more relevance than it actually has.
    Thanks to these quacks we have “the registry” because they used their pseudo science to claim they understood the causes of “abnormal sexual behavior” and that these people couldn’t control their deviant impulses.
    They go on to relish in their glory as doctors of the mind who cure, but can’t cure, these deviates of the social order and recognize the importance of “the registry” to keep them from being a danger to themselves and the community.
    I submit, you are not part of the solution but another developing misguided student using a Bible that worships foolish beliefs over modern scientific procedures to bring about effective change in the world of healing.
    I would challenge anyone in your profession to explain how people broadly labeled by your associates as out of control compulsive sexual offenders are able to not re offend in such huge numbers. If you want to do something meaningful, fight for truth in labeling. Thank You

  8. David

    As a result of my own experiences, I’m pretty cynical about psychologists who provide sex offender counseling – especially in group settings. Group sessions are just a way for them to boost their hourly earnings. They may only be able to charge $200/hr for individual sessions, but 20 people at $50 each for a two hour group session is $500/hour. Furthermore, group sessions are much easier work for therapists who usually spend the time moderating the group rather than providing actual therapy.

  9. Timmr

    I actually liked going to therapy for the most part. I liked having to deal with issues I never had a way to deal with before. It is a shame someone has to commit a crime before he recognizes and realizes the need to deal with those issues. This is a back ass system.
    What I didn’t like was that I had no say in choosing a doctor. The one I began seeing on my own was not on the official list and was told later I had to see someone that was. Sure, he wasn’t a “sex offender containment model therapist”, but he sure showed me how to get control of my chaotic downward spiraling thoughts. He helped me climb off that knife’s edge of emotion to a safer place. Prior to that I was near suicide.
    I was happy for the first time in I know not when, despite my sentence date looming near. Strength, not fear. The official therapists are the arm of law enforcement and fear is their instrument. The polygraph, the threat of violation. I think they confuse changing behavior with healing.

  10. D.D.

    As the author I just wanted to note that there is an entire section of this piece that was edited out in between the first and second paragraph. I am not sure why it was edited out. As a response to some comments I agree that the term sex offender is not an appropriate term and that is why I only used it in the article in quotes or the name of the center. When talking about those I work with I have been asked by them to use the phrase “those who have committed a sexual offense” which I still think could have a better term. I agree that preventative treatment would be preferable. However with the current reporting laws it seems as if preventative treatment is becoming less and less possible. Plus there is a large percentage of mental health treatment providers who don’t have the training or the desire to work with this population so unfortunately people who want help are turned away. To those with negative opinions of psychology and psychologists, I would also encourage you to keep and open mind and not be immediatly dismissive of those in the mental health field you may come across. I think we can all agree that broadly labeling is not effective no matter who it is towards.

    • Moderator

      Indeed, one paragraph was omitted for some reason during the creation of this post. It is added now and marked. Not sure how this happened – apologies.

      Perhaps the commenters so far would like to re-read the entire story in case it makes a difference.

      As a general note – we do NOT edit these submissions. Unless they are deemed inappropriate by not adhering to the minimal guidelines stated they are added as submitted. This one was an oversight. Again – sorry. ***Moderator***

      • DPH

        Thank you Moderator, you have ALOT of work and we ALL appreciate your input and ALL YOU HARD WORK to this site, and especially NOW when it has gone to a new name let alone so many others added and went National besides Calif.

        Thank You

        I don’t know what our group would do if you left or went ill, really.

    • wonderin

      “To those with negative opinions of psychology and psychologists, I would also encourage you to keep and open mind and not be immediatly dismissive of those in the mental health field you may come across.”

      How can we do that when your profession claims treatment is effective and yet supports a “registry”?
      Or perhaps I’ve missed all the headlines of the numerous psychological articles denouncing the “registry”and how it has needlessly isolated and shamed entire families and their innocent children
      Read the stories of people who have recognized the error of their ways and have to watch their loved ones suffer due to the erroneous conclusions of the psychological field which spawned this “one size fits all registry”
      Perhaps I’ve missed the articles from your community arguing against ever increasing restrictions on healthy social interaction of people demonstrating their repentance and social responsibility.
      Where are your voices ringing loud and clear, proclaiming the evil of the “the registry,” which serves as a lifetime probation and shaming venue for entire families?
      Will your community make any effort to thwart an upcoming law designed to restrict registrants from traveling abroad to visit families and friends or a simple vacation without due process to prove they are dangerous?
      What of the responsible parents who are afraid or can’t support their children at school events or take them to swimming lesson because there are other children present.
      Who will speak for these children who suffer the consequences of mistaken beliefs perpetrated by an unprofessional group of “experts”.
      In my opinion it’s time for “making things right” and realizing that “all children matter”.

  11. anonymously

    DD wrote “One argument I have heard in response to this answer is that sex offenders are pedophiles that cannot be cured; they will reoffend, so why help them. There is a perception of those who have committed sexual offenses that, in my experience, is generally not correct. In fact, research has been conducted on this topic and has shown that the majority of those who commit sexual offenses are not pedophiles and have low recidivism rates for committing another sexual offense.”

    Saying the majority doesn’t go far enough. Try over 99% that do not reoffend because they are not predisposed pedophiles to begin with, but those who situationally offended due to reasons that can be worked out on therapy. The numbers on this, the 99% non-reoffense rate, are held back and not reported in the “sleazy media”, different from the honest media who do report on truths. Media such as Al Jezeera America seem more honest, but unfortunately are being silenced and is going out of business for whatever reason. I’m not sure of the reason for this because the owner, the government of Qatar doesn’t seem to be hurting for money, but maybe I’m wrong. Those in the sleazy media sell fear for the benefit of their careers by boosting the value of their corporations from higher ratings gotten from greater audiences who are glued to their station waiting for their daily stories with lurid details on sex offenses. The more outrageous the story, the higher the ratings for them. The 99% non-reoffense rate is the unreported truth and omitting it is a lie by omission. This shows the media have too much power when they use that power to lie or create false perception. An example is the sleazy reporting of the statistic that sex offenders on parole are 4 times more likely to commit a sex offense than a non-sex offender on parole. This is almost a lie by omission since it downplays the low likelihood of a sex offender reoffending, which is less than 1%, but focuses on the ‘4 times more likely’, when the occurrence of either is small. A good comparison would be that if I buy 4 Super Jackpot tickets and you buy only 1. I am 4 times more likly to win the billion dollars than you. Never mind the fact that for the most part, both of us are not going to win it.

  12. DPH

    Thank you Psychology Major for your input and detailed article. Articulate and interesting.
    Thank you for your support.

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