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Any Group Therapy is supposed to be a “safe” environment. A setting conducive to treatment, a place where one feels safe and secure enough to open up about their issues not only to the therapist who oversees the group but also to the other group participants.
Ideally, groups should be comprised of persons with similar offenses and of persons roughly within the same age group. People who can identify in someway with others within the group are more likely to engage within the group, more likely to respond to treatment and receive the benefits of treatment.
That’s what treatment is supposed to be and that’s how Sex Offender Group Treatment should, ideally, function. The ATSA (Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers) has an excellent website describing guidelines and the code of ethics for treatment.
Court mandated Sex Offender Group in one particular town is held in a setting that is just plain bleak. You enter through the “back door” of an old, nondescript building which isn’t in the best part of town. The group room is creepy, it smells musty and the fluorescent lights just add to the institutional-like setting. A prominent feature in the room is an old tube TV (I didn’t know they still existed) for showing Lifetime Movies dealing with “sexual abuse allegation situations” that registrants are required to watch and then discuss.
“What did you think, how did that make you feel, how do you think the other characters felt?” That sort of thing.
A second room with a glass partition contains the ominous polygraph machine, what the justice system can now refer to only as an “educational tool”, if you can believe that. My understanding is that their results are not admissable in court. Polygraphs continue to remain a costly part of sex offender treatment, as does the invasive and degrading plesthysmography.
And this is supposed to be a setting conducive to treatment.
Your group is comprised of not only other registrants but also of several parole officers who sit and take notes throughout the session. While P.O.’s may be part of the “treatment team” for a registrant and certainly have the right to have pertinent group information “shared” with them, (suicidal, homicidal thoughts by the participant, etc.) it seems rather unethical for them to be “sitting in” on a group therapy session. They aren’t therapists, licensed counselors, psychologists or psychiatrists, they are part of the law enforcement team. I can’t but help question the ethics, reasoning or legitimacy behind this and after having done some research I still haven’t found anything that says this is the norm in most treatment settings.
You may be a non-contact, non-violent, first-time offender, but the group you have been placed in by the “powers that be” consists of others that are much older than you and their offenses are multiple, contact and violent. The group leader who has never offered his credentials, has the participants repeat their stories week after week. Some of the stories are the worst things you’ve ever heard, they literally make you sick. You’ve never thought about doing anything like what some of these people have done and yet, here you are, week after week, forced to listen to atrocities that will certainly traumatize you. What kind of therapy is this? Is it aversion therapy? Are you there to listen to such horrible stomach churning tales that you never think of going out and committing one of these crimes? Hello! You never thought about it before! Is this Gestalt therapy? That was never held to be reliable when it was practiced back in the 60’s and 70’s!. Cognitive therapy? Cognitive therapy is good, but it doesn’t include traumatizing participants by torturing them with others horrific tales.
This is supposed to be sex offender treatment?. This is supposed to help you?
Your offense was not severe enough that anyone thought you required treatment during all the years you were incarcerated, but now that you are out on supervision, “semi-free”, all of a sudden you have mandatory sex offender treatment. And that treatment consists of forcing you to sit in a group of older strangers and listen to the most horrific child and adult abuse stories you’ve ever heard.?
And, you pay for this privilege!
The group leader seems to make accusatory and derogatory remarks, “you know that you’ve all done terrible, horrible things, you know what you’ve done!”. His questioning of group participants verges on the edge of badgering. “Tell us what you did, you know what you did, say it…” Everyone of these older men in this group looks like they’ve been brow-beaten into submission. Some you learn, have been in the group for 5-10 years. They pay on a sliding scale basis, you notice that most pay $20. Do the math, $20 a week times 52 weeks a year times 10 years. And after 10 years, they are still in treatment! Still paying, emotionally and financially. Sure, some may be mandated to lifetime treatment, but can you imagine having to listen week after week to an endless stream of newcomers horrific tales? How is that supposed to help you to ever get better? And after 5 or 10 years, is the treatment you pay for even effective?
I’m hoping that all sex offender groups are not held in depressing buildings, in drab rooms with lie detector equipment or worse in plain view for what I can only imagine are purposes of intimidation. How can you possibly feel free to discuss anything in a setting like that?
Registrants have rights, especially when it comes to participating and receiving treatment such as sex offender therapy, that they pay for.
Think of this like the Patient’s Bill of Rights that your medical doctor or a hospital gives you. You Have The Right To Know.
You may be mandated to participate in treatment, but you have the right to know who is providing the treatment. Ask for the group facilitator’s credentials. A good clinician will not be put off by this request.They should, if they are worth their salt, see your inquiry as you’re taking a positive, educated interest in your treatment. If you were seeing a medical doctor, you’d want to know that they have a medical license and haven’t been reprimanded by a licensing board for major malpractice episodes. Right?
Ask what recognized treatment modality your group treatment is based on? Then, do your homework, read up on it, learn about the basis of the treatment, how it is “supposed to work” for you. You have the right to know how participating in this treatment is supposed to help you. Ask what is the expected outcome of treatment. What do you need to do to help you succeed in treatment.
You can certainly ask what the expected length of time for treatment is, but that varies and there may be a lot of factors involved. You have the right to know what factors go into deciding how long you remain in treatment. After all, you are the one paying for it.
Don’t allow yourself to be brow-beaten into submission. That is NOT what therapy is.
A counselor or therapist may ask you to participate in speaking about your offense, but they should never demean or belittle you in anyway. Your offense may have been horrible, but you as a person should be treated with respect as a group participant. If you ever feel disrespected in group, say something. Ask for respect. And know that there are avenues like state licensing boards to file legitimate grievances if you are ever demeaned by a therapist.
I’m not advocating that everyone go out there and start complaining about every little thing they don’t like in treatment. Treatment is difficult, you have to look at yourself, your past behaviors and sometimes verbalizing these things can sound pretty ugly. But in most cases, if you participate to the best of your ability in group therapy sessions, you come out having learned something more about yourself. You learn how to change negative thinking and behaviors into positive ones, you become a better person. Treatment should be a positive experience.
I’m advocating for educating ourselves, learning about the kind of treatment you or your loved one are receiving and who is providing it. You may be on the registry but that doesn’t mean you give up all your rights. Get involved in your therapy, learn what you can, be an active consumer.
Voluntary or not, you are the participant in your sex offender group therapy and in most cases, you or your family are paying for it !.