Therapy groups are based on the treatment and personality reconstruction of the offender at any point in time in which the issue has begun. A therapy group can be very specific, such as only working with those who have personality disorders, and can vary from minor to major changes in life (Alexander, Jr., 2000). Because of this elasticity, therapy groups can be very lengthy and work best with offenders with more serious problems such as psychosis, mental retardation, sex offenses, or substance use (Alexander, Jr., 2000).
The formation of a therapy group for sex offenders can be complicated and requires several factors to be taken into account. Recruiting the members of the group can go two different ways. First, because it is in a correctional setting, the therapeutic team has the ability to make participate on a mandatory basis. Recruiting could be as simple as determining who was incarcerated for sex offense charges, categorize according to type and severity of offense, and create the groups. However, research has shown that sex offenders oftentimes are socially inept, failing at relational dynamics, and more unwilling than other offenders to open up and be part of a group (Frost, Ware, Boer, 2009). On the other hand, recruiting offenders by simply informing them the opportunity for assistance and treatment is there may save time on the parts of everyone involved because it is those offenders who honestly want to try and change their behaviors (Frost, Ware, Boer, 2009). Because of these opposing possibilities, group membership could be voluntary or mandated.
Screening for group members may be one of the easiest parts of creating a therapy group for sex offenders. The penal system has already categorized sex offenders into groups by the severity of the offense. Using those guidelines, it is possible to determine if a sex offender who targets children is appropriate to put into a group with a sex offender who targets middle-aged women. Both people may have the same sexual urges to force themselves upon unsuspecting victims, but the motivation and back story of the offender may be nothing alike. The group size could be anywhere from three to fifteen members, depending on the need of the correction center, and closed. The ideal size for a sex offender therapy group would be five to eight members (Alexander, Jr., 2000). This would make the group large enough to facilitate discussion and yet intimate enough to allow freedom of expression within the group without fear of being ostracized. Furthermore, the group would meet for two hours per session, twice a week in order for the discussion and progress to remain fresh in the minds of the members (Alexander, Jr., 2000).
The group structure and format will be based upon the type of crime of the offenders. For example, a group whose members were pedophiles would be structured differently than those who were transgender. The group, in general, should be structured for the most successful results of the treatment (Palermo, 2002). For sex offenders, this includes the abolishment of sexual behaviors which are or lead to illegal acts, restructuring the cognitive and behavioral aspects of the person, and building confidence and character to avoid further recidivism (Palermo, 2002).
A group strategy which would be useful would be lifeline, a strategy used to facilitate group dynamics. This strategy involves the offender examining events in life and attributing positive or negative emotions and thoughts to each (Alexander, Jr., 2000). This helps the offender to look at his life’s events, see which interact with each other and the potential results. It also easily moves them into opening up more about themselves without the feeling that they are telling everyone in the group their intimate thoughts and desires (Alexander, Jr., 2000). A paradoxical intention would also be useful because it works well with offenders who are unable to understand their motives for the illegal activities and are unresponsive to rational or logical theories. Using this, the leader and group members can exaggerate those illogical thoughts and feelings to the point where they seem utterly ridiculous, even to the person originally thinking them (Alexander, Jr., 2000).
Finally, the group’s success would be partially based on recidivism rates for sexual offenses. It can also be judged by feedback. A person who reoffends, but not by a sexual offense, may have gotten an enormous amount of help from the group regarding the sexual urges and controlling them, but at the same time broke a different type of law to be arrested again. Feedback from the offenders can help the leader to adapt and improve the program in the group so that all of the most important aspects are covered. Success in the eyes if the offender can be considered to be success in the eyes of the group and leader.
Alexander, Jr., R. (2000). Counseling, treatment, and intervention methods with juvenile and adult offenders. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Frost, A., Ware, J., Boer, D. (2009). An integrated groupwork methodology for working with sex offenders. Journal of Sexual Aggression. (15)1. 21-38.
Palermo, G. (2009). A dynamic formulation of sex offender behavior and its therapeutic relevance. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice. (2)2. 25-52.
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