counseling juvenile sex offenders utilizing the "Empathy Promoting" strategy in a juvenile justice center. The presentation is actually a review of what took place and also of what this counseling strategy is intended to accomplish working with young offenders. There is always more that can be learned and more than can be done to work with people more effectively, and part of the task of a counselor is to seek new and more effective ways of communicating the most appropriate information at the most appropriate time.
Description of Practicum Sites and Clientele
a quiet counseling room in a juvenile justice center; the shades are pulled up on the two windows that look out to a grove of tall trees, a lawn and benches with no one present
Clients: two boys, one 16 (Jamie) and the other 17 (Bob), arrested for allegedly molesting a young 13-year-old girl in their neighborhood.
On Wednesday afternoon, September 2010, the writer arrived at the county justice facility and checked in with the receptionist. The small lobby was noisy, a window fan was shaking, the phone was ringing off the hook, and several groups of parents were discussing their children's situation, talking loudly enough to be heard over the roar of the fan.
Clearly these boys did not have any empathy for the young girl they allegedly molested. She (according to the probation report) apparently suffered from a learning disability, and had a fairly low IQ, but was not categorized as disabled by her counselors in middle school. Empathy means that the person has the capacity to "read the cues of others and thus imagine the experience of the other" (Calley, et al., 2008, p. 69). Knowing that the adolescent sex offender may not be able to identify his own personal feelings, and hence, that offender may have difficulty "communicating personal feelings and being empathic toward others," is a valuable tool going into a meeting like this. If one of these boys has a sense of empathy, then something went wrong that day because he did not show it when the time came to make a good decision.
The writer took notes from an article on empathy and was impressed by the research Lundrigan (2001) provided on juvenile sex offenders. Lundrigan posits that the best approach for a counselor is to help the juvenile sex offender in "differentiating between their personal feelings and the feelings of victims and potential victims" (Calley, p. 71). In other words, can the offender see outside of his own person feelings? Can he look at the face of a person he is in the midst of victimizing and see the fear and pain? The Lundrigan approach also posits that headway can be made in counseling youthful sex offenders it the counselor can get the offender to understand that each individual is unique, and to "project… personal feelings on that other person" is not fair and not just.
The writer took the two boys outside prior to their session. The thick green grass was a perfect spot to toss a football back and forth. Both boys had good arms, they ran well and caught passes that were difficult, and they received praise from the writer for every great catch. Having a game of catch before sitting down to business accomplished two things: it allowed the offenders to get outside, work off some of their tension and frustration, and also it helped to promote some bonding with the counselor, and helped develop some trust for the session.
The session went well, as the writer led the boys through the subject of empathy, of how to imagine what someone else's life is like; of how to think of others' feelings and how to come to terms with the fact that every individual is unique, including the boys in the room. If everyone is unique, then what people think inside, how they approach life, is private and personal and should be respected by others. So it wasn't just that they did something mean and against the law, they failed to even consider that the girl had a right to her privacy, and had her own personality that they were not part of nor did they need to be aware of her thoughts and ideas.
The psychosocial model is quite simple and the writer used it on the second visit to the boys locked up in juvenile justice system. It is basically a way to promote normal sex education; Bourke & Donohue (1996) point out that one way to treat "maladaptive sexuality" is to simply bring the basic tenets of sex education to the attention of the offenders. In other words, what the boys did not learn in school, they need to learn now. Here is a man, here is a woman, here are her adult needs and behaviors and here is the way a mature man is expected to behave. Apparently there have not been "insufficient" empirical studies as to whether or not this strategy reduces recidivism (Patel, et al., 2008, p. 86).
The cognitive-behavioral (CB) model is used with juvenile sex offenders to "clarify thinking errors that a JSO (juvenile sex offender) might possess regarding his offense," Patel explains. The writer employed some of the CB tactics in the second session with the boys. There is a relationship between a person's thoughts, behaviors and "arousal patterns," according to Fanniff & Becker (2006) that should be exploited, and what was attempted in this session was a linkage between what the offenders remember thinking prior to the alleged attack, and what in that thinking motivated them to carry out the aggression. Bob, the 17-year-old said he remembered that after the boys saw the girl on the swings, swinging quite high in the air, her dress blew up and allowed the boys, from a certain angle, to see her underwear. Bob's thoughts were that if her older sister were here in the park she would watch over the girl and tell her she should wear jeans or shorts when on the swings like that.
Asked what he did then Bob said he went behind the swings and pushed the girl higher and higher. She started crying so Bob said he slowed her down, then without realizing how this would hurt the girl, he wrapped his hands around her front (from the back) to slow her down all the way, and accidently put his hands on her breasts. He said he always wondered what breasts felt like and believed because he had helped the girl, she would understand that was an accident. He admitted he was aroused seeing her underwear, and when he accidently touched her breasts he thought maybe it was wrong to do that so he wouldn't be blamed. She notified her mother and sister and they called the police.
Cognitive -- Behavioral Model
(Juvenile Sex Offenders)
Can the offenders recall what they were thinking prior to assaulting the girl?
Did a friend or someone else suggest that it would be a good idea to attack the girl sexually?
Do the boys recall if they were sexually attracted to the girl in any way? The photo of her shows that she was overweight and not very pretty. What was the degree of arousal? Just meanness?
What were the offenders doing just before seeing the young girl? Were they just playing innocent boys-type games and happened upon her? What caused them to assault her? Do they know? Thoughts Behaviors Arousal Patterns
Bob's reticence to some clean about his intentions and his actions follow the pattern outlined by Mann and Rollnick (1996) in their use of Cognitive Behavioral; on page 94 of Mary McMurran's book Mann and Rollnick believe when a client is in denial about what he really did, he is going through "an internal struggle" about his personal responsibility for the offense (McMurran, 2002, p. 94). Mann and Rollnick state that when a juvenile sex offender is in denial it isn't just a lie for the sake of seeming innocent, it's because he does not want to be labeled a sex offender (McMurran, p. 94).
By the third session Jamie had dropped out of counseling, and it was just the writer and Bob. The writer had prepared for some serious work using cognitive behavioral therapy. The Counseling Resource Group says CB helps the client to uncover and alter distortions of thought or "perceptions which may be causing or prolonging psychological distress" (Mullhauser, 2008).
The beginning steps of cognitive behavioral therapy begin with this session.
there something unlucky or unfair that happened to you Bob, the day before the incident with the girl?
A: I was suspended from school last week for truancy and I lost my job at Burger King for being late to work. It wasn't my fault.Step One with Bob - Stimulus
Q: Bob you have never been in trouble with the law. Was being kicked out of school a really serious emotional problem for you?