What is Sex Offender Treatment

Sex offender treatment is different than other therapies for adults. Sex offender treatment is a serious and encouraging process which focuses on learning specialized strategies for stopping abusive behavior, being accountable and taking responsibility for harm done. For the vast majority of those adults and juveniles who have committed a sexual offense, treatment significantly reduces the future risk of sexually abusing a child. Treatment does not offer amnestyi or excuse abusive acts, nor is it intended to punish or humiliate participants. A central focus of treatment is to help an individual create a better life for him/herself by developing their strengths while managing risk. Sex offender treatment is offered by therapists who specialize in working with adults and youth with sexual behavior problems.

 Answers to 10 Frequently Asked Questions

The good news is that treatment for people with sexual behavior problems can and does work. There is hope and there is help!

1. Is it true that people who sexually abuse children can change their behavior?

Yes. People can and do learn to change behavior with specialized treatment. It is extremely difficult, however, and often impossible to change these behaviors successfully without the help and support of a professional who is experienced with sex abuse-specific treatment. Changing established patterns of abuse is hardly ever a self-help program.

There are treatment programs nationwide that help people change their abusive behaviors and learn how to live safe and healthy lives. In fact, contrary to popular belief, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that sexual offender treatment reduces the risk for future abusive behavior. And when interventions are offered to adolescents and youth with sexual behavior problems, the likelihood of further abusive behavior can be dramatically reduced, or even eliminated.

2. What are the benefits of treatment to the offending or at-risk adult?

  • The burden of keeping the secret of this disturbing problem can be lifted.
  • The cycle of broken promises to oneself that “it will never happen again” can finally end.
  • The abusive behavior can stop, and support is available to rebuild a safer life.
  • There can be support from peers in the treatment group to help the offending or at-risk adult stay safe.
  • The child can be protected and/or begin the process of recovery.

3. What are the goals of treatment for sexual behavior problems?

Specialized treatment concentrates on effective behavior management to ensure safety for the individual and for the community. A central focus of treatment is to help an individual create a better life for him/herself by developing their strengths while managing risk. Participants address personal accountability, relapse prevention, and possible aid to victims.

The goals for the person in treatment may include:

  • Identify his/her own specific risk factorsi and develop a personalized plan for preventing abuse in the future.
  • Recognize and decrease the use of manipulative behavior patterns.
  • Address denial and accept full responsibility for his/her harmful behaviors, past and present.
  • Understand the impact of harmful behaviors on self and others.
  • Develop healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors.
  • Explore the impact of one’s own childhood victimization if and when appropriate.

Some treatment programs offer an approach to rehabilitation which takes into account the existing strengths and resources of each participant. Ideally those who have offended can learn to replace the harmful ways in which they have met their needs in the past, with safer ways to meet these needs in the future.

4. Who can attend treatment?

Someone can make an appointment for treatment if they have sexually harmed someone else, or if they believe they are at risk to do so. Treatment is available for male and female adults and juveniles. Treatment is typically offered separately for males and females. There are also specialized therapies for children with sexual behavior problems. Typically the approaches to treatment for adolescents and younger children differ from those used with adults. Often treatment providers or specialized therapists will first do an individual evaluation to help determine the usefulness of treatment and the most effective approaches to use. This is a time when you can also ask questions.

5. What happens in treatment for sexual behavior problems?

Programs are often in community-based mental health programs or agencies and generally require sessions on a weekly basis in a group setting and are facilitated by a trained professional. In treatment you will learn strategies, develop skills and get peer and professional support to manage thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are potentially harmful.

There are often ground rules and agreements that all participants must follow in order to remain a member of the group. Many people are court ordered to sexual offender treatment but others may choose to go on their own. Treatment plans may include group/individual therapy, couples therapy, family therapy, polygraph (lie detector test), specialized testing and/or prescribed medications.

6. How long does treatment last?

The duration of the program varies depending on the progress the person in treatment makes. Treatment is not complete until the person changes his or her behavior and makes safe and healthy decisions. For those who are mandated to attend treatment, a timeframe for treatment may be established as part of that requirement. For some, relapse prevention is a lifelong program.

7. How much does treatment cost?

The cost varies. Some programs accept public or private insurance. Sometimes grant or other assistance is available to help pay for treatment. Other times participants must pay cash. Speak directly with your provider about payment options when setting up your initial or “intake” appointment.

8. Is what I tell my therapist confidential?

What an individual tells his or her therapist is confidential; however, there are certain circumstances when a therapist must break that promise of confidentiality. Laws in all 50 states require a therapist to contact authorities if a patient is a danger to him/herself, to others, and/or if the therapist suspects that a known child has been abused. These reporting laws, as they are applied in your state, are explained to all adults and to guardians of children who seek professional counseling for any reason. Understanding this limitation to the confidentiality offered in sex-specific treatment is important, and applies to anyone seeking medical care or mental health services.

9. How do I find a specialized therapist near me?

Treatment for sexual behavior problems is highly specialized which means that the professionals who do this work have received specific training in this area. Some mental health professionals know and understand these issues, but many do not have the specialized knowledge and background. The following organizations offer resources and referrals for adults and youth with sexual behavior problems and for those who are offending. No identifying information is required in order for you to obtain the names and numbers of therapists near you.

  • The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). A national professional association of specialists in the field of sexual abuser treatment. For a referral contact them by phone or email. No identifying information required. 503.643.1023. www.atsa.com/contact.html
  • Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute. National directory available online of sex-specific therapists offering evaluation and treatment of adults and youth. www.cmrpi.org/pages/diagnosis.html#states
  • Safer Society Foundation Referral Desk. A national non-profit specializing in sexual abuse prevention and treatment. Referrals to treatment providers can be requested by phone or online. No identifying information required. 802.247.3132. www.safersociety.org/prevention-treatment-info/nationwide-sex-offender-treatment-referral-service/
  • For assistance in locating a provider you may also call the Stop It Now! Helpline at 1.888.PREVENT or 1.888.773.8368 or email the Helpline.

10. How can I learn more about treatment and the recovery process for adults or youth with sexual behavior problems?

The following organizations offer free online (or print) catalogs of reading resources and recovery materials for clinicians, individuals and families.

  • Safer Society Press. Free catalog specializing in sexual abuse prevention and treatment publications for adults, youth, families and professionals. www.safersociety.org/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?display=home
  • The New England Adolescent Research Institute (NEARI). Free catalog of publications for professionals and families addressing treatment and recovery for youth with sexual behavior problems. www.neari.com/catalogue_01.html

 The above is adapted with permission from “Treatment for People with Sexual Behavior Problems, FAQ’s,” Stop It Now! Minnesota.