Clinical Supervisor, Andy Hicks, has proposed a seemingly straightforward solution to what has long been a vexing problem in treating sex offenders: How do you treat someone who denies they have a problem?
Hicks says motivational interviewing techniques may be the answer.
His proposition won Hicks an invitation to deliver a topical poster presentation in front of fellow practitioners and scholars at the American College of Forensic Psychology Annual Symposium in San Diego in April.
Hicks, who is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor and a registered Clinical Member of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, has been involved in a research lab focusing on forensic neuropsychology. Under the supervision of a doctorate-level, licensed psychologist and professor, Hicks developed a proposal to present on this topic.
“I chose to research and present on this topic because I want to improve the efficacy of treatment for those who sexually offend,” he explains. “ Ultimately, I want to reduce the number of victims of sexual abuse and help improve the lives of my clients.”
In his presentation, Hicks observed that many men and women who sexually offend exhibit denial upon admission to treatment. He contends that behaviors typically described as “low treatment readiness,” “denial” and “resistance to treatment” are often, actually, a disguised lack of trust in the clinician, treatment group or treatment process. These clients are often labelled incorrigible and treatment follows a confrontational approach. However, confronting the client backfires by demonstrating that the clinician is an enemy to be defeated. The client sees treatment as something to be feared.
“Ironically, clients who exhibit the greatest degree of denial are often those who have the most empathy,” says Hicks. “This paradox occurs because only those who recognize the harms of their actions need to exhibit true, internal denial. Those with more psychopathic features do not because it does not matter to them whether they hurt others.”
Using motivational interviewing techniques, rather than a confrontational approach, can help empathetic clients become more comfortable with change and, subsequently, can increase their responsiveness to treatment.
“By using motivational interviewing with such clients, we can make the environment comfortable for them to explore how their actions differed from their values when they were offending,” explains Hicks. “Instead of simply being told how horrible they are, this approach invites them to participate meaningfully in the change process.”
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