Collaborative Treatment for Sexual Behavior Problems in an Adolescent Residential Center

Prescott, D.S. (2001). Collaborative Treatment for Sexual Behavior Problems in an Adolescent Residential Center. In M. Miner & Eli Coleman, (Eds). Sex offender treatment: Accomplishments, challenges, and future directions (pp. 43-58). Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.

SUMMARY. Many residential treatment and sex offender programs for adolescents historically have used coercion-based interventions. Treatment programs employing coercive techniques often replicate the same destructive and intrusive behaviors they seek to eliminate. Tension between departments coupled with poor communication and discomfort around sexual behavior issues within the staff of residential treatment centers are more likely to inhibit the progress of the youths they serve.

Collaboration among residential, educational, and clinical components enables staff to work in a direct, genuine, and respectful fashion with students who have histories of sexually abusive behavior. It further assists in maintaining a safe and predictable environment for these students. Finally, it helps students eliminate destructive behaviors by directly and consistently addressing four key areas: sexually abusive behavior, antisocial attitudes, social/emotional functioning, and overall self-care. It is not the author’s intention to hold Bennington School, Inc. up as a model residential treatment program or to criticize other residential facilities. Rather, it is hoped that what is working in Bennington may be helpful to others.

Many who have worked on the front lines of residential treatment with sexually abusive adolescents have received training in elements specific to sexually abusive behavior. The origins of treatment for youth who have sexually abused were noteworthy for their lack of offense-specific interventions (National Adolescent Perpetration Network, 1993). However, a wealth of literature soon emerged addressing the need for assessment and treatment techniques specific to this population (Perry & Orchard, 1992; Barbaree, Marshall, & Hudson, 1993). Much of this literature made assumptions regarding high levels of chronicity (Perry & Orchard, 1992) while other contributions stressed the role of denial and minimization (Barbaree & Cortoni, 1993). As a result, while many issue-specific forms of assessment and treatment were developed, they often did not take into account other developmental needs and issues in the lives of sexually abusive youths (Lane,1997).

Concurrent with this emerging research was a substantial increase in the number of treatment programs for juvenile sex offenders (National Adolescent Perpetration Network, 1993). In this context, it is not surprising that many treatment programs relied heavily on treatment targeting denial, minimization, and perceived sexual deviance without taking into account other treatment needs of youths. Although a recent literature review of adolescent residential programs (Curwen, 2000) notes a trend away from shame-based approaches, there appears to be less clarity on specific criteria on which to base residential treatment of adolescents who have sexually abused (Curwen, 2000).

Finally, recent research shows that among adult populations, accepting responsibility for abusive behavior in treatment is more likely to result from a warm, genuine, and empathic treatment style (Marshall, Fernandez, & Anderson, 1999). Group therapy participation, similarly, results from encouragement, open questions, and nonconfrontational challenge. The emerging themes of recent trends and research should inspire those at the front lines of residential treatment to reconsider not just basic treatment approaches, but the most minute elements of their interactions with youths. [Full article available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail: – Website: HaworthPress. com © 2001 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]