Though this blog is was originally intended as a resource for offenders in Massachusetts, much of what I write about is applicable to sex offenders in every other state and many countries around the world, especially in Western Europe. Even other non-sex offenders trying to navigate prison, probation and parole, or employment and education opportunities can glean relevant information from this blog and apply it to help overcome their own struggles.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

How to Choose a Sex Offender Counselor/Treatment Provider

This is one of the more important decisions you will have to make when starting sex offender counseling.  As far as I know, no matter where you are in the United States, you are able to choose your own counselor.  Of course, it's not that simple.  Let's take things step by step and walk through some considerations.

So you just met your PO who says you need to attend sex offender counseling within 7 days or you'll be in violation.  Probation may have a list of approved providers - ask for it.  Ask your PO if he has a recommendation.  At my probation office in Middlesex County, they preferred providers who are accredited through MCSOM (Massachusetts Coalition for Sex Offender Management) or MASOC (Massachusetts Adolescent Sex Offender Coalition), the latter focusing on juvenile offenders.  In the end, make certain your PO approves your choice.  For most, you'll be looking to get into a group rather than one-on-one.  It's cheaper and in my opinion the better option when starting counseling since you are with others in the same boat and the dynamic is in many ways invaluable and can't be replicated in individual counseling.  Individual counseling with the right provider can be just as productive and you will be able to spend more time on your specific issues but the majority of offenders attend group counseling (more on individual vs. group counseling in another post).

Now you have some names and numbers, start calling.  I'd begin with the ones your PO recommends while also taking into consideration their location and your access to reliable transportation.  Some of the questions you should ask each provider is:

  • What is your approach to counseling (cognitive behavioral, psychoanalytic, humanistic, combination, etc...)
  • How would you describe the counselors role with the group (do they facilitate the group or conduct it with a lot of oversight)
  • How would you describe the current group of participants (ex-cons, probationers, voluntary, participants age range and types of offenses, etc...)
  • What exactly do you report to probation?  Do you allow probation officers/law enforcement to sit in on sessions?
  • What is the policy toward new group members?  For instance, do I have to tell my story the first day or do I have a few weeks before I have to go in depth with my story? 
  • Can I sit in one night and see if the group is the right one for me? (your trying out a group should satisfy probation's requirement for attending sex offender counseling...as always check with your PO)
  • Can I have a copy of your waiver
  • How much per session?
You should ask other questions pertinent to your situation such as whether they accept insurance, the  absentee policy,

If possible, and I highly recommend this, is to sit in on a session.  Try out a few groups to compare and contrast.  You'll probably be nervous and scared walking in and sitting with a bunch of strangers talking about sex offending or their current woes, but you'll get used to it.

The counselor sets the tone for the group so try to be sure he isn't too soft (things can spiral out of control if they don't have control-I've seen it happen) or unnecessarily a bully (unreasonably threatening people to call their PO).  With some counselors, they know and need to turn the screws and pressure a sex offender on parole/probation from time to time to get progress or a breakthrough but you want to avoid ones who  abuse that power.  Ideally, the counselor is experienced and knows when to be relaxed and when to really push an individual or the group to get progress.

Also, pay attention to what is going on between participants and how people relate to one another.  Is the group supportive? Adversarial? Do group members allow a lot of denial to go unaddressed?  Are participants there to really change some things or are grudgingly there just to comply with probation?  To be realistic, you can expect a little bit of all of that in many members and groups.  However, you don't want any one characteristic to dominate.

After you've made your choice, chat it up with others in the group to get a sense of how they feel about the group and the counselor.  You'll know soon enough if that situation is right for you.  If not, don't hesitate to try out another provider though its better to decide this at an early stage to avoid starting from scratch all over again with another group.