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Title: A Model for Group Counseling with Male Pedophiles
Author(s): Gertjan van Zessen
Affiliation: University of Utrecht, The Netherlands
Citation: Van Zessen, G., ďA Model for Group Counseling with Male Pedophiles,Ē Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 20, nos. 1-2, 1990, pp. 189-198.


Group treatment programs for pedophiles are often designed for populations of convicted men in closed institutions with limited application to other populations. Treatment is usually focused on reducing the "deviant" sexual arousal and/or acquiring heterosocial skills and eventually establishing the ability to engage in adult heterosexual relationships. A six-week, highly structured program is presented to five men in a non-residential setting. In addition to individual psychotherapy, group counseling is offered. Male pedophiles are trained to talk effectively about common problems surrounding man-boy relationships. Counseling is based on the notion that the emotional, erotic and sexual attraction to boys per se does not need to be legitimized or modified. The attraction, however, can be a source of psychological and social problems that can be handled using a social support system. Social support for pedophile problems can be obtained from and in interaction with other pedophiles.


Most approaches to pedophilia assume that all pedophiles are the same: A man who forces a three-year old girl to have sex with him and another having a loving relationship with a boy of 14 receive the same treatment. Furthermore, treatment approaches are sometimes based on the view supported only by prison populations that pedophilia is the result of an excessively high sexual drive, resulting in ethically dubious therapies involving castration and administration of hormones and drugs.

Most approaches view the attraction to children as purely sexual. The child is considered to be the stimulus that elicits sexual excitement in the adult. All other motivations and meanings of pedophile attraction are ignored. Conversion therapy focuses on teaching heterosexual skills, but there is little empirical evidence of what skills are deficient.

The literature on "conversion" from homosexuality to heterosexuality shows a low rate of reported success, although conversion may be possible when the client is young, strongly motivated, and not exclusively attracted to men. The author suspects the same is most likely true for pedophile conversion therapy.

Rather than seeking to convert or modify feelings of attraction toward boys, the authorís approach stresses positive changes in self-image and facilitation of interaction with others. He counseled men with a predominant or exclusive preference for boys age 9 to 16, who were non-violent in their interaction with boys and showed no severe psychopathology.

He started by assessing the structure and function of their sexual feelings through an extensive life history. He analyzed this information in relation to problems in two areas: feelings of attraction, and the realization of sexual desires. He then focused on these two areas in therapy, first to positively change the self-image, reducing sex-negative attitudes and feelings of guilt and insecurity; and second to resolve problems concerning relationships with boys, including those arising from the forbidden nature of such relationships.

The author emphasized the importance of social support structures to provide the men with models for coping with problems and to help them enlarge their autonomy. He piloted a peer support group of five members who strived for affectionate and erotic relationships with pubescent boys. The group was led by two male counselors. Topics for discussion included self-disclosure to others, growing older, and interactions with boys, their parents, members of the neighborhood, other pedophiles, and police.

The author employed cognitive therapy; that is, therapy aimed at altering thought structures and processes. He did this through discussion, role playing, and short writing exercises. He felt that the men improved in their interaction and analysis of problems during the course of the group counseling, but still recommended individual therapy for those who needed to deal with sexual identity issues.

A postscript to the article mentioned that by the time it was published (1990), some adoptions of the authorís model had occurred in Dutch society.

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