Cognitive methods are based on findings that many sex offenders in general exhibit aggressive sexual behavior, manipulate others, lack empathy for their victims, and minimize, deny, and rationalize their abusive behavior. Cognitive methods assume that their sexual behavior is addictive and results from incorrect beliefs, anti-social attitudes, maladaptive thoughts, a lack of sexual knowledge, and impaired communication and social skills.
Cognitive methods usually involve group discussions led by a therapist who uses workbooks and assigns homework. Discussions usually address the following issues:
- Cognitive distortions - incorrect perceptions of cues from others, and incorrect beliefs about the effects of sexual activity with children. When offenders verbalize them, the therapist and other offenders challenge them, emphasize their negative consequences, and present correct views.
- Denial - "Street smart" peers confront the sex offender when he attempts to minimize, rationalize, or deny his sexual behaviors.
- Victim awareness/empathy
- Anger management and aggression control skills
- Social skills training - may help offenders learn to develop peer relationships rather than turn to children as sexual partners. Social skills are also seen as crucial for the offender to successfully implement his newly acquired normal sexual arousal to adults. They are often taught through role playing.
- Assertiveness training - Offenders learn how to interact with women and how to express feelings and thoughts while respecting the rights of others.
- Sexuality education - includes information about sexual deviancy. It is thought that sexual ignorance may increase anxiety toward normal adult sexuality.
- Stress reduction and relaxation management
- Autobiographical awareness
- Values clarification
Cognitive methods usually rely on the relapse prevention model to help offenders cope with situational variables that may lead to offending, such as negative emotional states, interpersonal conflicts, and tempting environmental factors. This model has been adapted from addiction recovery models, based on the assumption that the offender’s sexual behavior is addictive and compulsive.
- Offenders are taught to think of their thoughts that may lead to offending as deviant, temporary, controllable, and stoppable, and to develop the ability to recognize and intercept them.
- They are taught to recognize and avoid situations that may increase temptation, and to turn away from decisions which may lead to increased exposure to such situations (such as choosing to interact with children).
- While the goal is self-control, the prospect that the offender cannot control himself leads to control by others such as the probation department. The use of the plethysmograph and aversion therapy is considered central to controlling sexual thoughts and feelings.
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