Efficacy of Sex Offender Counselling

July 20, 2016 Note: This article’s title has changed; the URL remains unchanged

Social Worker and Sex Offender

A social worker based in North York is coming before the disciplinary committee of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers, because of his conviction for sexual interference and sexual assault. This would not be unusual in it’s own right, except that he has been cited in court records as a counsellor/therapist for sex offenders released into the community.

This got me interested in the evidence for rehabilitation and counselling/psychotherapy for sex offenders.

Sex Offender Rehabilitation

Levenson & Prescott’s 2014 review summarized the existing body of research:

  • A 1989 review of sex offender recidivism found that because of methodological errors, no statistically significant differences in recidivism were reported
  • A 2013 re-review found more weaknesses, including the lack of randomized controlled trials and highlighting the ethical issues inherent with control groups receiving no treatment
  • The age of the studies used for both reviews was of concern; most of them collected before CBT became the standard

Their review continues, noting conflicting research but also that the same elements of methodological rigour associated with well-designed studies may also mask treatment effects.

For instance, if a study ends after one year and a client is still scoring “high” on an assessment tool, does that mean the treatment has failed? What about if their tool declines in a non-statistically significant way? What if they haven’t reoffended in that time? What if decline continues beyond the end of the study but that information isn’t recorded?

Additionally, treatment manuals (often required in studies to ensure that treatment is consistent) can limit the ability of the therapist to be flexible to client needs, and may make their therapy less effective as they are constrained by limits on number and length of sessions and precluded from using techniques outside of, for instance, the cognitive behavioural repertoire even if those techniques may show promise with the client.

The Sex Offender Treatment and Evaluation Project (SOTEP) program was a “compared the reoffense rates of offenders treated in an inpatient relapse prevention (RP) program with the rates of offenders in two (untreated) prison control groups” (Marques, et. al., 2005) It had negative results – that is, the program was not any more effective than the control group in controlling relapse rates as a whole.

One interesting finding though, was that individuals who met their treatment goals had lower rates of re-offending than those who merely completed the program (or were in the control group) who did not reoffend.

Psychotherapy for sex offenders is something that is new to me — I knew it was practiced but knew very little about it before this blog post (and after reading a few articles have still only scratched the surface), but it appears to a field in it’s infancy as far as research converted into practice goes.

Additional Reading:


Levenson, J., Prescott, D.S. (2014): Déjà vu: from Furby to Långström and the evaluation of sex offender treatment effectiveness, Journal of Sexual Aggression: An international, interdisciplinary forum for research, theory and practice, DOI: 10.1080/13552600.2013.867078

Marques, J.K., Wiederanders, M., Day, D.M., Nelson, C., van Ommerman, A. “Effects of a relapse prevention program on sexual recidivism: final results from California’s sex offender treatment and evaluation project (SOTEP).” Journal of Sex Abuse. 2005. 17(1); 79-107

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "Efficacy of Sex Offender Counselling," retrieved on June 26, 2019 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/does-sex-offender-counselling-work/.

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