U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Process Variables in the Treatment of Sexual Offenders: A Review of the Relevant Literature

NCJ Number
Aggression and Violent Behavior Volume: 8 Issue: 2 Dated: March-April 2003 Pages: 205-234
W. L. Marshall; Y. M. Fernandez; G. A. Serran; R. Mulloy; D. Thornton; R. E. Mann; D. Anderson
Date Published
March 2003
This article examines the implications of process issues on treatment effectiveness for sexual offenders by reviewing the research literature from the psychotherapeutic field.
The treatment of sexual offenders is considered crucial if sexual offender recidivism is to be decreased. However, while a great deal of attention has been paid to devising the best therapeutic model for sexual offenders, relatively little attention has been focused on the effects of process variables on treatment outcome. Process variables include issues such as the therapist’s style, the client’s perceptions of the therapist, and the relationship between the client and the therapist. The authors examine the major features of therapists that are believed to have an impact on the treatment process. Features believed to enhance treatment effectiveness include empathy, respectfulness, flexibility, trustworthiness, and a sense of humor, among others. On the other hand, therapists who are perceived as judgmental, rigid, defensive, or aggressive may impede the treatment process. Next, the authors turn to a discussion of the importance of the client’s perception of the quality of the therapeutic relationship on treatment outcome. The research suggests that there is a direct and positive correlation between the clients’ perception of a healthy client-therapist relationship and their perception of a positive treatment outcome. However, this evidence is from the general psychotherapeutic literature, while relatively little attention has been focused specifically on sexual offenders who receive treatment. The authors review the literature specific to cognitive behavior therapies, as this is the most widely used treatment model for sexual offenders. In general, the authors find that there is a significant degree of commonality across treatment types in terms of the impact of process variables on treatment outcome. As such, the authors draw conclusions about how process variables influence treatment effectiveness for sexual offenders. Future research should focus on the client-therapist relationship and its impact on the treatment of sexual offenders. References