Can bad men change? What it’s like inside sex offender therapy

A sex offender, Jennifer later explains, often commits a crime by rationalizing it in some way: she wanted it, or my needs mattered more than hers. They convince themselves that a false notion is true–a cognitive distortion. Therapists’ work often consists of challenging their clients’ false beliefs and encouraging them to develop a more realistic view of the world.

There isn’t one standard method for treating sex offenders. But many experts have come to agree that identifying motivations and thought patterns is essential. Still, some therapists favor a much more confrontational method. “I saw treatment providers shaming and demeaning people, and literally having people get on their knees and say, ‘I’m f-cked up. I’m f-cked up. I’m f-cked up,’” Cheryl says. “I would much rather reach out my hand and say, ‘Let’s talk about how f-cked up you are.’”

Recent research published by the American Public Health Association suggests that focusing on punishments rather than positive goals can actually increase the chance of recidivism. In 2006, the Department of Justice endorsed more progressive methods such as the Good Lives Model, which aims to teach people how to fulfill their emotional and physical needs without hurting others. That includes challenging sexist behaviors and skewed social views that lead them to hurt other people.