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Understanding, Assessing, and Rehabilitating Juvenile Sexual Offenders
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Vol. XXIII, No. 3
Summer 2011
Book Review:
Understanding, Assessing, and Rehabilitating Juvenile Sexual Offenders


Understanding, Assessing, and Rehabilitating Juvenile Sexual Offenders

Second Edition © 2011, 481 pages

By Phil Rich, Ed.D, LICSW

John Wiley & Sons, ISBN: 978-0-470-55172-1, $55.00; Amazon Kindle: $24.74

In his Second Edition of Understanding, Assessing, and Rehabilitating Juvenile Sexual Offenders, Phil Rich makes another outstanding contribution to the field of juvenile sexual offender treatment. The book provides a thorough, highly informed, well-organized, and insightful discussion of the complexities inherent in this topic.

At 481 pages, the book may appear daunting, but the organization, content, and clarity come together to make it reader-friendly. Separated into four parts, it begins with “Understanding Abusive and Sexually Troubled Youth” followed by “The Evaluation of Juvenile Sexual Offenders” and “The Treatment and Rehabilitation of Sexually Abusive Youth,” and concludes with “Approaches to and Methods of Treatment.” It has a textbook quality and may strike some readers as a manual for working with juvenile sex offenders. Overall, it is simply a valuable resource for anyone working with adolescent sexual offenders.

The current edition is more than a revision of the original; it is a complete rewrite. While the organization and structure are the same, every chapter integrates the most current research with the author’s interpretation of how new empirical information should influence best practices. Each chapter flows logically to the next, yet they can stand alone as separate topics, with subtopics neatly organized under useful headings.

In Part I, the first eight chapters address the complex etiology of sexual offending, with a thorough review of the influences and interactions of psychology and sociology. Rich successfully makes the case that sexual offending cannot be understood by a simple model of psycho-sexual pathology, but rather that sexual offending occurs via various pathways to a “perfect storm” of mismanaged sexual behaviors.

Part I reviews the incidence and dynamics of sexual abuse, and helps the reader to distinguish the juvenile sexual offender from his delinquent peers and adult counterparts. It also describes how developmental rifts in relationships, attachment, and ecology contribute to sexual offending.

Part II, “The Evaluation of Juvenile Sexual Offenders,” leads readers through the essential elements of a thorough evaluation and a discussion of foundational theories and models supporting current practices of assessment and prognosis. These include static and dynamic risk factors, assessment tools, and evaluation methods. Part II further discusses the strengths and weaknesses of various elements of evaluating juveniles, while avoiding the more distracting controversies in the field. Phil emphasizes that the fluid nature of adolescence requires clinicians to integrate both internal and external factors into assessments, and monitor for changes over time. There are tips for motivational interviewing.  Part II ultimately makes a persuasive case for structured clinical assessments, and concludes with a checklist for a comprehensive evaluation.

The first half of the book builds on the principles of “risk, need, and responsivity,” which the author weaves into no less than a dozen theories and models for understanding and treating juvenile sexual offenders.

The last two parts, on the treatment of sexual offending, complete the second half of the book.  Part III is on the “Treatment and Rehabilitation of Sexually Abusive Youth’” and Part IV is on “Approaches to and Methods of Treatment.” These parts should be considered together, as they compile theory, models, and components of effective treatment with insightful commentary about application.

Part III begins with a chapter on the characteristics of forensic psychology and the unique challenges of working with involuntary clients. It emphasizes that the relationship between therapist and client is critical both in motivating kids to change and in guiding them successfully to end goals.  Rich emphasizes that rehabilitation is not as much about treatment methods as it is about treatment process.

In Parts III and IV, Rich brings some professional distinctiveness to his understanding of two areas of social psychology as it applies to sexual offending and treatment:  contemporary applications of psychodynamic theory, and his unique perspective on disruptions of attachment.  Rich has authored a book on the later and suggests that damaged relationships are not just the result of sexual abuse, but may be a cause. Rich reminds us that social deviance is frequently a precursor to sexual deviance.  He argues that rehabilitation is not about plucking pathologies out of offenders as much as integrating all the components of treatment into a new understanding of social and sexual responsibility, healthy relationships, and a pro-social lifestyle. He further discusses risk management, protective factors, and the importance of integrating principles of the self-regulation and Good Lives models into treatment. The final chapters discuss the essentials of individual, group, and family therapy, with sensitivities to victim-offender reconciliation.

Given the thoroughness of the book, there is a surprising absence of any discussion about the use of the polygraph or penile plethysmograph in assessments or treatment.  With the popularity of the polygraph and controversies around biometric testing, some discussion of these topics would have added to the book.

In all, Rich has written a masterful guide, blending theory, research, and practice with sophisticated and insightful interpretation.  It is accessible to the newcomer, while providing nuanced discussion for the seasoned professional. 

Note: The final pages of the book contain a full list of references and complete indexes by both subject and author, making it a user-friendly reference resource. As a bonus, the publisher has appendices on line at www.wiley.com, where Rich has written about: Psychopathology & Psychopathy in Sexually Abusive Youth; The Adolescent Brain; An Attachment and Developmentally Informed Model of Treatment; and more.

Comments on this review may be directed to: jonbrandt@aol.com

The author of the book can be contacted at: PRich@stetsonschool.org


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