Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Using Existential-Humanistic Approaches in Counseling Adolescents with Inappropriate Sexual Behaviors

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Using Existential-Humanistic Approaches in Counseling Adolescents with Inappropriate Sexual Behaviors

Article excerpt

Adolescent sexual acting out behaviors frequently occur in the context of comorbid issues, such as depression, trauma, behavioral disorders, and developmental deficits, thus rendering any single treatment modality less effective. Augmenting traditional treatment with an existential-humanistic perspective enables counselors to more effectively address a host of common co-occurring conditions.


Adolescents who exhibit inappropriate sexual behavior frequently have coexisting mental health problems that compound the decisions regarding selection of treatment approaches. The full extent of the client's emotional problems must be assessed. It is important to consider not only the sexually offending behaviors of the adolescent but also any associated mental health or emotional problems that may be present. Depression, trauma, behavioral disorders, and developmental deficits occur on a fairly consistent basis in sexually acting out adolescents (Baker & White, 2002; Gerardin & Thibaud, 2004; Gray et al., 2003; Lambie & Seymour, 2006; Metz & Sawyer, 2004; Rich, 2003). A cognitive-behavioral approach has traditionally been used to treat inappropriate sexual behaviors, but the use of this approach alone may not adequately address common coexisting conditions (Rich, 2003). The addition of existential-humanistic (E-H) interventions may be helpful in treating the conditions that often accompany sexual acting out behaviors. Counselors should consider adopting a combination of therapeutic approaches to more effectively treat adolescents presenting with these problems.

The purpose of this study is to review the literature and, using an E-H framework, to present adjuncts to existing treatment protocols for adolescents with inappropriate sexual behaviors. Consideration is given to those components of the adolescent's development and environment that contribute to her or his acting out behaviors and existential anxieties (e.g., death, freedom, isolation, meaninglessness; Yalom, 1980).


The literature focuses on two distinct types of adolescent sex offenders: (a) those who offend against peers or adults and (b) those who assault children. The first type of offender predominantly assaults females and strangers and frequently operates in public areas (e.g., 15% of these cases in the United States occur in a school environment; Hunter, 2000). The latter group tends to be male offenders who prefer male victims (Rogers & Tremain, 1984). Most of these child-related offenses occur in the victim's home, particularly during child care activities, and in 90% of cases, the victim is known by the perpetrator (Ryan, 1991). The average age of the victim is 7 to 8 years old, and the majority of the victims are related to the offender (Ryan, 1991). Becker, Kaplan, and Cunningham-Rathner (1986) reported that almost half of sibling offenders demonstrate nonsibling paraphilic behavior. Adolescent sex offenders also generally have a history of nonsexual criminal offenses and a high incidence of antisocial behaviors and conduct disorders (Hunter, 2000).

Ninety percent of adolescent sex offenders are male and approximate the general population in terms of ethnicity, religious preference, and geographic location. The median age of reported offenders is between 14 and 15 years old (Utah Task Force of the Utah Network on Juveniles Offending Sexually, 1996).

The number of female sex offenders is increasing, and females who have experienced more severe victimization histories for all types of abuse report that the age of onset of their sexual offending behavior is often even earlier than that of males (Gray et al., 2003; Mathews, Hunter, & Vuz, 1997). There is evidence of sexual aggression in children as young as 3 and 4 years old, with the usual age of onset being between 6 and 9 years old for adolescent offenders in general (Araji, 1997). …

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