Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

An Exploration of Counselor Experiences of Adolescents with Sexual Behavior Problems

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

An Exploration of Counselor Experiences of Adolescents with Sexual Behavior Problems

Article excerpt

Working with sex offenders is one of the most challenging tasks for counselors (Ennis & Horne, 2003; Farrenkopf, 1992); however, little has been written on the impact that such work has on counselors (Moulden & Firestone, 2007), particularly those counselors who work with adolescents with sexual behavior problems (SBPs). In this article, we review and discuss findings from a qualitative study that explored how counselors experience adolescents with SBPs. During the interviews, these counselors shared some challenges that emerged from being immersed in their clients' sexual frames. The purpose of this article is to highlight these challenges and present their implications for practice.


Several researchers have explored the impact on clinicians from working with sexual offenders (Bankes, 2002; Moulden & Firestone, 2007) and children and adolescents with varying degrees of sexually offensive behavior (Edmunds, 1997a; Gil & Johnson, 1993; Hackett, 2002; Ingi, 2001; Ryan & Lane, 1997b). Counselors who treat sex offenders are particularly prone to stress reactions (Ennis & Home, 2003), discouragement (Farrenkopf, 1992), and burnout (Amen, 2003; Farrenkopf, 1992; Hackett, 2002). Counselors who work with this population are particularly at risk for vicarious traumatization (Amen, 2003; Bond, 2006; Crabtree, 2002; Moulden & Firestone, 2007; VanDeusen & Way, 2006; Way, VanDeusen, & Cottrell, 2007; Way, VanDeusen, Martin, Applegate, & Jandle, 2004) or secondary traumatic stress (Lyndall & Bicknell, 2001).

Reactions to working with a general population of adults may also include sexual attraction to clients (Adrian, 2004; Nickell, Hecker, Ray, & Bercik, 1995; Pope, Keith-Spiegel, & Tabachnick, 1986; Pope & Tabachnick, 1993; Schover, 1981) and sexual fantasy (Nickell et al., 1995; Pope, 2006). In a series of studies, Pope and colleagues (Pope et al., 1986; Pope & Tabachnick, 1993; Pope, Tabachnick, & Keith-Spiegel, 1987) found that approximately 87% of their counselor respondents who worked with various client populations acknowledged experiencing sexual attraction to at least one client.

Counselors who work with sexual issues enter into a unique relationship with their clients in which they are often required to plunge into the depths of their clients' inner sexual worlds. Whether it is through the client's experiences of sexual abuse or history of being a sexual abuser, the counselor is exposed to sexual information and often to vivid images of deviant sexual behavior. Hackett (2002) discussed how the interactive nature of treatment with sex offenders could affect the counselor. Most pertinent to the present discussion, Hackett identified issues related to sex and sexuality in which the counselor is bombarded by sexual information and experiences that may influence deviant sexual fantasies or emphasize awareness of issues related to sex, children, and abuse.

Bengis (1997) wrote that practitioners who hear sexual stories by youth who are sexually abusive can experience "fleeting feelings of titillation or sexual arousal" and "impulses to act out in sexually deviant ways" (p. 32). Those professionals who work with sexualized clients, including sexualized youth, have acknowledged that it is not uncommon to experience feelings of sexual arousal and attraction (Bengis, 1997; Ellerby, 1997; Gerber, 1995; Gil & Johnson, 1993; Hackett, 2002; Ryan & Lane, 1997a) and even sadistic sexual fantasies (Gerber, 1995). Gerber (1995) added that sexual attraction may also be a common reaction of counselors working with clients who have been sexually abused.

Although several of these respected authors have written on the topic of counselor sexual response to clients, only one empirical study by Ellerby, Gutkin, Smith, and Atkinson (1993) addressed the issue of sexual arousal among clinicians who specifically treated sexual offenders. …

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