Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Adolescent Sexual Offenders: A Self-Psychological Perspective

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Adolescent Sexual Offenders: A Self-Psychological Perspective

Article excerpt

ROSTEN CHORN, M.A. (Clinical Psychology)* ANGINA PAREKH, D. Phil**

A qualitative study was conducted to explore the application of selfpsychological principles in the treatment of adolescent sexual offenders. A theoretical standpoint which straddled the opposing views of the psyche offered by Mahler and Stern was adopted after a review of the developmental literature. With object relations and self-psychological views on development in adolescence, a group of adjudicated and not-adjudicated offenders was intensively interviewed. After qualitative analysis, findings suggested substantial support for the self-psychological view of treatment applied to this group. A number of additional findings suggested directions for further research with this group.


In a study conducted in Durban, South Africa, Anechiarico's1 views on Kohut's2,3 self psychology in the treatment of male sexual offenders were investigated with a group of adolescent sex offenders. Anechiarico states that current sex-offender treatment methods emphasize cognitive, behavioral, and psychoeducational techniques and that these methods have poor long-term outcome. The reason is that "the missing piece" in offender treatment is a focus on the offender's ability to sustain age-appropriate intimate relationships, rather than the analysis of isolated drive fragments or narrow focus on abusive sexual behavior. In the area of adolescent sexual offending, relevant self-psychological concepts are:2-4

* that self develops with optimal gratification and frustration of selfobject needs for mirroring, idealization, and twinship; * that chronic distortion of the child's selfobject needs disfigures the self leaving it chronically prone to disintegration; * that entrenched pathological compensatory mechanisms develop to protect a defective self. In conditions of significant self-threat the person experiences disintegration anxiety and depletion depression4s and institutes emergency measures, such as panic, hypochondriasis and agoraphobia,6 violence and PTSD,7 sexualization,2s and sexual offending1 to restore cohesion.


An object-relations and self-psychological view of childhood and adolescent development was used to help explain and initiate treatment proposals for adolescent sexual offenders. Though not entirely consistent with the self-psychology view of development,9-3 Margaret Mahler's 14,15 discussion of the separation-individuation process was used as a departure point and her assumptions and methods were contrasted with other relevant theories of development, most notably those of Stern,16 Winnicott,l7 Sugarman and Jaffe,18 Applegate,l9,20 Blos, 21,22 Erikson, 23 and Kroger.24

These authors' interpretation of psychostructural development differed according to whether the conception of the psychic bedrock was of untamed erotic and aggressive drives or of a nascent self-structure whose drive was interpersonal mastery. Mahler's conceptualization of the separation-individuation process is based on the assumption that during separationindividuation the drives undergo "object passage."14 Her appeal is to the classical conception of driveness, though modified by Anna Freud's25 concept of parallel and mutually influencing development lines, two of which are those described in the separation-individuation process. The issue was of central concern to the present study because, if the basic human potential is of unmitigated drive discharge, then the treatment of sex offenders should be conservative. If, however, the basic human potential is of a cohesive self, innately attentive to the object surround, then treatment of sex offenders could employ reconstructive methods.

Recent research into the development of psychic structure in infancy and early childhood16 and the clinical findings of Kohut2,3 suggest that a self is present from birth and that it disintegrates when its needs for mirroring and idealization are repeatedly frustrated. …

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