Starting today, I plan on occasionally posting quotes that are relevant to particular areas I am covering on this blog. This will include quotes related to psychology, as well a the other interests. Since I have been posting a series on offender therapy, including a conceptualization of the lifestyle criminal, I thought I’d start with a quote from Stanton Samenow. To be sure, I don’t agree with everything Samenow writes, but he is one of the authors new psychologists (or students) are encouraged to read if they are planning to work with offenders, be it in corrections, outpatient groups, etc. Despite some differences of opinion regarding his writings, there is no doubt that reading Dr. Samenow is effective for an individual who is to begin working with offenders for the first time, regardless of the amount of overall clinical experience a clinician has. This is because working with an offender is fundamentally different, as I’ve stated previously. This is not to say that a clinician ought to adopt an “air of superiority” towards offenders, treat them more poorly than regular clients, etc. In fact it is, if anything, more important to consistently model appropriate, non-criminal, and effective interactions and behaviors with offenders than with any other group. Demonstrating that even in the face of a client base that regularly attempts to manipulate, deceive, and con the clinician, the clinician can address the behavior without judging the individual and respond appropriately is a powerful therapeutic intervention. It can even be pointed out directly: “How did I respond when you left out all of those convictions during your initial interview? That’s right, firmly but fairly. And that was intentional. So when your wife makes an honest mistake, that, let’s face it, isn’t all that big of a deal (have the client rate on a scale of 1 to 100), what might be a better way to respond than to call her a...” You get the idea.
So, you treat the offender client with respect, but you treat the offender client with an awareness and seeking out of efforts to think and act criminally that one simply does not do with general population clients. In my first practicum, an outpatient clinic for older adults, I was not consistently assessing my 68-year old female client, grandmother of four, presenting for depression associated with loss issues, for efforts to manipulate, deceive, justify, etc. No need. But this type of therapy does not prepare you for working with the lifestyle criminal. There is no benefit of the doubt with offenders - they need to prove, again and again, they are engaged in the process of change, not the other way around. They have forfeited any right to an expectation of good will regarding their intentions: in fact, an indication of insight (not that insight is necessary, a whole ‘nother post!) for an offender is that they grasp that they require regular assessment of their thinking for possible thinking errors, and demonstrate a willingness to submit their thinking and actions to this type of review.
Anyway, back to the original point of the post. Basically, even if he ain’t perfect, Samenow gets the basics right in terms of the mind set necessary to approach the antisocial offender. In an earlier post, I wrote about the first of the “Three Cs,” which is “Conditions.” Here is a brief quote from Samenow’s book Before It’s Too Late, addressing the role of environment in determining the behavior of the child who is displaying misconduct:
“What of the role of the environment in shaping behavior? A recognition that children make choices does not mean that parents or other environmental forces are totally without influence. While the individual makes the choice, the environment can inhibit or promote choices in a particular direction. For example, lack of parental supervision makes it easier for the child to get away with misconduct. If a parent is present, the child is more easily restrained and guided. But even the twenty-four-hour presence of a parent does not guarantee that a child will stay out of trouble because it is the child who still makes the ultimate choice.”
Now, as stated in the post regarding choices, childrens’ choices are often uninformed, and made without the requisite impulse control, sense of long-term consequences, etc., which is why they are addressed differently (whether legally, therapeutically, etc.). However, the importance of choice in this context cannot be overstated, especially as a learning experience for the child. And, if the child has been provided this opportunity to learn several times, and continues to choose misconduct, hopefully there will be an awareness of what path this child is choosing to go down.