In reviewing my posting history, and particularly some of the threads/themes I’ve posted about on multiple occasions, I’ve noticed that there have been a couple of topics where I’ve either stated I wanted to post more frequently, or at least intended to post more frequently. One such area is the treatment of criminal behavior. I made several posts on this topic early on, but got away from it when I posted rather frequently and issues related to competency to stand trial. This is a topic I want to get back to, however intermittently. One thing I’m finding is that, for me, intermittent posts on multiple topics is more interesting that a more intensive focus on just one. Over time, I will still build a series of posts on a number of topics that I find interesting and relevant - he will simply take more time to build a substantial body of writing on any one topic.
With that, let me try to pick up where I left off in my discussion of treating criminal behavior. In the previous posts on offender therapy (a looooooong time ago), I discussed Postulate One of understanding the “Lifestyle Criminal,” as discussed by Glenn Walters. From Walters’ book:
Postulate #1 - Crime can be understood as a lifestyle characterized by a global sense of irresponsibility, self-indulgent interests, an intrusive approach to interpersonal relationships, and chronic violation of societal rules, laws, and mores.
In this first postulate, Walters cites four main areas that are the key to understanding the lifestyle criminal. The first one was: “A global sense of irresponsibility,” which I have written, but still need to post (it's complicated - I thought I had posted it, but I haven't; now I have to get it). The second main area identified by Walters is: Self-Indulgence. Walters’ notes in his book that we are all born with a certain irresponsibility, as well as a tendency to be self-indulgent. Pleasure is a primary motivation for children. However, by various means of socialization (e.g. parenting, schooling, etc.) we learn, over time, that in order to achieve long-term goals we must often delay short term gratification. However, the lifestyle criminal does not learn this lesson to any reasonable degree; certainly not to a degree necessary for even minimal adaptive, functional behavior as an adult. The lifestyle criminal will consistently displayed behaviors resulting from impulsivity, pleasure-seeking urges, short term thinking, and a general self-indulgence. One common example of this is the rampant in substance abuse evident in a great majority of lifestyle criminals. More broadly, these individuals are generally unconcerned with consequences and resulting from such behaviors, if the consider the consequences at all. Decisions related to finances, work, relationships, etc., will often be destructive in the long-term for these individuals, but for these individuals, this is significantly less important than their narrow focus on their own personal “here-and-now.” Unfortunately, their lack of consideration of the long-term ramifications of their behaviors often harms others in their wake.
One concept I’ve noted again and again, in a variety of different treatments settings, is just how important the ability to delay gratification is. Obviously, this is an issue addressed repeatedly when working with offenders. However, I’ve seen this issue come up in all sorts of different contexts that are unrelated to criminal behavior. As I noted in many previous posts, I’m a big believer in balance when it comes to various mental health issues - leaning too much in one direction or the other on any number of issues that can be viewed as on a continuum, will result in less than optimal functioning. Only considering the long-term ramifications of every single action one takes would lead to an extremely boring life; I do believe in “living in the moment.” However, that does not mean one should throw caution to the winds and not ever consider any ramifications of one’s behavior. Living in the moment does not have to come at the expense of one’s future - this is a less than many people struggle with, not just offenders. In particular, the earlier a child can learn how to stave off a short term urge for a longer-term payoff, the more successful that child will be in general. This isn’t the easiest lesson to learn, but its one of the most important. Even indirectly, therapy is often incorporating the concept of delaying gratification as the path to self-improvement: call your sponsor instead of having a drink; count to 10 instead of punching that guy; don’t eat that chocolate until you’ve worked out. Easy wisdom in theory, but often therapy involves helping people figure out strategies to put into practice these seemingly obvious truisms. With offenders, there’s simply a lot more work to do with respect to this concept.