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Amanda Dillehay, L. Mickey Fenzel, Ph.D.

Counselor Perceptions of Sexual Offenders: Changeability and Dangerousness

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Previous literature suggests that the therapeutic alliance between a counselor and a client has a significant impact on clinical outcomes regardless of the type of treatment utilized and that the lower a counselor’s level of knowledge regarding sexual offenders, the more stereotypical their ideas will be. Literature also suggests that the gender of the counselor may also impact the formation of perceptions and may influence the clinical progression of the offender. In order to obtain a greater understanding of the impact of counselor perceptions during clinical work with offenders, this quantitative study examines two specific areas of perception: first, counseling professionals and their perceptions of sexual offenders’ capacity for change and second, counseling professionals and their perceptions of the sexual offenders’ dangerousness. Specifically, the gender of the counselor as well as how many hours of human sexuality training that the counselor received were analyzed to understand how they impact counselors’ perceptions of an offenders’ potential for changeability and dangerousness.

This sample consisted of 84 participants who identified as either counselors in training or professional counselors. Each participant completed a survey that measured counselor perceptions of possible changeability and dangerousness of sexual offenders. Data was collected through an online survey, participants were on average 37 years old, were primarily well-educated Caucasian women and the counselors’ human sexuality training was measured by how many hours a counselor had attended human sexuality training. Participants were divided into groups through a median split: no training and one or more hours of training. Zero-order independent samples t-tests were conducted to examine differences among gender and changeability, gender and dangerousness, human sexuality training and changeability and human sexuality and dangerousness. Two 2-way ANOVAS were utilized to determine the degree of difference between groups for counselor perceptions of changeability and dangerousness and counselor gender and level of counselor human sexuality training.

Findings indicated few significant differences among counselor perceptions of changeability and dangerousness from the influence of training and gender. A significant interaction occurred between counselor’s perceptions of an offender’s changeability depending on the counselor’s level of training and gender combined. These findings suggest that the gender of a counselor and the presence of human sexuality training might result in different outcomes between men and women. Further research is necessary for greater understanding of how gender and training impact counselor perceptions of offenders. Limitations to the study included a small sample size that was predominantly women, a median-split that resulted in only two groups to measure the levels of training and only one item on the scale that measured counselor perceptions of offender dangerousness.

Suggestions for future research include the consideration of specific types of sexuality training to better understand how counselor training impacts outcomes. The execution of a longitudinal study that observes counselor perceptions before and after training as well as one that assesses the level of experience a counselor has working with offenders would provide much greater insight into the process. Finally, as more research is realized surrounding counselor perceptions improved educational training can be provided to best match the needs of counselors and those they work with.

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