Thursday, March 22, 2018

Good things happening in Denmark and Oregon

By David Prescott, LICSW, and Alissa R. Ackerman, Ph.D

Anyone who works with people who sexually abuse knows that human motivation can be multi-faceted. People who are motivated to change their lives for the better may not be motivated to enter treatment programs, and not all who enter treatment programs are truly motivated to change their lives. Likewise, many practitioners find that their clients are more motivated to change some aspects of their lives more than others. It is never as simple as simply going ahead and doing treatment in a purely straightforward or linear fashion.

Two professors at Aarhus University in Copenhagen, Denmark, Charlotte Mathiassen and Morten Nissen recently hosted a two-day conference and public event, also at the university (titled Motivational Interviewing: The Volitional Pragmatics of Conversation). It was an opportunity to explore elements of motivation that may not be apparent to those entering the field of treating abuse. David gave presentations on the nature of motivation and treatment with people who abuse, exploring how the directive and client-centered aspects of treatment in general and motivational interviewing specifically can interact and/or contrast with each other in a given case. For example, some clients in treatment respond well to a more directive approach, even as the clinician seeks to maintain that client’s autonomy and self-efficacy. Questions around roles and power dynamics are rife in the treatment of sexual violence, for example (see Prescott & Levenson, 2010).
Niels Åkerstrøm Andersen came at similar questions from an entirely different angle in his study of the Danish welfare state: How do state systems govern those who are inherently independent? Although this may seem abstract to many professionals, it is nonetheless important to consider when we consider that we are often treating clients who seek to be more autonomous within systems where independence of actions is severely limited. Likewise, in discussing a case, psychologist Morten Halberg described Jacques Derrida’s distinction between a predicted future versus the unpredicted future, leading to questions about how people arrive at their own solutions to challenges when so much of contentment with one’s own life is beyond our ability to predict or plan for?

Finally, E. Summerson Carr gave presentations on the process of motivational interviewing (MI) training in which she described that the process of learning MI can be as motivating as actually practicing it. In this way, she compared MI training to revival meetings of the past. For some who have studied MI deeply over time, her observations will be entirely familiar.

Meanwhile, the Oregon ATSA chapter held its spring retreat March 9-11th. Alissa opened the retreat with a conversation around restorative practices and how they might be useful with clients who have engaged in acts of sexual victimization. Speaking to treatment providers and probation officers provided an important learning experience for everyone. Approximately seventy people attended the training and the knowledge exchange that occurred inspired many of us to rethink our positions and assumptions.

Just as clients’ motivation for change are multifaceted, so too are treatment providers and others who work with those who sexually abuse. Many of us who work in this field are stuck in our ways and find it difficult to change our daily practices. This training provided multiple opportunities for attendees to discern how and whether restorative practices could benefit their clients, even if they entered the retreat unsure of what restorative justice was.

The conversations also affected the way Alissa will approach future trainings. Alissa has traditionally focused on client specific restorative justice. This entails focusing on how such processes can lead to empathy, insight, and understanding for those who have committed sex crimes, while also bringing closure, accountability, and healing to those who have had sexually traumatic experiences. During the training, a probation officer approached Alissa to ask how restorative justice might benefit those in positions like hers. It provided new insight for Alissa to think about how to integrate restorative practices into the larger community of individuals who work with those who have sexually abused.

Another moment of clarity occurred about halfway through the training. Alissa spoke about the current societal discourse around sexual violence and asked attendees what they thought the current discourse was. Several people spoke up about the lives of registered citizens and some of the inherent difficulties with living life on the registry. Interestingly, not a single person mentioned the people who have experienced sexual violence. The room fell silent when Alissa took notice of the lack of acknowledgement of victims of sexual violence.

Perhaps this is because providers who work with those who have offended have little dialogue with those who work with individuals who have been victimized. We remain in our silos, unaware of what others in the field are facing. Restorative practice moves beyond victims and offenders. Open and authentic dialogue is helpful for all of us to make positive changes in the way we work and live.

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