Predicting psychological distress in sex offender therapists

Sex Abuse. 2003 Apr;15(2):149-57. doi: 10.1177/107906320301500205.


The provision of psychological services to sexual offenders presents therapists with many challenges, including exposure to vivid descriptions of sexual violence and trauma. Although there is an increasingly robust body of literature investigating the effects of such traumatic exposure on therapists who work with the victims of sexual abuse, there have been few studies of its impact on those who treat the perpetrators. This study provides an exploratory investigation of the experience of psychological distress among therapists who work with sex offenders, as well as the social support mechanisms that may serve to mitigate therapist risk. Fifty-nine sex offender therapists completed a self-report measure of posttraumatic stress symptomatology, and rated their perceptions of family and peer support. therapists also reported the number of hours that they devote to sex offender treatment and the amount of clinical supervision they participate in on a weekly basis. As a group, participants reported experiencing low levels of general and trauma-related distress. Although statistical analyses failed to indicate the existence of a significant positive correlation between number of hours devoted to sex offender treatment and the experience of therapist distress, greater perceptions of peer support were significantly predictive of lower levels of psychological distress and PTSD symptoms. These results are discussed relative to their implications for sex offender therapist self-care and future research.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Burnout, Professional* / etiology
  • Burnout, Professional* / psychology
  • Canada
  • Counseling*
  • Countertransference*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases* / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases* / psychology
  • Personality Assessment
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Offenses*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Time Factors
  • United States