Vulnerable shrinks and vicious conscience


As an empiricist I long ago took against Freud, who was undoubtedly a profound thinker but one far more interested in the glamorous side of his investigations than in the dour, tough stuff that might have established the soundness or otherwise of his conclusions. Like Freud, the best scientists are capable of dazzlingly adventurous leaps of the imagination and grand theories: physics, after all has a Theory of Everything, which seems pretty ambitious. Unlike Freud, though, science is committed to put interesting ideas to the test. Only in that way will incorrect notions meet with the fate they deserve: rejection.

Since his death, some of Freud’s ideas, such as the “weak or absent father” theory of homosexuality, have been developed into testable hypotheses and found wanting. The great man’s many distinguished detractors have included Nabokov, who famously dismissed the founder of “the talking cure” as “the Viennese quack”. For a sustained, devastating exposure of Freud’s “well-documented conceptual errors, relentless apriorism, disregard for counterexamples, bullying investigative manner, shortcuts of reasoning, rhetorical dodges, and all-around chronic untruthfulness”, in the words of reviewer Francine Prose, we can turn to Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend, edited by Frederick Crews.

Despite such onslaughts, the tenets of psychoanalysis developed by Freud, as elaborated and refined by his disciples, still have their adherents. Dodgy concepts including the tripartite development of infantile sexuality (oral, anal and genital stages) and the Oedipus Complex, which at least had the virtue of acknowledging the vital significance of sexuality from birth onwards, have been quietly sidelined in favour of equally unproven but less controversial ideas: modern analysts tend to talk about developmental traumas in terms of object relations theory, which does not put sex at centre-stage. Just as important as the theory, too, has been the mind-set of those who have been attracted to following in the old charlatan’s wake. I called them disciples, and indeed they have been a church: sexually conservative, orthodox psychoanalysis has been heavily hetero-normative until recent times, just like the major authoritarian, patriarchal, monotheistic religions, seeing homosexuality as a perversion.

And insofar as they have deigned to mention the subject in print, which has been not as much as might be expected, psychoanalysts have excoriated paedophilia in extravagantly florid terms. A relatively recent example of this is On Paedophilia, by Cosimo Schinaia, which I am presently in the middle of. A fascinating picture is emerging, in which the therapists come across as certifiably paranoid, raging against the sadistic persecutions they are made to suffer by their intelligent and devastatingly scornful paedophilic patients! Translated from the original Italian, the book tells us about a working group of psychoanalytically oriented psychiatrists and psychologists in Italy, coordinated by the author, who pool their experiences of working with jailed paedophiles and others referred by the courts. In Italy, perhaps, such work is not left, as it largely is in the Anglophone countries, to the robust, no-nonsense, just-do-as-you’re-told, approach of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

It is easy to satirise these shrinks. They seem to come straight out of a Woody Allen movie, railing against their patients and then – what joy of joys, what schadenfreude! – falling out among themselves in a melodramatic storm in a teacup, a mini-maelstrom of neurotic, self-imposed anguish and anger, torment and trauma!

Yes, it is easy to make fun, and perhaps I will do so again if I review the book properly once I have finished it: there is certainly plenty more to talk about. For the moment, though, I feel it is worth focusing on the surprisingly positive potential of psychoanalysis. For those who can bring themselves to believe in it, as with those who believe in a religion, there are benefits, and they work best for true and sincere believers.

You may be surprised to hear that I have just mentioned one of those benefits: the falling out. Well, not the quarrelling as such, but the fact that Schinaia candidly admitted it had happened. The great thing about this is the honesty: analysts aim to examine their own feelings as well as those of the people they analyse: the dynamics of the psychological relationship between the analyst and the analysand are laid bare. They probe not only “transference” – the theorised redirection of a patient’s feelings for a significant other person, such as their father, to the therapist – but also “countertransference”, which recognises the therapist’s feelings towards a patient, which will never be entirely detached and objective. It is an enquiry which acknowledges that the therapist has unconscious feelings and vulnerabilities, just like the patient; and this acknowledgement binds the two together in their shared humanity. This sure beats the divisive effect of CBT, which separates the therapist as a never-wrong authoritarian from his inferior and always error-prone “client”.

Psychoanalysis can only ever be as good as its individual practitioners, of course. The bullies and fools among them will achieve nothing. This still beats CBT, though, which is positively designed to be administered by bullies and fools. They may not all be stupid but they might as well be. This is because they are required to stick rigidly and mechanically to a manual-based programme and procedures.

The English edition of Schinaia’s book carries a foreword by Donald Campbell, a past president of the British Psychoanalytical Association. Despite his eminence, Campbell’s rabid contribution appears to put him firmly among the bullies and fools. I mention him here, though, because he was an analyst at the Portman Clinic, London, now part of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Both clinics, Portman and Tavistock, have a psychoanalytic orientation and have attracted many big names, ranging from John Bowlby,  the esteemed pioneer of attachment theory, to Valerie Sinason, the lunatic proponent of Satanic abuse. So, in quality terms it’s the ultimate mixed bag! The Portman has long been into forensic work with paedophiles but the numbers are tiny: CBT dominates the game.

One of the leading Tavistock figures in the latter part of the last century was Charles Rycroft, author of A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (1968) and Psychoanalysis and Beyond (1985). His most significant role in life, though, (well to me at least!) was to give a less than enthusiastic review of my book Paedophilia the Radical Case, in the Times Literary Supplement. So far so bad, but he was at least a genuine radical, unafraid to challenge conservative colleagues, and even Bolshie in the most literal sense, having been a member of the Communist Party prior to disillusionment over Stalin. He was also a long-time colleague at the Tavistock of R.D. Laing, such a toweringly rebellious character he was known for his school of “anti-psychiatry”, promoting the view that psychiatric treatments are often more damaging than helpful.

It was a MAP, Ben Capel, author of Notes from Another Country, who alerted me a couple of years ago to the fact that radicalism is still an interesting feature of the Freudian tradition, if very much a minority one. Everyone can access it in published works and for the lucky few who encounter an inspired analyst it may even reach them through good therapy.

One such writer/analyst whose name crops up quite a bit in Notes from Another Country is Adam Phillips. A marvellous essay of his appeared recently in the London Review of Books, called “Against self-criticism”. It is an examination of our internal policeman: conscience. Excitingly, he invites us to revolt against its more unreasonable constraints. We know that in society not all laws are good ones, and so it is in our own heads. Conscience is an internalisation of the moral imperatives we grew up with: it is the morality imposed on us by (usually) our parents’ expectations. Allowing ourselves to be utterly bound by it is to make ourselves a slave to the morality of others when we should be thinking for ourselves.

Phillips approaches conscience as Freud did, through Hamlet. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud used Hamlet as a way of understanding what Phillips calls “the obscene severities of conscience”. Hamlet was illuminating for Freud because “it showed him how conscience worked, and how psychoanalytic interpretation worked, and how psychoanalysis could itself become part of the voice of conscience”. Note, here, this psychoanalyst’s implied criticism of conservative psychoanalysis.

The fateful character flaw of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, the eponymous hero of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, is his indecision. Honour requires him to avenge the death (by suspected poisoning) of his father, the rightful king. The old king’s throne has been usurped by Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, who has married Hamlet’s mother. But Hamlet hesitates. Conscience holds him back. Freud concludes that Hamlet has an Oedipal desire for his mother and the subsequent guilt prevents him from murdering Claudius, who has done what he unconsciously wanted to do. The loathing which should drive Hamlet on to revenge, Freud wrote, “is replaced in him by self-reproaches, by scruples of conscience, which remind him that he himself is literally no better than the sinner whom he is to punish.” Hamlet, in Freud’s view, turns the murderous aggression he feels towards Claudius against himself. Freud uses Hamlet to say that conscience is a form of character assassination, whereby we continually mutilate and deform our own character. As Phillips puts it, “We know almost nothing about ourselves because we judge ourselves before we have a chance to see ourselves.”

Adams says conscience is:

“…moralistic rather than moral. Like a malign parent it harms in the guise of protecting; it exploits in the guise of providing good guidance. In the name of health and safety it creates a life of terror and self-estrangement. There is a great difference between not doing something out of fear of punishment, and not doing something because one believes it is wrong. Guilt isn’t necessarily a good clue as to what one values; it is only a good clue about what (or whom) one fears. Not doing something because one will feel guilty if one does it is not necessarily a good reason not to do it. Morality born of intimidation is immoral. Psychoanalysis was Freud’s attempt to say something new about the police.”

The implication for MAPs brought up to regard sexuality as a furtive thing, a guilty pleasure to which children should not be exposed, is obvious. We (and this definitely includes me personally) all too commonly find conscience an unreasonable burden, an unwanted legacy from our parents. It’s the white elephant in the backroom of our minds: try to ignore it as we may, it never leaves us. What radical psychoanalysis may be able to do, though, is to challenge its validity by showing us precisely why we do not need to have a bad conscience over our refusal to be bullied by the dictates of conscience, provided we have a principled alternative – as many of us do.

Crews, F. (ed.) Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend Viking, 1998

Phillips, A. “Against Self-Criticism”, London Review of Books, Vol. 37 No. 5,  5 March 2015 pages 13-16

Rycroft, C. “Sensuality from the start”, Times Literary Supplement, 21 November 1980

Schinaia, C. On Paedophilia, Karnac, 2010



Ed Miliband was leader of the British Labour party until it suffered an unexpectedly heavy defeat in the general election last week, whereupon he fell on his sword. One criticism now being levelled at his leadership is that he was too intellectual, a theorist out of touch with the people. He unrealistically tried to convert the voters to his views rather than embrace theirs.

But what if Ed’s views were right and those of the voters were wrong? Everyone agrees he is a clever man, a deeper thinker than most of his opponents, so there is every chance his analysis was far superior to that of the average voter, whose understanding of economics, for instance, is woefully deficient. If they hear the name Keynes they probably think it’s a reference to the sticks teachers used to beat kids with.

Shouldn’t leadership, in a democracy, be about teaching the electorate rather than just pandering to their ignorance? On issues from climate change to child sexuality, it is vital that the public is somehow compelled to listen and learn occasionally. Otherwise we are doomed.

ATSA agonising gives grounds for hope


Angst and turmoil within the ranks of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) has been brought to Heretic TOC’s notice this week thanks to a leak from internal discussions.

I did not personally encounter the Deep Throat of this episode in a dimly lit underground car park and do not know his identity (or hers); but the information is highly credible and was transmitted to me indirectly by a source I will be happy to credit later for this scoop, providing no one is going to be compromised.

The leak, from a thread on the ATSA listserve, sees David Prescott, a former president of the association, debating a couple of weeks ago with Steven Sawyer, a psychotherapist in private practice, and Jon Brandt, director of a home for teenage boys on probation.

Prescott had pointed out that there is an ongoing class-action lawsuit regarding Minnesota’s civil commitment program for sexual offenders (MSOP), contesting whether the program is constitutional. He noted that the main local newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, had described the current state of affairs as an injustice.

Prescott’s view, which did not surprise me as I know him from Sexnet, was broadly liberal. Having himself worked briefly in the Minnesota program, as he declared in this listserve exchange, he had come to accept that even if it might be possible to justify civil commitment for some offenders, Minnesota’s record was highly dubious. The program had been in existence for 20 years. Prisoners were supposed to be released after successful treatment, but after all those years, and with over 700 prisoners going through the program, only one person had ever been released for a significant length of time.

He asked:

“Where do our ethical and moral obligations begin and end? Given the prime directive of the helping professions, ‘First, do no harm,’ this seems a worthwhile question. Much of the media accounts have focused on the appalling lack of courage and fortitude of state lawmakers and officials in addressing MSOP and its legal context. In fact, this has been going on years.

“How long does one have to work in a dysfunctional system before one becomes a de facto collaborator with it? … At what point are we causing harm to our clients through our involvement? Many of us have heard clients say, ‘If you really want to help me, Doc, get me out of here.’ How many have to say this before they have a compelling point?”

Sawyer’s response was defensive, along the lines “We’re not to blame, it’s the courts.” He said they were the ones making the decision to impose civil commitment on an offender, and also when to release that person. The clinicians just provide treatment. So he thought criticising them was “a bit harsh and unfair to well intentioned, professional, and talented people”. They could not be held responsible for what was outside their control.

Prescott took him to task for passing the buck, saying it is “an abdication of our professional responsibilities” just to blame the system.

Brandt agreed, pointing out that earlier this year a federal judge had declared MSOP to be a “clearly broken” system. Brandt went further, too, saying civil commitment in general was an ethical minefield for every professional who is party to it, and indeed all therapy with incarcerated offenders, whether in civil commitment or serving an ordinary prison sentence, involved an ethically problematic “dual relationship”. He was referring to the conflict of roles inherent in trying to serve the client and the state simultaneously. Increasingly, he said, therapists appeared to be less committed to helping the client’s rehabilitation through psychological work and more concerned with security and containment, in response to political pressures.

He spoke of a “treatment paradox”, a sort of no-win situation, or Catch 22: “…in order to successfully complete sex-specific treatment, clients are required to disclose all the details of their sexual history, offenses, and fantasies; often…under the duress of compulsory polygraphs. The dilemma is that the more details that clients reveal, the more they tend to disclose possible risk factors and reinforce the grounds for their own confinement.” Thus clients who cooperate with the system are damned along with those who do not.

In making these points, Brandt quoted from the academic literature in the field, specifically a recent paper by Theresa Gannon and Tony Ward. The good news here is that papers criticising the system are indeed being published, and these critiques are clearly being discussed by such leading figures in the profession as David Prescott. Even Steven Sawyer, defending his colleagues, made no attempt to defend injustices perpetrated from above, by the courts and politicians.

Another good sign recently is to be seen in a new ATSA position paper on its website opposing the horrors of residency restrictions for sex offenders. We have all heard about these oppressive rules, especially in the US, where sex offenders can find themselves living under road bridges because all the local housing is deemed too close to a school, and thus – so it is claimed – presenting a danger to the kids who go there.

Nor was ATSA’s opposition to these unjust rules hidden under a bushel. Not many people will read their website, but the association has also been trumpeting its thinking to the media.

The New York Times had reported last month that “Dozens of sex offenders who have satisfied their sentences in New York State are being held in prison beyond their release dates because of a new interpretation of a state law that governs where they can live.” Since 2005, sex offenders in the state cannot live within 1,000 feet of a school, and a February ruling from the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision extended that restriction to homeless shelters. As the onus is on sex offenders to find approved housing before they are released, the prisons have been keeping them locked up when they have been unable to do so.

ATSA head Maia Christopher leapt into the fray. She sent her organization’s policy paper to New York magazine online (not to be confused with New York Times Magazine but the NYT was doubtless sent a copy too) even before it was up on ATSA’s website. And the message could not have been more clear and robust: the association “does not support the use of residence restrictions as a feasible strategy for sex offender management” because of a lack of evidence they do any good.

Rather than increasing public safety, registry restrictions tended to decrease it, because the “unintended consequences of residence restrictions include transience, homelessness, instability, and other obstacles to community re-entry.” Since “unemployment, unstable housing, and lack of support are associated with increased criminal recidivism,” and housing restrictions lead to all three, they are a bad idea, ATSA argues.

Now, I am sure there will be some heretics here who will be reading all this with a growing sense of incredulity. How can ATSA, the dark force for decades behind regimes of coercive, confrontational cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), suddenly emerge as radical agents of humane and enlightened policies? Does Not Compute!

Well, all you sceptics, you are not alone in going through a confusing dose of Cognitive Dissonance on this, with new facts bashing up against old experience. I feel it myself, even though another of those new facts is ATSA’s openness to at least be thinking about radical non-CBT therapy – as evidenced by its acceptance of my own recent article proposing a deeper and more humane approach. A corrective against being over-optimistically carried away has been fightback385’s comments in response to Why I am talking to the terrorists.

“Fightback” has usefully pointed out that “ATSA is still ignorant of the research on child sexuality (e.g., Floyd Martinson) and refers to children who behave sexually with each other in developmentally appropriate ways that scare Americans as ‘children with sexual behavior problems’ (CSBP), advocating the use of drastic treatments that teach them their sexual feelings (and by implication, they themselves) are wrong and dangerous.”

In further comments that I would urge everyone to read, Fightback sets out a very persuasive parallel between sex offender therapy and religious authoritarianism. The really important point underlying his thesis, I suggest, is that this authoritarian thinking has not suddenly disappeared. Especially in the US, religion is still very strong. Authoritarian politicians often invoke religious rhetoric in their thunderous denunciations of “evil doers”; and it may be that in ATSA’s other stronghold countries its members include a substantial proportion of those for whom zeal against sex “offending”, even when non-violent, non-coercive and utterly harmless, has become a secular substitute for religion.

These authoritarians have a mindset in which evidence-based policy does not figure strongly: they are content to enforce their received ideas with unquestioning vigour. Their conservative morality is accordingly unlikely to be greatly influenced by progressive forces within their own ranks: even ATSA leaders as senior as David Prescott and Maia Christopher, and researchers as prestigious as Theresa Gannon and Tony Ward, are unlikely to trump the “prophets of old” in their minds, such as Gene Abel, who pioneered CBT. And for the true believers among them, of course, there is no trumping God Himself!

Bearing in mind the continuing existence of this conservative rank-and-file, can ATSA ever be expected to make substantial progress? Even more importantly, can it contribute to changing not just itself and its therapeutic practices but also wider society?

Jesse Singal, author of the New York magazine report cited above, felt that even the relatively modest change involved in getting rid of residency restrictions was no more than a pipe dream. After all, he said, what politician wants to stand up and say, “You know what? I think sex offenders should be able to live closer to children”?

His scepticism makes sense except for the fact that civil society is not led by politicians alone; indeed they tend to follow opinion rather than lead it in our age of opinion polls and focus groups. Leadership these days has passed in many cases to the judges, especially in Europe, where human rights law has racked up many major achievements over the last several decades, including the ending of the death penalty across the continent. The US, too, has enjoyed its great moments of judicial leadership, not least in terms of its increasingly radical interpretation in the 20th century of the First Amendment: it was not the early politicians, the Founding Fathers, but Supreme Court judges such as Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis who most advanced freedom of expression as a vital civil liberty, less than a century ago.

The Supreme Court itself, as opposed to the influential minority opinions of its best judges, has by contrast often been disappointing, not least in terms of rejecting challenges to civil commitment. But that may not last. Crime in general has been falling rapidly in the US for years now, including sex offences against children. Despite all the hype over internet grooming and pornography, the worst of the panic there may be passing (unlike in the UK where historic celebrity and street grooming scandals continue to fuel the flames). Whereas almost the entire civic establishment would once have backed harsher penalties for sex offenders in the US, there is now a growing realisation – including within the judiciary – that unthinking harshness has gone too far. In these circumstances, a reform-minded ATSA may be surprised to find itself pushing against an open door where the judiciary is concerned. The class-action lawsuit against Minnesota’s civil commitment program may not be the hopeless cause that some might suppose.

Heretic TOC hopes that ATSA will accordingly find ways to give this lawsuit their energetic support, whether through the media or within the courtroom or both.

Why I am talking to the terrorists


Fraternising with the enemy! Treachery! There, I’ve said it. It’s out there. Loud but not that proud and not yet that specific either, so I’d better spit it out properly.

Deep breath. Here goes. I HAVE BEEN NEGOTIATING WITH TERRORISTS – although I’d better deny it immediately in case they send someone to have me beheaded. Deny, that is, that they are terrorists not that I have been in talks with them.

I refer, of course, to the fearsome international terror machine that is the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). Well-funded, well-equipped, its tentacles stretching around the globe, this “association” has been responsible for untold suffering through its ruthless “treatment” of tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands, in its ideological heartland of Canada and worldwide. Specialising in coercion and mental torture, its “cognitive behavioural therapy” (CBT) methods used on captives have reached heights of sadistic sophistication the early Chinese pioneers of brainwashing could only dream about for their “re-education” programmes aimed at the enforced acceptance of communism.

So, you will be wondering, why would I be having anything to do with this evil force? Many of you know that I fell into the hands of forces loosely affiliated with ATSA in 2006-7. Did I succumb when I was held captive and subjected to CBT? Was I turned? Have I been cunningly embedded here on Heretic TOC as an undercover agent?

You will have to decide for yourselves on the basis of the evidence, which is essentially all of my published output since 2007, which we can notionally bundle together as Exhibit 1, with the Fragoso book review in my last blog separated out in its own tagged and sealed evidence bag as Exhibit 2. And now, as Exhibit 3, I offer an article of mine that appeared earlier this month in ATSA Forum – a secret (well, members only) strategy bulletin circulated online solely to around 4,000 elite cadres of the organisation’s ideological hierarchy: crucially, these include the brains who devise and refine the “treatment programmes” as well as the senior operatives in the field.

A defence lawyer might well argue for me that this article of mine has been planted as a Trojan Horse behind enemy lines: it seeks to humanise us heretics and hint in a subtly credible way that we are not their real enemy; thus psychologically, they may be disarmed.

So, what do I say without hiding behind a lawyer?

OK, time to drop the cloak and dagger stuff and tell you what the article is about. Copyright considerations, nothing more sinister, prevent me linking to the full text, though I hope I might get a release on that before too long.

The main aim of the 3,500-word piece is to criticise the style and content of sex offender treatment programmes in an obviously sober, careful, well-researched fashion, so that the professionals will actually take notice. The idea is that they will see a case for changing towards something that is genuinely more in society’s interests while also according much greater respect than at present to the dignity and human rights of those undergoing the courses.

It is an ambitious task but not necessarily an unrealistic one as there are reasons to believe the approach I have suggested would be far more efficient and cost-effective than standard CBT, which is massively time-consuming and often counterproductive.

To those who would say it is treacherous for a heretic to cooperate with the design and provision of any sort of programme aimed at changing the thinking of minor-attracted people, as though any such efforts amount to brainwashing, I would remind them that all education is aimed at changing our thinking (as indeed are newspaper opinion articles, conference speeches, etc.). In general we think education is a good thing. That is because we associate it not just with gaining knowledge but also with learning important skills such how to question assumptions and think for ourselves.

Thinking for ourselves is hardly what springs to mind, though, when we contemplate sex offender treatment programmes, especially when, as is often the case, they are coercively imposed on a literally captive audience in prison.

But this is my point: the courses need to be changed so that real thinking is truly encouraged rather than oppressively crushed as at present.

Whether society as a whole benefits from running offender courses is a separate issue. In principle the idea is surely sound. If an anger management programme helps someone learn to control his temper so he doesn’t beat up his wife and terrify his kids, isn’t that a good thing? The same goes for sex offending, which – let us not forget – includes violent rape and coercive child molestation. Just like adult-oriented heterosexuals, not all MAPs are well-behaved. Society, in other words, has a legitimate interest in persuading offenders to stop causing harm.

We can and should debate whether consensual MAP offences cause any harm, rather than just accepting the current authoritarian dogma that they do. Rest assured, this was an issue I addressed in my article.

Titled “What to do with the entrenched client: A paedophilic entrenched client’s view”, the piece began with a quote from an article in the academic literature:

…what do you do with the clients who are so entrenched and ‘anti’ everything? These are the clients who make our lives difficult, and who often cause us the greatest concern. Why are they so problematic?” (Wilson & Pake, 2010)

When I first saw that heartfelt plea, I thought “That’s me they’re talking about.” I had been just such a “client”, a member of the awkward squad undergoing sex offender treatment while released on licence in the second half of a 30-month sentence for distributing “indecent images of children”. They hated the fact that I asked too many questions and refused to swallow their simplistic assertions: the word “entrenched” was written into my official record.

What I now tried to get across in my article was that mainstream CBT might be OK for many offenders but not all. Troubled offenders, including those with problems such as drug addiction, depression, inability to hold down a job, etc., may readily accept that their lives need to change. In my experience they often actually welcome a firm, “no excuses” approach that forces them to face their “issues”.

But what works for these offenders can be less than useless for another group I dubbed The Dissidents – people like myself, who rail against the system, either openly or with a suppressed “silent scream” of protest. Many such offenders, I pointed out, are not only educated and astute; they may also have strong and well-grounded moral values – albeit at odds with majority opinion. I wrote:

Dissidents, as opposed to fundamentally antisocial troublemakers, respect evidence and argument. In dealing with them it is important that therapists engage in debate without worrying about having to win the argument. In the last analysis, the offender will be aware that the law is the law, and scoring points over the therapist is not going to change that. The therapist’s trump card will always be that maybe the law is not fair in all circumstances, but we must all live with it unless it is changed through the democratic process.

Instead of heavily didactic, simple messages that may be suitable for some – but not for the sincere and thoughtful Dissident – there is a need to introduce materials capable of prompting really deep discussion. These might include novels with a relevant theme written from a victim’s viewpoint, or even academic papers.

This is the point at which I gave as an example Tiger, Tiger, the memoir by Margaux Fragoso cited in my last blog Love is confoundedly complicated!

Continuing, I said that traditional CBT group therapy is set up so that participants quickly learn to self-censor in order to avoid dire consequences:

… It is a frustrating business because any attempt to string an argument together will be brusquely shut off… those seeking to curry favour with authority are often only too ready to gang up on the Dissident(s) in the group.

Enforcing resentful conformity is no way to encourage real and lasting change. The profession must have the courage to allow proper debate as to what actually causes harm to victims; including, harms caused to children by neglect, emotional abuse, violence, and chaotic dysfunction in the family. Those who read Fragoso’s memoir will find that she grew up in just such a dysfunctional, emotionally abusive family. Peter “rescued” her from it; albeit with some costs. But, if he had ever ended up in treatment no one would have wanted to know about that because such possibilities are a taboo. As long as this remains the case, therapists will lack credibility with offenders – especially the Dissident – who will continue to present intractable responsivity problems.

The more “credible” approach that I advocate would certainly be experienced as a valid debate, not a degrading insult to the intelligence such as the CBT brainwashing style seeks to impose. I am confident that, as such, it would be experienced not only as a more humane form of treatment but it would also help to reconcile the offender calmly to compliance with the law until such time as it can be reformed, rather than leaving him full of poisonous hatred towards “the system” and perhaps increasingly to society and humanity in general. This does not preclude protest and activism for change, far from it.

What truly appals me in all this, and what motivated me to write the article when the opportunity came along, is the nightmare situation faced by some of the most honest Dissidents when they are faced with indeterminate sentences from which they can be released only when they are deemed no longer to be “dangerous”. It is easy for glib liars. They can “pass” the courses with ease in Britain and elsewhere (though not perhaps the US where few escape “civil commitment”). All they need to do is say they agree with the authoritarian dogma, even if they do not believe a word of it. They don’t mind fudging the truth or telling outright whoppers.

But that strategy sticks in the throat of the sincere Dissident, who feels honour-bound to tell it like it is. By doing so, though, he guarantees that he will always “fail”: his candid difference of opinion with the authorities is deemed a thought-crime that guarantees his continued incarceration as a “dangerous” criminal. In the name of humanity and decency, we must reject this barbaric dogma.

It would be naïve as well as immodest to suppose one article is going to make a huge difference, but there has to be a start somewhere. I do believe, though, there is a chance the profession will listen: after all, as indicated in my quote from Wilson & Pake, above, the authorities are beginning to ask relevant questions; also, the sheer fact that a professional journal has been willing to carry an article under my own name from me as a known “heretic” – something unique so far as I can tell – suggests that opinion among the powers that be is not as steely and unwavering as might be supposed from the impression they so dispiritingly give in the therapy sessions.


Wilson, R.J. & Pake, D.R. (2010). Treatment readiness: Preparing sexual offenders for the process of change. In Herzog-Evans, M. (Ed.), Transnational criminology manual. Oisterwijk, Netherlands: Wolf Legal Publishing.



I have given only one reference above, to Wilson & Pake, as this is the only item to which I have referred directly. I might add, though, that some 17 references, from academic and offender sources, appeared with the ATSA article. Additionally, in order to do a thorough job of understanding all the relevant research on sex offender therapy, I found it necessary to read a number of textbooks and pushing up towards a hundred research articles.

As for getting the piece accepted, it took over two years and more drafts than I care to contemplate – with alterations required following criticism by some half dozen editors and reviewers at ATSA and Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, which is where a version of the article was first submitted. I make no complaint about this; and if people want to say my efforts are just a waste of time, or kowtowing, or Uncle Tom foolery, they won’t be raising any questions I have not asked myself. My fear is that they may be right; my hope is that they are not.

%d bloggers like this: