Tenets of Cognitive Psychology: Sex Offenders
Dealing with sex offenders and sex related issues are very delicate and an ill-constructed question meant to ask for a simple detail may be easily interpreted as something abusive or intrusive of one’s privacy, worse case if it causes harm or discomfort rather than help the individual. From the units studied it would be wise for the researcher or the practitioner to be very sensitive to the individual being counseled so as to avoid ethical missteps.
Cognitive psychology is defined as the study of how people perceive, learn, remember and think about information. As a practitioner, one should avoid placing one’s personal biases –which includes, but is not limited to, personal experiences, methods of learning and process of recall – on the way the research is being conducted. The interviewee’s, in this case the offender, answer should solely be his and that the interviewer – the practitioner – should refrain from giving conclusions based on his ideas or experiences. A practical way of doing this is to apply a method of verification, or active listening, in asking the emotional or actual context of the offender’s statement. The following conversation is a good example:
OFFENDER: “I did it because my friends pressured me to do it.”
PRACTITIONER: “I hear that you were simply pressured to do it, right? How did they pressure you?”
OFFENDER: “They just kept on teasing me that I’m a coward if I don’t do it.”
PRACTITIONER: “I see that they kept teasing you as a coward, do you feel like one when you won’t do what they tell you?”
The idea is to repeat what the offender said in order to verify the idea that was heard and to show that the practitioner is actually compassionate and actually listens to what was said. When that is settled, the practitioner can then probe the question deeper and can extract a more sensitive detail from the offender without making the offender feel worse.
In this type of questioning, the practitioner ought to watch out for any body language of annoyance or frustration from the offender. Using this type of questioning for a considerable amount of time in one conversation could easily make the offender think of thoughts such as “why is he parroting me?” or inject sarcasm such as “yes, that was what I just said” and may result to failure of extracting more information from the interviewee. Also, as a precaution, the interviewer has to be careful in displaying any signs of the same while conducting this type of questioning.
Another possible ethical concern with regards to this type of profession is gender based. For most occasions, the sex offender is generally a male but there are cases where the sex offender is a female – a female coercing a fellow female or a female who drugged and harassed a male. As a counselor, gender-based advises should be taken into consideration. A concrete example for this would be by not saying “I can relate with you” when the offender is referring to his sexual urges when the counselor is a female or by saying “I know I it feels” when the offender is a female and the counselor a male and the conversation is pertaining to the female’s emotion. These words may have meant to comfort the other but when they are said carelessly, it might just have an opposite effect. Again, the key here is to be sensitive with the situation.
As mentioned earlier, talking about issues related to sex is a very delicate matter. Another possible ethical misstep is the possibility of forcing out the information from the offender. In learning cognitive psychology, it was taught that details or information may exist in a “different” form even if both individuals experienced the same incident. The levels of perception, attention and consciousness are huge factors. Some individuals tend to “omit” a part of the experience while others “add” something to the incident. As a practitioner, it should be observed that the gathering of information, from either the offender or the victim, should be as gentle as possible.
The case may rest that the one being counseled are convicted sex offenders or probable sex offenders on trial, however, the aim of the board is to “treat” these offenders, or in other terms rehabilitate them. One way of doing this is to be humane and at the same time treat them as if they all have a chance of renewing or redeeming their selves from a bad public image. The main purpose of employing cognitive psychology is not to make them forget or give them a different illusion of the matters at hand but rather that the offenders understand the situation and learn from the reality in the hopes that they will not be making the same mistake.
As with this case, it should be taken into consideration the amount of time the offender and the victim needs in order to “digest” the reality and should not be forced or hastened. A possible source of a misstep is that as a researcher, one might want to “see” the results of the therapy in a certain amount of time. As studied in the previous chapters, it can be concluded that the learning skills of individual vary greatly from one another therefore the time of the results also vary.
Aside from gathering the needed information in order to assess the offender or the seriousness of the situation, the practitioner has to make the necessary evaluation of his work. In making the evaluation the decision making may be influenced by the probability of a given outcome versus the real value of the evaluation, the phrasing or how the problem was understood, the justifications made or that can be made for it, the anticipated regret or the level of self-esteem (Brown, 2007). Therefore, it is necessary that the practitioner detach himself from his own personal experiences and, as much as possible, his personal biases in making the proper assessment of his work with the offender.
The study of cognitive psychology also involves cognitive neuroscience whose approach involves the study of cognitive processes through the use of neuro-imaging techniques or from studying patients who have suffered various types of brain damage. The patients and people whose brain are scanned are usually given tests much like those in purely behavioral experiments but the interest centers on specifying neural correlates of performance. In counseling, especially in the practice of this profession in the field that addresses sexuality, the prototype approach should be avoided. The prototype approach pertains to having a set of “prototype” or distinct behaviors in order to conclude that an individual is suffering from a mental illness or has a damaged brain. An article suggests that the prototype method is not always accurate for some scenarios, that includes sexually related incidents where some studies show that people who think normally and those that have mental problems can actually behave similarly given the same stimulant (Galotti, 2010).
The assessment of the situation is just as difficult as extracting the information needed for the assessment. If extracting the information would require that the practitioner be sensitive, the assessment would require that the practitioner be very objective with his judgment. However, since cognitive psychology, in itself, is aimed at understanding the works of the mind or the brain and, as mentioned, the way the individual thinks vary greatly from one another, being entirely “objective” and “free of bias” is impossible.
This premise above, however, does not discredit the usefulness or the possible impact of cognitive psychology in counseling of the patients. On the contrary, studies show that not being “entirely objective” makes the approach sounds more compassionate and humane in the treatment of the patients and helps in rehabilitating those whose behavior needs to be modified (Mandler, 1985).
The most sever ethical misstep that a practitioner might actually perform is to have himself emotionally attached to the patient. As stressed out in the early part of this essay, cognitive psychology is the study of the workings of the mind and having emotions attached in this line of work is crossing the boundaries of the counselor and the one being counseled. It was mentioned earlier that the approach should be compassionate and humane; however this does not entail having emotional connections – especially referring to romantic relationships – with the patients. In order to avoid this, it is advised that the counselor refrain from making physical contact with the patient especially if the space is private. It is also advised that the counselor should ask questions that are only beneficial to the investigation or one that would lead to a meaningful assessment of the situation and not questions that will arouse either the interviewer or the interviewee.
In all fields and profession are standards set either by the government or a corporation in order to maintain ethical standards and to protect both the practitioner and the clients or patients. Knowing and following these guidelines are the best way in order to keep the relationship professional and without malice. In cases where intimacy or being intimate is highly unavoidable, such as the case of counseling the sex offenders, the practitioner should have a clear judgment of his limits of the possible temptations and his capabilities in the remodeling the behavior of the former.
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