But sir, you are an offender!

Narrative coercion as method of behavior modification

Short version,

presented in Prague in June 2006 at the Congress of the European Federation of Sexologists, by
Dr Frans E. J. Gieles, 2006, The Netherlands

The full text version is here: <  >

This is a short explorative study concerning the methodology of sex offender treatment (SOT), frequently used today as routine in the Netherlands and abroad. 


The basis is

a short exploration of the literature and 
the experiences of fifteen clients from several countries. 

A short exploration of the literature is not much, but I read in the literature of 2006 nearly the same as in the literature of 1996. There seem to be only a few changes and developments, only in detail within the chosen model, but the model itself is the same. My impression is: Much of the same. 

Fifteen clients are not much, but data are extremely scarce and very difficult to get. This is because the clients are not allowed to talk about their own treatment. If they do, they break their contract, thus they hinder their treatment, thus they break the conditions of the court, and thus they can be sent back to prison. In several countries, this can be for many years in awful and dangerous circumstances. Nevertheless, fifteen narratives reached me. 


The methodology is described with ‘the seven elements of human acting,’ developed in my dissertation.


See the scheme here below. 

The first column, "Element," 

Gives the seven elements of - every - human action. To act is more than performing a deed. 

(1) Action starts with interpreting the situation, and we see that different people may have quite different interpretations. 
(2) The actor's goals will determine the action taken. 
(3) The actor has to make a choice out of several possible ways of acting, and then act on his choice. 
(4) Then, the actor will look at the outcome, and also has to interpret this. 
(5) There remains a feeling afterwards that evaluates the deeds and the outcome in practical, emotional and ethical aspects. 
(6) By acting, the actor discovers knowledge or comes to questions.
(7) Finally, the actor looks ahead to future actions, and tries to improve his way of acting. 

The last row, Summary, gives a succinct description of the act as analyzed above. 

The second column, "Therapists," 

Analyses the therapists' way of acting, as it is described in the literature. Here we see what the therapists see, want, do, the outcome of their acts, and so on. The summary is sharp and critical. 

The third column, "Clients," 

Analyses the way the clients have experienced the acts of the therapist. The source is here what the clients have told me. 

The fourth column, "Critique," 

Gives my critique of the way the therapists acted, including their interpretations, their goals, their methods, and so on. 


 'But sir, you are an offender!'





(1) Interpretation

As an offender.  
As strange and different, as distorted and dangerous, as a manipulator. 
As a behaving being. 
As a person with an inner, a personal biography, able to act,  as a whole and as an individual.  Too reductionist. Two visions on the human, one for the clients, another for the therapists. 

(2) Goals

Prevention of recidivism, thus changing the offence behavior; becoming responsible.  No data. 
Supposedly: only to survive. 
Too limited, too much concentrated on behavior, not therapeutic. 

(3) Ways of acting

Narrative coercion and other  forms of coercion and control. 
Conditions beforehand, keeping distance, a group, an offence scenario, an offence chain, sexual script, avoiding the funnel, lots of orders, normalizing fantasies; sometimes medicines.  
Clients feel treated like toddlers and complain about endless repetition. 


Too much coercion, too concentrated on outward behavior; no attention to the inner mind or psyche and the underlying problems. 

(4) Outcome

Recidivism? This is low. 
Behavior changed? 
Questionnaires, after-care group. 
Stimuli? Triggers or disinhibitors? Contacts? 
Clients learn to pretend. 
'No stroke changed' 
Obsessions and depressions still alive.  
Not as intended: the outcome is far from therapeutic. 


(5) Feeling afterwards

No data. 
Impression: Difficult!' 'but also pride on the own expertise. 
Negative feelings of the clients: This is part of the method, thus good.
Extremely negative. Too awful for words.  Depressed, humiliated, traumatized,    deprived of self-confidence.  
This is a cruel method. 
Take the feelings of the clients afterward more seriously. 

(6) Insights

One stays within the chosen model and believes in it.  I pretend to agree with them: the only way to be released.  This does not work, at least not therapeutically. 

(7) Way to improve

No development, no self-critique. 
Ivory tower. 
Let them listen to us and  respect us.  Have a critical view of the model and the vision behind it. Start development of methodology. 

In summary

A very one-sided model full of use of narrative and other kinds of coercion, which comes across as an ideology, is in itself a closed system.  

A disaster!
I am not, totally not  changed.

Become self-critical; review the model.



The methodology shows a very one-sided view on the patients, narrow goals, and a very one-sided methodology in which narrative and coercion are at the core.

The results show low recidivism, but also very negative feeling and judgment of the patients.

The methodology is described as "psychotherapy," but there is no attention paid to the psyche of the patients, only to their behavior and thinking, not to their obsession, depression or such problems; it is not "therapy" at all, it is behavior modification – or ideology.


The cognitive behavioral model of treatment of sex offenders needs a critical view, review and change.

Feelings of the therapists as well as of the patients have to be investigated in a process of developing this methodology into a less one-sided and narrow model.

Start with the vision of the human being, thus on a philosophical level. Then, review the goals and methods, which might be done on the level of the psychology and psychiatry in a broad sense, thus not only on the level of the cognitive-behavioral psychology.


A mother:

"There are eight teenage boys and two therapists, and all the rest of us are parents and grandparents. We are bewildered, we are depressed and we are all consigned to this room for months. I am sick for hours beforehand and a day or more afterwards, unable to sleep in peace, to eat, to hold a casual conversation.

These boys, including my son, are sex offenders. We, as their parents, are complicit in crimes hard to explain or define. Recently I asked my 14-year-old son what he's learned from the painful events of the last year, and he said, "I've learned sex is bad. I don't want to think about it anymore." 

I believe the cure has been much worse than the disease. 
Each of the boys in our therapy program must 'disclose,' again and again, to all of us. Public confession is believed to be more than a good -- it's considered necessary to healing, a sign of responsibility, the willingness to take one's crimes upon oneself. 

He's learning about 'ownership' and 'restitution' and 'errors of thought.' 
I don't believe that it is his fault that the system is so cruel, the therapy so shallow, the philosophy so unintelligent."

"The consequences afterwards? I have listed them: 

always have watery eyes
to withdraw into oneself 
angriness when the person "wakes up" afterwards
feeling inferior to others
feel ugly and unworthy
feel crushed
scared of people
no more self-confidence
feeling of being had
feeling of oneself not having being respected in his beliefs
feeling of not being able to express oneself enough

Another client:

"I could constantly hear welling up in my brain the words, 'Sex is wrong. Love is wrong.'