Your client admits to a sexual attraction to children. What do you do?
There are many people who are sexually attracted to children who say they have never molested a child and are committed to not doing so. They haven’t chosen to be sexually attracted to children, and they can’t stop being sexually attracted to children, but they can and have successfully lived with their attractions.
Some fear that they may harm a child in the future, but more are confident they won’t. Many are depressed and even suicidal. They know most of their friends and family would reject them if they knew. Many believe they are bad people. They fear a future lacking in love and intimacy.
They are also reluctant to see a therapist. They fear a therapist will condemn them or report them to authorities. Here is a personal account that we received from one of our members:
I’ve never had sexual contact with any prepubescent girls, but the attraction is very strong. I knew I needed help and went to a therapist. The first session I touched on my attractions and my issues. The look he gave me was one of retreat, shying away from the conversation to a place within his own mind where it was safe from the horror of what he had just heard. I had been brave enough to ask for help, but at the end of the first session, I knew there was no way I was going to seek therapy ever again. There is no point. I am on my own.
Therapists are trained to show empathy and understanding to people who suffer from various unfortunate conditions. Too often this ends abruptly when a client admits sexual attraction to children.
We ask that you resist the false belief that all pedophiles abuse children. Remember, your client most likely shares your goal of making sure that no children come to harm. After all, the patient in your office has come to you seeking help. This would not make sense if their goal was to molest a child.
View the client not just as a potential child molester but as a complicated person with difficult life problems. In addition to helping the client live a child-celibate life, be willing to address these other problems.
Be clear and direct about the circumstances in which you would have to make a report to authorities. If that includes your judgment of a risk of future abuse, consider the possibility that this risk might be very small.
There are two kinds of mistakes you can make:
- Failing to report someone who then abuses a child
- Reporting when there is no serious danger. This can start an investigation that can ruin an innocent person’s life.
As long as pedophiles believe they can be subjected to a life-destroying investigation when they have not done anything wrong, a great many will not seek the help from therapists who could protect children.
It’s important to remember that the DSM-5 is clear about what doesn’t constitute pedophilic disorder. It says that if individuals “report an absence of feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety about these impulses and are not functionally limited by their paraphilic impulses (according to self-report, objective assessment, or both), and their self-reported and legally recorded histories indicate that they have never acted on their impulses, then these individuals have a pedophilic sexual interest but not pedophilic disorder.”