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Emotion-Focused Therapy & Children with Problematic Sexual Behaviors

Emotion-Focused Therapy & Children with Problematic Sexual Behaviors

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Published by Jane Gilgun
This article demonstrate the centrality of emotional expressiveness in the treatment of children ages five to 10 with problematic sexual behaviors. To do so, we pieced together clinical experience, findings from research on the development of sexually abusive behaviors, research and theory on emotional development and expression, and research and theory on resilience. Although there is a vast literature on topics that can shed light on children’s emotional development, there is little on the emotional expressiveness of children with issues related to their sexual behaviors. This paper represents an initial attempt to put to paper ideas that we think are important in child and family therapy when children have sexually inappropriate behaviors.
This article demonstrate the centrality of emotional expressiveness in the treatment of children ages five to 10 with problematic sexual behaviors. To do so, we pieced together clinical experience, findings from research on the development of sexually abusive behaviors, research and theory on emotional development and expression, and research and theory on resilience. Although there is a vast literature on topics that can shed light on children’s emotional development, there is little on the emotional expressiveness of children with issues related to their sexual behaviors. This paper represents an initial attempt to put to paper ideas that we think are important in child and family therapy when children have sexually inappropriate behaviors.

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Published by: Jane Gilgun on Sep 06, 2013
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Page 1 of 34Emotion-focusedEmotion-Focused Therapyand Children with Problematic Sexual BehaviorsJane F. GilgunUniversity of Minnesota, Twin CitiesKay RiceDanette JonesSt. Paul, MN8500 wordsChapter to appear in Martin C. Calder (Ed.),
Children and young people who sexually abuse: Newtheory, research, and practice developments.
Dorset, England: Russell House.Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW, is professor, School of Social Work, University of Minnesota, TwinCities, 1404 Gortner Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108 USA. Phone: 612/925-3569; Fax: 612/624-3744;e-mail: jgilgun@umn.edu. Kay Rice, LICSW, ACSW, and Danette Jones, AAMFT, LICSW, are in private practice in St. Paul MN. 2375 University Avenue W., Suite 160, St. Paul, MN 55114 USA.Phone: 651/642-1709; fax: 651/642-0150
 
Emotion-focusedPage 2 of 34
Emotion-Focused Therapyand Children with Problematic Sexual Behaviors
When Alan
1
, 8, and his family entered treatment because of Alan’s inappropriate sexual behaviors, the primary emotion he expressed was anger. He did not want to talk about his sexual behaviors. Parents in the neighborhood warned their children to stay away from him. Children atschool either avoided him or taunted him. Alan’s parents also were angry. They were quick to blame others for their son’s behaviors, reluctant to look at their personal issues that affected Alan,and were unable to deal with their son’s sexual behaviors, emotional states, and difficulties inschool and with peers. Frustrated, ashamed, and confused, they wanted therapists to fix their son.At the end of treatment, Alan’s parents had begun to manage the difficulties in their relationship and had gained new parenting skills. Alan had developed capacities for appropriateemotional expressiveness, had learned to recognize his emotional states that meant he was at risk toact out sexually, and had demonstrated that he knew what to do when he was at risk to be sexuallyinappropriate or abusive. In general, he had learned to manage his sexual behaviors through becoming aware of his emotions and through learning how to express his emotions in appropriateways. He and his parents accepted that Alan was at risk to act out sexually in the future and mightrequire additional interventions as time went on.Alan’s parents were key in how well Alan did after treatment ended. They learned to talk easily and openly about issues related to his sexual acting out. When he needed emotional support,they were there for him. In the years following the end of therapy, Alan and his parents returned periodically to see the therapists. Alan would say, “It’s time for a tune-up,” meaning he neededextra help in managing his sexual behaviors. Usually these return visits were one to two sessions,
 
Emotion-focusedPage 3 of 34taking place when Alan was at a transitional point and experiencing emotional turmoil, such asgoing to a new school and entering puberty.The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate the centrality of emotional expressiveness inthe treatment of children ages five to 10 with problematic sexual behaviors. To do so, we piecedtogether clinical experience, findings from research on the development of sexually abusive behaviors, research and theory on emotional development and expression, and research and theoryon resilience. Though there is a vast literature on topics that can shed light on children’s emotionaldevelopment, there is little on the emotional expressiveness of children with issues related to their sexual behaviors. The second and third authors of this paper originated the emotion-focusedtherapy program we discuss in this chapter. This paper represents an initial attempt to put to paper ideas that we think are important in child and family therapy when children have sexuallyinappropriate behaviors.
Sexually Inappropriate Behaviors
In our view, behaviors are sexually inappropriate when children are pre-occupied withsexual topics to the point where other aspects of their development suffer, when children’s sexual behaviors are intrusive, unwanted, and ignore the wishes of others, and when children trick,manipulate, and force others into sexual contact. Like abuse perpetrated by older persons, sexualabuse perpetrated by children often involves an abuse of power where older, stronger, morecognitively developed children takes advantage of younger children. We believe the sexual abusethat children and young people perpetrate is as damaging as abuse that adults perpetrate. Theyounger the children are when sexually inappropriate behaviors begin, the more likely the childrenwere sexually abused themselves.Some childhood sexual behaviors are normative. Sexual contacts between age peers that aremutually wanted, are of short duration, and where privacy is respected are not inappropriate. A

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