NEWTON, Kan. (July 22, 2014) — It’s a family problem, a social problem and, in many cases, a community problem. But it’s one often silenced or relegated to the back burner.
For “James” (not his real name), age 49, his problem simmered for years until he was accused of crossing sexual boundaries with a child. He claimed he didn’t do anything wrong. But his son had reported him to the authorities, and court documents said something had happened.
James was angry at the whole world. Everyone was out to get him. He had done all kinds of great stuff for his family. What had they given him in return?
Ordered by the court to receive treatment at Prairie View’s Center for Sexual Health in Newton, James figured even the therapists would be out to get him too. With a belligerent attitude, James sat in Dooz Pankratz’s office for the first time, letting her know how he felt about the world and all its rules.
“James had spent his lifetime creating a lot of barriers within himself and between himself and others,” says Pankratz, a social worker in the Center for Sexual Health. “He had shoved people around for so many years that when he most needed the support of family and friends, he felt very alone.”
Since 1995 Prairie View’s Center for Sexual Health has provided evaluation and treatment for people like James. While some who walk through its doors are court-ordered adult sex offenders, other men and women arrive seeking sexual therapy for a wide range of issues. The center also treats youth, some of whom have violated sexual boundaries.
The center’s staff includes licensed social workers, like Pankratz, and a licensed professional counselor, Katie Henderson. They have specialized training in the treatment of sexual problems and difficulties. The specialists collaborate with psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and other staff as needed in developing and providing effective treatment plans. Referrals to medical professionals are made when appropriate.
The center’s director, Gail Unruh-Revel, is a licensed specialist clinical social worker, one of two certified sex therapists at Prairie View, and the only certified sex addiction therapist in the area. Amy Hammer is the other certified sex therapist at Prairie View.
“We focus on the balance between holding the person accountable but not adding to their shame — which is often the problem in the first place,” Unruh-Revel says. While experiencing and feeling guilt can help clients move forward, “toxic shame keeps them stuck and on a treadmill.”
“What really works is recognizing that they are human beings,” she continues. “We want to reduce their risk in the community by increasing accountability, responsibility and honesty and increasing their support network. We want them to be positive contributors to their community.”
But this is not appropriate for all sex offenders, she explains. “Assessment, including testing and risk assessment, helps determine whether someone is appropriate for an outpatient treatment program like ours.”
Prairie View’s therapists work with clients who are sex offenders to reduce factors that will put them at risk for repeat offenses and increase factors that will keep themselves and others safe and healthy. The clients answer tough, but necessary questions. For example, what will cause me to not follow treatment? What must I do to stay vigilant? What boundaries are important to establish? What would it mean for me to live a healthy life? What mental health issues must I deal with?
Therapy at the Center for Sexual Health includes individual counseling sessions and group sessions. Prairie View was one of the first centers to require families or significant others to attend sessions on a regular basis.
For James, by the time he showed up for therapy, only one person in his family was willing to continue relating to him. That was his wife. She supported him by attending group sessions.
“She became someone he cherished and someone he could see he needed to treat with respect. He began treating not only her, but all women with respect, seeing them as human beings rather than being offensive to them,” Pankratz says.
After about four months in outpatient therapy, James finally took ownership for what the young child said had happened. While some individuals may need two or more years of therapy, after 18 months, he had worked his way through therapy.
“James came in with an ‘I dare you,’ bullying attitude. He had been the guy who had shut everyone out and had silently handled things. When he had completed all the steps in his treatment program, he realized it was okay for a man to have emotions. It was okay to cry. He had learned to communicate. He had turned things around with his wife and was hoping to make things right with his family,” Pankratz says.”
James is one example of the positive changes that happen in the lives of many who have had challenges with sexual health.
“The transformation we see in many of our clients is incredible,” says Unruh-Revel. “They are taking responsibility and writing their relapse prevention plans. They are having healthy thoughts and identifying their risk factors. They are talking with more hope and thinking beyond themselves.”
The goal for the sex offender division of Prairie View’s Center for Sexual Health is to make communities safer places. To schedule an appointment or for more information, individuals can phone Prairie View at 316-284-6400 or 800-992-6292; ask for Gail Unruh-Revel.
“We want to keep children and vulnerable people safe,” Unruh-Revel says. “We want to prevent violence. We want to ensure the prevention of new victims and the successful treatment of survivors and perpetrators. Safety of the community is our goal.”