Illuminating women's experience of challenges in their work with sexually abusive adolescents

Jessica A. Shepley (2006)

Women engaging in direct therapeutic contact with adolescent males who have histories of sexually abusive behaviors face multiple challenges. Each therapeutic intervention with the young men involves a process of reflection and action, an implicit and explicit negotiation of boundaries within the therapeutic relationship, and the maintenance of an empathic stance while holding the adolescents accountable for their abusive behaviors. Workplace dynamics become even more complicated as male and female colleagues, while working together, attempt to pursue open communication regarding traditionally unspoken topics. Gender dynamics emerge between male and female colleagues in the treatment milieu which create an additional layer of challenge. Also, as these women return home at the end of the day, the lingering effects of their work with the adolescents and the related workplace dynamics are such that they often impact their personal lives. The cumulative impact of the challenges facing these women in their personal experience and relationships may then, in turn, influence the therapeutic relationships with the young men. This project is a theoretical dissertation that articulates women's experience of the challenges which emerge when involved in the treatment of sexually abusive male adolescents. It illuminates the dilemmas that women face on a daily basis when working with this particular population. A literature review has been conducted to bring a focus to the complex interpersonal interactions present in the treatment of sexually abusive adolescents, the gender dynamics in the workplace, and the self experience and relational experiences outside the workplace. This review provided the foundation for a comprehensive discussion of the challenges experienced by women engaging in this work. In order to bring depth and understanding to the various issues that underlie the challenges that emerge for these women in the workplace and then at home, this project made use of case vignettes and archival survey data collected from women in the field. This project concluded with an exploration of women's development of a sense of self as a conceptual frame work for guiding a consideration of the implications for self-care in the workplace environment, self-care beyond the work day, and future research.