The T.O.P.* Workbook Review
Review For Taming Violence and Sexual Aggression
Review by David Prescott, ATSA Forum Editor
The emergence of workbooks to guide the treatment of sexually abusive youth certainly marked the beginning of the modern age for understanding and treating this population. Many of us have fond memories of using curricula such as Timothy Kahn’s Pathways until the pages came right off the spiral binding. With the first generations of these workbooks came new thought into the patterns of offensive behavior by youth, including the cycles described by Gail Ryan and Sandy Lane in Juvenile Sexual Offending.
While much of the earliest treatment of sexually abusive youth were guided by existing interventions with their adult counterparts, many of these same authors and practitioners struggled to create new ways of understanding youth whose development and personalities are dynamic and unfolding. As Prentky and Righthand recently observed, juveniles may best be considered “moving targets” when it comes to understanding risk. Lately, advances in understanding therapeutic process and outcome have led many to reconsider their approach to treatment. These advances include narrative methods as well as developments in understanding attachment and trauma. Finally, research indicating that sexually abusive youth are often more likely to recidivate non-sexually has also caused many to re-think their treatment targets.
Against this backdrop, Joann Schladale has developed a curriculum that is challenging in its simplicity and youth-centered to its core. Schladale borrows from the work of Alan Jenkins (author of Invitations to Responsibility) and Lucinda Rasmussen et al, whose 1992 article on the “Trauma Outcome Process” re-cast the familiar sexual assault cycle within a broader framework of self-victimization and recovery cycles. A key to understanding this process is in awareness of “trauma echoes”, described by Rasmussen and her colleagues as “messages from the perpetrator occurring near the time of abuse which the victim adopts as his/her own cognitions”.
While this workbook includes the discussions of, abuse, power, secrecy, anger, and other elements that one would expect, Schladale emphasizes the strength and courage it takes for youth to become the person they want to be. Going beyond relapse prevention, Schladale focuses on the youth’s future, capacity for self-care, and ability to construct a better life. Schladale stresses compassion in addition to empathy, and includes sections on attending to one’s pain, making amends to others, and staying grounded in the present.
The format includes brief discussions of key topics followed by a repeating set of questions for the youth to consider. The questions are entirely open-ended and supportive, allowing the youth bring their own perspective and understanding into dialog. Schladale makes no assumptions regarding “the problem”, “the answer”, or even that there is a single route to a healthy, non-abusive life. If a primary factor separating adolescent from adult sexual abusers is the development of youth, this workbook’s greatest asset is its ability to join with that development and re-connect youth with their own prosocial values.
The T.O.P. Workbook is easily accessible to most youth. Its approach is invitational and never confrontational or accusatory. Those who have grappled with simplifying such terms as “abstinence violation effect” will find a book that is easily handed to youth “as is”. In fact, this may come as a surprise to many. While a number of workbooks guide the treatment provider in constructing interventions, Schladale’s focus, including the page set-up, is entirely focused on engaging the youth. Those using it need to be well-versed in the concepts addressed. As a result, this workbook is not a stand-alone educational experience for the novice treatment provider. Rather, it is a benevolent structure for hard work.
Editor’s note: Many thanks to Janis Bremer of Project Pathfinder in Minnesota, who made several contributions to this review.
Jenkins, A. (1991). Invitations to Responsibility: The Therapeutic Engagement of Men who are Violent and Abusive. Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications.
Prentky, R., & Righthand, S. (2003). Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol – II. Document available at www.csom.org.
Rasmussen, L., Burton, J., and Christopherson, B. (1992). Precursors to offending and the trauma outcome process. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 1 (1), 33-48.