The other day I saw a commercial for Noom, a weight loss program constructed around a process called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and they showcased a gentleman who was an Olympian who became an overeater. Seems like a striking fall from grace, right? Athlete to obese? CBT is a tool he used to help reclaim his sense of self.
CBT isn’t a new concept, but to use it as a weight loss tool beats overpriced supplements, dieting fads designed around niche food menus, and the yo-yo. The yo-yo: the monster of an obstacle dieters face when they still don’t have the tools to regulate the way they think about themselves. All the best foods in the world mean little if the person in the mirror still looks hideous to the viewer. Up and down…
Dieting is a brutal thing to witness. My mother battled diets for years when I was a kid. She was an amazing woman who died at 60 years old from a stroke, perhaps because of the supplements or the inability to regulate how she ate. Perhaps both. She was abused in her adult life before my dad came along. Knowing what I know now, there’s a lot of those things that can impact how a person sees themselves, the demons they fight, and the comforts they take to become tolerant of themselves. As an Iraq war vet with PTSD from both the war and a devastating marriage, it took me a long time to admit that the most comforting thing for many years was an empty six-pack holder.
But what if, cognitively, they could change that? What if they could identify a series of distortions, enact safeguards against them, and change from a damaged person who harms themselves by overeating (or any variety of self and social destruction), into a person who sees themselves as having a beautiful place in their skin? A place that empowers them to become better to themselves? To others, to their community, or their futures, even?
So, here’s where I take a controversial turn. Would you want a sex offender living next door? Assume you know nothing of the sex offender’s background and have even witnessed the sex offender’s daily behavior looking typical, normal. A cognitive distortion is now forming in YOUR thoughts.
By not labeling him or her as a person, you’ve already started to disassociate the humanity from them. The term “sex offender” is a label. Labels present a bias, if you can’t relate the nature of the label. But I’m not writing this to change you or your mind, I’m trying to state the facts about people convicted of sex crimes and get you to reestablish faith in both them and the ways they are being psychologically repaired. As a matter of law, all Washington citizens convicted of a sexual related crime are ordered to undergo a treatment plan. The leading method to fix these problems is CBT, like the one to help the overweight. (Its ok, Noom, I’m not comparing your apples to anyone’s oranges. Just highlighting the usefulness of the processes.)
In no way am I trying to equate the two problems. They can’t be. Sex crimes causes extreme damages to others in a very overt manner and they destroy people far beyond the crime. But think, many who have committed these crimes, have also been abused or damaged in some way. Many, if not most, in the SAME way they offended. This is the foundation of the importance of CBT. It can change the systems of cognitive distortions that lead to such crimes. People are destructive in monumental ways when the image in the mirror is shattered. Some of those destructions implode to self harm, or as in sex crimes, explode outward, creating a victim.
So, here’s where I try to make this make sense. The recidivism rate for subsequent sex crimes from those previously convicted for them is 5% nationally. In Washington state, the rate is around 3%. Then that rate drops to less than 1% after treatment. 1 person in over 100, after treatment, may not remember or be able to implement the safeguards taught to them through cognitive behavioral therapy. I get it, as you read this, you think “one is too many, dude”. I agree on so many levels. But I want you to find the faith in the method, CBT, and then find trust in the person. If you don’t trust him, base it on his current merits, not his neighborhood notification. He’s the guy next door. He’s one of roughly 27,000 registered in this state, but he (or she) is your neighbor. Treat him as such, because he’s been super awful to himself for earning that distrust and anger from whomever he harmed. But he’s working on seeing something different in himself. Embrace him for it.
And truthfully, there’s nothing you can do to them that they haven’t done to themselves. You want to punish them? The state did that with lengthy sentences, the smallest legislated good conduct time credit and the only crimes that carry indeterminate sentences. The thought of suicide prior to treatment and a shattered family is a pretty brutal punishment. You want to shame them? You got a notice in your mailbox, a dot on your neighborhood “sex offender” map and will continue to get updates about him. The state has you beat at shaming him. You want to avoid him? Get close to him. He’s required to disclose his crime to his boss, his church and that girl who thinks he’s cute. Dude, everyone avoids him.
But, with the help of CBT, these folks can get through life seeing the true image in the mirror. That one isn’t distorted anymore. They’ve grown used to the lowest level of the caste system that they find themselves in. The court ordered one for the explosive and destructive result of years of mistreatment by either themselves or others. In the end, just like people who use Noom to change their bodies, people convicted of sex crimes work hard at changing their way of thinking with CBT. Perhaps you can change yours and find them as a wanted neighbor, with any luck.
by Rory Andes
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