Emotional intelligence associated with therapeutic understanding in learning disabilities sex offender treatment programme

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A US review in 2009 suggested that the evidence on the rates of sex offending by people with learning disabilities was equivocal at best with some studies reporting an increased likelihood of people with learning disabilities committing sexual offences, with others suggesting the opposite to be the case. There are difficulties in answering the question of course, as it the likelihood of illegal sexual behaviour being prosecuted in people with learning disabilities may vary from place to place and over time due to uncertainty in the criminal justice system as to how to respond to individual cases.

The researchers in this study were interested in the emotional challenges faced by staff who work with people with learning disabilities on a sex offender treatment programme.

They devised a semi structured interview which they adminstered to eight staff who were working on the treatment programme  and then analysed the interview content with interpretative phenomenological analysis which aims to explain how a given person, in a given context, makes sense of a given phenomenon.

They found that the staff involved experienced a range of negative emotions associated with their work which they dealt with in a variety of ways. They used humour for example and a number of other emotional defences. The staff concerned found empathy a challenge and their response to this was complex. They found that emotional intelligence was associated with greater therapeutic understanding.

The authors conclude from their findings that staff varied in their awareness and understanding of the role of emotions in their own well-being and also in the therapeutic processes. They are also able to make some recommendations about personal and professional characteristics needed in staff in this situation and also point to the need for regular clinical supervision, not only to ensure the well-being of support staff but to ensure the development of therapeutic competence and effectiveness.

‘It’s Intense, to an Extent’: A Qualitative Study of the Emotional Challenges Faced by Staff Working on a Treatment Programme for Intellectually Disabled Sex Offenders, Sandhu, D. et al., in Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 25: 308–318.

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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