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Moral Agency, Cognitive Distortion, and Narrative Strategy in the Rehabilitation of Sexual Offenders



Abstract Employing a framework at the intersection of psychological anthropology and narrative theory, I provide a critique of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) approaches to sexual offender rehabilitation. I demonstrate that what forensic psychologists refer to as a “cognitive distortion” or “thinking error” is often embedded within a broader narrative, and that these narratives reveal the existence of identifiable strategies designed to communicate something salient, enduring, and moral about the offender. Through the examination of narratives offered by imprisoned sexual offenders, several such narrative strategies containing the seeds of moral agency are identified. It is suggested that CBT's current focus on cognitive distortions effectively eliminates this narrative context and thus serves to disguise and even eradicate the positive, moral notions of self that most offenders exhibit in some form or another. A rehabilitative approach that works with narrative, facilitating development of shared narratives among offenders and therapists, would allow for the emergence of a plan for morally agentive living, transcending what is currently possible within the hostile, challenging framework of CBT. [narrative theory; cognitive behavior therapy; moral agency; sexual offenders; prisons]