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Abstract: The Empirical Basis of Sex Offender Treatment Effectiveness

Whether or not sex offenders can be successfully treated remains a matter a controversy. This is due, in part, to the quality of evidence that one might regard as acceptable. Evidence-based practice for treatment efficacy lays great weight on the evidence from randomised controlled trials but is this the only or indeed the most appropriate approach for this type of disorder?

I shall review the findings from two recently completed Cochrane Reviews that assessed efficacy for both psychological and pharmacological interventions for sex offenders. I shall also examine the recent concern that psychological treatments fail to consider adequately the harm that might arise from such interventions. This latter concern, together with the uncertainty as to which intervention ought to be offered to whom leaves the practitioner in an uncomfortable position in deciding which treatment ought to be recommended for a convicted sex offender.


Conor Duggan BSc, PhD, MD, FRCPsych,OBE is Emeritus Professor at the University of Nottingham and Head of Research and Development at Partnerships in Care. He was until recently an Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at Arnold Lodge, Regional Secure Unit in Leicester where he shared responsibility for a 22-bedded in-patient unit that treats men with personality disorder and a history of serious offending. His research interests are treatment efficacy in personality disordered offenders, their long-term course and the neuropsychological basis of psychopathy. He has been responsible for several Cochrane Reviews in the treatment of personality disorder and sex offending. He has written over 150 peer reviewed papers and book chapters. He was until recently Editor of The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology and chaired a NICE Guidance Committee on Antisocial personality Disorder. In 2012, he was awarded an OBE for his services to mental health.