Why I Work with Sex Offenders

This short article is part rant and part catharsis.

A common question I am asked is how I can be an advocate for those who have been horribly victimized in sexual assault and child sexual abuse, and also be a therapist for sex offenders.

Isn’t this, at the very least, a conflict of interest? Shouldn’t there be a separation of duties where one therapist focuses completely on one group, and a different therapist works with the other group?

I don’t see it that way. Please keep an open mind and heart.

In 1984, I was finishing up courses in abnormal psychology with Northwest Baptist College. As part of my study, I had to do an internship in related fields. Since one of those fields was sexual deviance, I enrolled in one of the programs the Province of British Columbia offered. I lived in a remote region of Eastern B.C. They were giving paid internships to anyone willing to work with men who had been released as sex offenders.

For six months, I met with seven different men. All of them had been convicted as child molesters. In addition, I also did case study interviews with three more men who were spending the remainder of their lives in jail for molesting children. One of those men had admitted to over 250 molestations; he kept a journal of all of it. That journal was the basis for his life conviction.

The first time I met with “Jake” he put me to the test. He peppered me with hundreds of details regarding his abusive behavior. I didn’t think I should walk out on him at the time.

I should have, actually. His behavior was classic Narcissistic Personality Disorder symptomology. The Narcissistic offender loves to self-aggrandize and make his exploits worse and more deviant than anyone else. I was feeding his lust for an audience. I have since learned not to do that.

After his first disclosure to me, I ran into the bathroom and threw up. This was something repeated several times over the next six months with others of my “clients”. I learned so much about sex offenders. I learned about their disordered thinking, their sociopathy, their lack of basic human empathy, the deviant nature of their inner parts.

After that internship, it was only a year before the first person came to me for counseling regarding sexual difficulties. Though this was not a strict abuse situation, it regarded the actions of a pastor and a congregant. I now know that his actions were a breach of his authority over this woman. I now know he may have broken the law. But, like other advocates, I was learning about these things and realizing we needed new labels for this behavior.

Though he was not as deviant as the men I had interviewed in the offender’s program, he did have some of the same tendencies, though in lesser form. In my work with him as a pastor and a therapist, I sought to integrate my spiritual understanding with my psychological knowledge. He became the first of almost 100 people I have worked with who have committed some kind of sexual crime. I have learned a lot.

And I apply a lot of that knowledge to my work in advocating for victims. I do have a good sense of what goes into the making of a sex criminal. I also know how the sociopathic, narcissistic, and borderline personalities work as they groom and control their victims. I know this because they have disclosed their messages in our private sessions.

This perspective gives me the tools I need to help the victims not be victims any more. It helps me to work with organizations and institutions to figure out how to guard against predators among them.

At the same time—and this will shock and anger some of you—I also have compassion for the sex offenders. I don’t excuse them. I don’t defend them. I don’t sin-level or rationalize their behavior. But they are human beings for god’s sake. I am going to be the one who shows them a shred of decency in our society. They are one of the only groups that no one—NO ONE—will show any compassion for, for the rest of their lives.

Some of you are saying: “No one should show them any decency. They have done the worst thing you can do to another human.” I don’t disagree. I have worked with more victims of child sex abuse than maybe anyone reading this. I know the damage that offenders do to others. I don’t want to see them hurt anyone else, which is why I work with them. Most therapists refuse to work with offenders.

But they are virtually the only ones left in our society with Scarlet A’s on their chest. Even in prison, the other prisoners beat them up, rape them, murder them. Once they get out, they will never ever get a decent job. For the rest of their lives.

If you cannot have any compassion on someone in that situation, I don’t know how to help you have some. Some of you reading this are thinking, “Mike has lost it”. I have not. I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. That is my choice.

You are allowed not to.

You are allowed to have a scale on who the worst people are.

That is your choice.

I choose to work with both victims AND sex offenders. That is my choice.

A Polymath and the Pain

A polymath (Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs, “having learned much”; Latin: homo universalis, “universal man”) is an individual whose knowledge spans a significant number of subjects, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.

–Wikipedia definition of “Polymath”.

This past year, I have learned a hard truth about myself. I’m not who I thought I was, and who other people may still think I am. And it hurts me to have to admit that to myself. It is painful but cathartic to admit it to you.

Around this time last year, I had a minimal existential crisis. A certain SiriusXM radio station broadcast their list of the 1000 greatest rock and roll songs of all time. Because I was on the road a lot that month, and because they kept repeating the 1000 songs, I got to listen to various sections many times. There were so many songs that I didn’t bother arguing with where they should be placed on the list–until we got to the top 150.

That’s when I had my crisis. I actually only knew a few songs here and there. At one point, I listened for an entire hour and never heard a song I knew. The critical point came when I realized that the top 150 had five songs by The Who, and none of them were “Pinball Wizard”. And, I knew none of those songs. Not one. I also knew only two of the five Rolling Stones songs, none of the Grateful Dead songs, none of the Grand Funk Railroad songs (though I called them GFR like I was their biggest fan), and only a single Jimmy Hendrix song.

I was a fake. I thought I knew rock music, but it became apparent I only knew enough to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about. Once you scraped off the thin veneer of my rock music knowledge, I was all guitar solos and no substance.

My undergraduate degree is theology. I graduated Summa Cum Laude. My minor was in ancient languages since I wanted to be a bible translator at one point. I know how to sight translate Greek and Hebrew. I have extensive theological libraries.

But recently, I have listened to excellent podcasts like “The Bible for Normal People” and “Almost Heretical” and I realize I am the theological equivalent of Jon Snow: I know nothing. I am not being falsely humble to make a point. There are so many questions people are asking recently where not only do I not know the answer, I don’t even understand the question.

I realize this is another veneer of knowledge.

And there’s more. I have several thousand dollars worth of woodworking equipment. I know how to use most, if not all, of the tools. I can talk a great game. Most people assume that my house is full of hand-made furniture. And it could be considering the tools I have. But I pick up almost any woodworking magazine and realize I couldn’t make a simple box properly that they showcase. I just don’t know how.

I have a $2500 Taylor 514 guitar. I love it. I can play a lot of songs on it. But when musicians sit down with me to jam, I realize I cannot even begin to keep up with any of them.

See where this is going?

The problem is, I’m a polymath. I like to know a little bit about EVERYTHING. But I lack both the ability to concentrate and the drive to be an expert on just a few subjects. So I dabble, and read, and allow people to consider me an excellent conversationalist. Because, if polymaths can do anything, they are able to speak intelligently on many subjects. But they are experts at almost nothing.

The current theory on what it takes to be an expert at something says a person must log 10,000 hours in doing something to be an Expert. I guess I could call myself an expert counselor since I have accomplished at least that many hours. I have read over 500 books on counseling and therapy, I have certifications for eight therapies and approaches to emotional healing. And, I am always looking for new trauma approaches and ways I can help victims of sexual assault.

Of course, not everyone agrees of that definition of expertise. Robert Root-Bernstein believes that the future belongs to the polymath, not the expert. He shows in his research how polymathic adults achieve a much higher degree of creativity and original thinking compared to so-called “experts” in the same field. He notes,

Yet, I emotionally struggle. There is part of me that wants to achieve and make my mark on this world.

But I am just an avid and unfocused learner, and someone who remembers what he reads. I average over 100 books a year. I know that is a pittance compared to Teddy Roosevelt who read a book a day over his adult life. But then I compare it to our current President who says he has only read five books cover to cover in his life. I’m on that continuum between TR and DJT.

Though I don’t have a photographic memory, I do remember most of what I read quite extensively. It makes me a fair to middling polymath.

Here are subjects I can speak on without fearing others will know I don’t have much of a clue:

–Computer programming (I know COBOL, QBasic, and FORTRAN)

–Sleep disorders

–Psychopharmacology (I have taken 5 courses in the subject)

–Science Fiction (perhaps I have logged the obligatory 10,000 hours, but when I get around other Sci-Fi people, I am Jon Snow again).

–Fly Fishing

–Preaching and Teaching (I am ordained)

–Narcissism (I’ve written papers on it)

–Writing (I have published 4 books of my own and my writing is in four other compilations. I have also published over 150 articles on many subjects).

–The game Go (I’m a 14-Kyu level)

–Mathematics (I started out as a math major before abandoning it to go to theological school).

–Medicine. My math major was the first year of my pre-med. They forced me to change to a biology major for my second year…thus,


–Human sexuality. I have read over 200 books on the subject and done at least 1000 hours of counseling with others. Yet, I’m not certified as a Sex Therapist where I now live.

–Rubik’s cube (my fastest time is 3:45)

–Memory tricks (I can create and remember a Memory Palace of ten items in less than a minute)

–Music theory

–Creative Writing (I have taught high school classes on this subject). Yet, with the writing I have done, I don’t think I’m that skilled. Two of my four books I was forced to self-publish because I couldn’t find a publisher. I have had seven other books I abandoned because no one would publish them either.

–Economics. (Over 50 books read)

–Church history (over 100 books read)

–Poetry (I may have written 1000 poems. None are published)

–Sports. I played five sports in high school: Golf, track, rugby, soccer, football. I played all at a mediocre level except track. The reason I did better at Track was because I was on relay teams which were exceptional. I also played one season of basketball because they were several players short of the minimum needed to field a team. I suck at basketball.

–Cooking. Before my heart attack, I was known for my smoking and grilling knowledge.

–ADHD. I have it, I’ve lived it, I’ve studied it, I’ve counseled others on it. Some days I hate it. Some days I don’t.

–Personality Studies. I am a licensed trainer for Myers-Briggs (MBTI). I am licensed to administer the Strong Interest Inventory and I regularly consult on it. I am also knowledgeable about MMPI-2, Enneagram, IDAK, StrengthsFinder, DISC, and Big Five.

–Marriage. Married to one woman for 39 years.

I could keep going. But the longer the list gets, the more depressed I get. The story I tell myself is if I had focused on even two or three of the elements of this list, I could have accomplished so much. I can’t tell you how painful it is to feel like both a failure and a fraud.

I feel like a failure because I know I have so much potential to learn.

I feel like a fraud because I know that any day I may be found out as having less than minimal knowledge in most of these areas. And yes, I do know that is called Imposter Syndrome. I’m a polymath, remember?

Some of you reading this are polymaths. Even though Dr. Root-Bernstein thinks highly of us, I have my concerns. Though no one has ever recognized it as a psychological disorder, I feel at times that it is. Due to spending a year in a foster home at age three, I have struggled all my life with attachment styles that cause me pain if someone does not think well of me. That may fuel the polymath drive. I also was molested as a child and suffered severe depression before teen years. That may be a catalytic force for my driven nature.

I admit it is possible I may have become a polymath notwithstanding those factors. Who can say?

In recent years, I have let go of some of the things on this list. I have forced myself to read only down certain lines of thought. I digest more and more psychology/counseling texts, and more sexuality books on my reading list. I only occasionally read a Sci-fi novel, just to break up the litany of serious works.

It actually hurts to narrow my focus like this. I’m not even sure it is the right approach.

But sometimes, we have to go against the grain of our own ego state to accomplish what is really there for the taking.

The Six Stages of Deconstruction

(This 2004 article appeared in its original form on the MTPastor blogger site I used to manage. The number of people experiencing Deconstruction has greatly increased since then. I decided it could use an overhaul).

“Tearing things apart is a powerful aspect of human nature.”

–Patti Smith

Greg and I had gone to high school together. We attended the same church and youth group. We graduated Bible College together and were ordained within a few months of each other. We genuinely liked each other.

So why did I want to punch him in the face?

I was just beginning to Deconstruct.

It was 1983 and my wife and I were at the national Congress of our Canadian denomination. The big issue being debated was whether women would be allowed to serve as pastors and elders in churches. For two years I had passionately advocated for full inclusion of women into ministry leadership positions. I had done my homework and was ready with all the theological arguments. I was ready to tear down the arguments of the Complementarians. I was even the person who brought the proposal to the committee which introduced the measure.

I had no idea Greg would make a complete ass of himself. I had no idea it would throw me into such an emotional tailspin.

He didn’t address the doctrinal issues. He didn’t appeal to historical precedent or denominational practices. He simply said: “Everyone here knows if we do this it will tear apart the church and God’s judgment will come on us all.”

With that, he was able to sway enough people to defeat the motion.

At that moment, I wrestled with whether to leave that denomination. They had already refused to ordain my wife at the same time as me the summer before. I had thought I would quit then, but she talked me out of it. When two of my close female friends from college had moved to a different denomination so they would be allowed to preach, I wondered why I was staying. Again, my wife talked me out of leaving.

When Greg used his scare tactic to convince thousands to make this decision, I actually decided to stay. But I was no longer, in my mind, part of the mainstream. I was tearing down the “good old boy, just stick with the majority” approach.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning what it means to deconstruct. Continue reading “The Six Stages of Deconstruction”

Myths and Misunderstandings about Demons

The 45 college-aged students were stunned and frightened. Some were weeping, and others were so angry they balled up their fists and held their breath. They looked around as if they were about to be the next victim in a Hallowe’en movie. “Jumpy” describes their mood. Some of them reported weeks later they had not had a good night’s sleep since that horrific weekend.

Was this a murder mystery experience? Did they just do a horror movie marathon? Or did they really experience a supernatural phenomenon?

Actually, none of those things happened. They went on a college-and-career church retreat with their church. They invited a group of seniors from a local Bible College to come and do some teaching and direction for their weekend.

“It will be fun”, they thought.

“It will be instructive”, they hoped.

“It will be the most chaotic moment of our lives”, imagined none of them.

The worst part was…I was one of the teachers that weekend. I and my fellow college students were zealous and ignorant–a very toxic combination. Continue reading “Myths and Misunderstandings about Demons”

Reviewing the Introduction of Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel”

As a sophomore studying theology in 1975, I read the textbook for my Pastoral Counseling class and was shocked. Though at that stage in my life I had taken no psychology courses–that would come several years later–I knew enough about the basic philosophy of psychology to suspect this textbook was not accurate.

Little did I know that book would sell millions of copies and affect the viewpoints on psychology for an entire generation. The book is called “Competent To Counsel” written by Jay Adams. The book, and Adams are the cornerstone of an entire counseling methodology called “Nouthetic” or “Biblical” Counseling.

Though the Nouthetic group (referred to now as the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors ) has many other resources they lay claim to, none is more influential than this book.

I do not like this book. I can state that up-front. I also do not agree with its premise: All psychology is humanism and must be rejected. Continue reading “Reviewing the Introduction of Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel””