The Lapse Map

   The offense cycle has been used in sex offender treatment since the 1990s. It is most compatible with treatment programs based in relapse prevention that rely on cognitive-behavioral approaches (Center for Sex Offender Management [CSOM]). The cornerstone of this model is that sexual offending behavior does not occur accidentally, but rather after a series of seemingly unimportant decisions. According to the model, relapse is the consequence of the interaction between personal risk factors, exposure to stress in the environment, and sequential poor decision making. This interplay, though not readily apparent to the offender, yields recurring observable maladaptive patterns in thinking, feeling and behaving. The cycle is often exacerbated by an event which at least to the individual appears calamitous. As the offender progresses on this cycle they place themselves in increasingly higher risk situations, doing so often at the very moment they are under increased stress and simultaneously less attentive to their well-being. The primary objective in treatment is that through psycho-education and practicing relapse prevention techniques, offenders will develop the requisite skills to recognize warning signs of relapse long before another sexual offense has occurred.

    While offense cycles have been used in sex offender treatment programs for over twenty-years, there are a number of short-comings in using relapse prevention with this population. Relapse prevention essentially separates offenders between those who want to stop and can either learn or have the coping skills to do so, and those who want to stop but either can’t master the requisite skills to interrupt their relapse or have emotional or behavioral difficulties so significant that measurable progress is impeded. Critics have pointed out, for example, that some offenders are in fact unbothered by their offending behavior or even vested in continuing that behavior (Yates, 2010). This, of course, makes relapse prevention moot. Nonetheless, the process of cataloging an offense cycle is akin to psychological profiling. The clinician reviews the record and identifies triggering events and the emotional and behavioral reactions to those events. The clinician relays this information to others working more on a day-to-day basis with the offender so they can identify warning signs and lapses. So, while relapse prevention may have limited utility with offenders who are approaching an offense, the process of identifying the pattern of offending behavior has great utility to those charged with monitoring or supervising the offender. Simply, documenting the offense cycle remains an important treatment task with all sex offenders even though the cycle’s use to specific offenders will vary depending on their motivation to arrest their offending behavior.

    Like offense cycles, node-link maps are a way of visually representing pathways in thinking, feeling, and behaving that have been problematic for individuals (National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA], 1996). However, node-link maps more precisely illustrate the benefits and consequences of decisions. Specifically, they detail and encourage discussion on turning points and build skills in problem solving. Node-link mapping was first introduced in the 1990s in the alcohol and substance abuse field to better enhance treatment with those with cognitive deficits, which makes it ideal with many psychiatric and offender populations. Node-link maps are created during individual sessions in partnership with the client. The process involves linking thoughts and feelings to decisions, and decisions to outcomes.

    Our lapse map was created to enhance group work with an offender population which also had substance abuse and mental health issues. 

We used our general lapse map to discuss individual stressors our clients were experiencing and to walk them through potential consequences and outcomes for various decisions. Though our findings are anecdotal, we discovered that the maps more readily encouraged discussions on decisions and outcomes and helped many clients clarify their goals in treatment. The lapse map further appeared to help many individuals identify effectively identify where on the offense cycle they were and possible steps they might take to improve the situation and reach long term goals. Obviously, the tool has not been validated beyond general research that has been done on node-link mapping and offense cycles. 

Clinicians are free to use our Lapse Map for non-commercial purposes, provided they give appropriate credit. While clinicians are free to build upon this work, the modified version cannot be distributed. For more information please refer to our license


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