A Behavioral Conceptualization of Pedophilia

By: Kai Ward, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology


Pedophilia is a form of sexual deviance that is demonized in this country. In the justice system, pedophilia is treated as a crime and there is a “once a pedophile always a pedophile” mentality. The current system is set up to intervene only after a crime has been committed. Typical treatment models that have been researched focus on behavior reduction or suppression (Kramer, 2008). Common methods include aversion therapies, arousal reconditioning, chemical castration, and other similar methods that are comparable to treatments used 50 years ago to treat homosexuality, which were largely ineffective. There has been some research looking at alternative treatment options such as cognitive behavioral therapy (Aytes, Olsen, Zakrajesk, Murray, & Ireson, 2001). This is important because it suggests that behavioral therapies can be effective in decreasing rates of overt sexually deviant behaviors.


While the justice system in the United States seems to focus on punishing and monitoring offenders, others such as B4U-Act (Williams, 2013), believe that the emphasis needs to be on treating individuals before they commit a crime. When deciding on a therapeutic technique to treat minor-attracted people, it is important to note that, often, the behavior that needs to be addressed is covert verbal behavior. Many people seeking therapy have not committed a crime. Given that, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) could be the best option. ACT works on the principle that thoughts and feelings can be discriminative stimuli for other responses (Woods & Kanter, 2007). If an individual is able to relate to their thoughts and feelings as simply thoughts and feelings, and then imagine a wide range of alternative responses to that thought or feeling, they have effectively widened the frame associated with those thoughts. To further illustrate how ACT can be tailored to minor attracted individuals, the following example will discuss how the Hexaflex (Hayes, 2006) can be used to promote psychological flexibility in minor attracted clients.


The first process is acceptance, which is acknowledging that thoughts, feelings, or urges are occurring without attempting to change or eliminate those thoughts (Hayes, 2006). For a minor attracted individual, this could consist of identifying and acknowledging when they are experiencing thoughts, feelings, or urges relating to minors and accepting those thoughts and feelings without trying to change or prevent them.


The next process is cognitive defusion (Hayes, 2006). Verbal individuals tend to experience thoughts and feelings in the same way they experience physical stimulation. Cognitive defusion attempts to break these relations and get the individual to see their thoughts and feelings as thoughts and feelings and not the physical things that are often associated. For a minor attracted individual, it is likely that thoughts and feelings about children are often tied to feelings of guilt or shame. When these individuals are working through this process, they would engage in exercises that attempt to break the thoughts down to just the words.


The next process is contact with the present moment, which attempts to promote experiencing the world more directly and as things are, rather than through the various frames that may apply in a given situation (Hayes, 2006). Language is used to describe events as they are and not to predict or judge them. This allows for more control over behavior. For a minor attracted person, this might look like simply identifying a thought they are having about a child as it is and not judging the thought as being good or bad and not attempting to predict what thoughts, feelings, or behaviors may follow these thoughts.


Self as context refers to a sense of self and viewing the world through an individual perspective (Hayes, 2006). Understanding yourself as context means that you are aware that you view the world through a verbal lens that may change over time but the core of that person stays the same. A common metaphor used in ACT to explain this concept is the chessboard metaphor (Bach & Moran, 2008). In this metaphor, the person is the chessboard, or the context in which events, thoughts, feelings, etc. occur. The chess pieces are those events, thoughts, and feelings. Many people describe themselves as the chess pieces. Coming to understand yourself as context involves recognizing that verbal behavior as thoughts and feelings and not as being the person themselves. For a minor attracted person, this might look like working from identifying as a pedophile to identifying that “I am a pedophile.” is only verbal behavior and not who they are.


Next is values, which refers to things such as life directions that are important to the individual (Hayes, 2006). There are verbal processes that can hinder someone living in accordance with their values or cause them to state values based on avoidance or social compliance and not what they truly value. In ACT, the individual works to identify what they truly value and, through the other processes in the Hexaflex model, work to live a value consistent life.


The last process is committed action. This is where all of the other processes come together to foster behavior change (Hayes, 2006). When a person is able to defuse from thoughts and feelings and identify their own values, they are able to identify behaviors that will lead to a value consistent life and work to develop behavior change strategies to reach those goals. For a minor attracted individual, this may take many forms. A minor attracted person may work to defuse from thoughts and feelings about being attracted to minors, they work to be present in the moment and not fuse with past patterns of behavior associated with these thoughts and feelings, and begin to explore alternative behaviors that are more socially acceptable and value consistent.


It is clear that ACT practices can be adapted and used with the minor attracted population but their needs to be more research on preventative therapies for these individuals. There needs to be a shift in views from demonizing and ostracizing these people to rehabilitating and making sure that they do not engage in these behaviors again while still maintaining the persons right to dignity and respect. There also needs to be a drastic shift in how individuals are treated who have not acted on these thoughts and feelings. Lastly, the current treatment methods when dealing with pedophiles needs to evolve past techniques that have been shown to be damaging when they were used to treat homosexuality. Treatment needs to change and ACT may be the best behavioral option.



Aytes, K. E., Olsen, S. S., Zakrajsek, T., Murray, P., & Ireson, R. (2001). Cognitive/behavioral treatment for sexual offenders: An examination of recidivism. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 13(4) 223-231.

Bach, P. A. & Moran, D. J. (2008). ACT in practice: Case conceptualization in acceptance & commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Hayes, S. (2006). The six core processes of ACT. Retrieved from http://contextualscience.org/the_six_core_processes_of_act

Kramer, R. (2008). Attraction to minors: Myths and facts [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://b4uact.org/workshops.htm

Williams, C. (2013). B4U-ACT: Living in truth and dignity. Retrieved from http://b4uact.org/index.htm

Woods, D. W. & Kanter, J. W. (2007). Understanding behavior disorders. Context Press.











This piece was originally published as a part of the Summer 2014 SBRP SIG Newsletter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s