Fulbright Senior Scholar comes to Lynn to study American sex offender treatment programs

Willis hails from New Zealand and is the first Fulbright to fulfill a scholarship at Lynn

Published Feb. 14, 2011

Gwenda WillisThis month, Lynn University welcomed a post-doctoral fellow and clinical psychologist from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand,  Gwenda Willis, to campus to fulfill her Fulbright Senior Scholar award. Her primary research interest is the prevention of sexual violence.

“The overarching purpose of my research project is to identify the most effective approaches to working with persons who have sexually offended to prevent them from reoffending,” said Willis.

While at Lynn, Willis will explore how a New Zealand-developed offender rehabilitation framework, the Good Lives Model, has been integrated into treatment programs for individuals convicted of sexual assault in the U.S. and Canada. Her research will form the initial stage of a longer-term investigation into the effectiveness of treatment programs designed to prevent sexual reoffending.

“The traditional risk management approach [to treating sex offenders] focuses on reducing the occurrence of risk factors associated with reoffending,” said Willis. “However, research shows a major weakness of the risk management approach is its failure to motivate and engage offenders in the rehabilitation process – which has led to high rates of treatment dropout and only modest reductions in reoffending.”

According to Willis, the Good Lives Model was developed in response to these problems.

“The Good Lives Model encompasses everything the risk management approach does, but it also considers the unmet needs or values underlying sexually abusive behavior,” said Willis. “By using the Good Lives Model to guide treatment, offenders learn to replace offending related behavior with adaptive behavior.”

Because the Good Lives Model is a new approach to the treatment of sexual offenders, few comprehensive studies investigating the relative effectiveness, in terms of reduced reoffending, of the Good Lives Model-based programs have been done. However, Willis hopes to gather more empirical data on the effectiveness of the Good Lives Model during her time at Lynn.

“Follow-up studies will look at the relationship between program responsiveness to the Good Lives Model and client outcomes in terms of treatment completion and reduced reoffending,” said Willis.

Lynn was considered the ideal host institution for Willis’s tenure because of the mutual research interests of Willis and Lynn associate professor of psychology, Jill Levenson in the College of Liberal Education. Levenson is considered a national expert on sexual violence and has published over 60 articles about sex crime policy and offender treatment. As a licensed clinical social worker, Levenson has over 20 years of experience treating sexual abuse victims, survivors, perpetrators and non-offending parents.

For the next six months, Willis will be working with Levenson and Lynn University as well as visiting several treatment programs across the United States. She will return to New Zealand at the end of July and hopes to continue her research on the Good Lives Model.

“I hope that the study I am currently working on will form part of a larger research project investigating the effectiveness of Good Lives Model-based treatment programs,” said Willis.