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The Use of Polygraphs During the Evaluation Period

At times, students or even parents question the use of a polygraph during the evaluation period. Polygraphs, in the popular imagination, are lie-detectors. People often think polygraph examinations are given to criminals, as interrogation tools. Moreover, that they are given to criminals in dimly lit rooms while someone shouts at or threatens the unfortunate individual attached to the machine. Given this understanding of polygraphs, reluctance surrounding their use is understandable. However, the process of being given a polygraph is nothing like television or detective novels might lead people to believe. The use of a polygraph is not meant as any kind of threat or punishment. Instead, a polygraph is simply a useful diagnostic tool.

Admissions Director Tiffany Silva compares the use of a clinical polygraph to the biopsy of an unknown lump. She asks parents to imagine that they have a lump on one of their hands. They go to a doctor for help. Some doctors might give the parent a cream to put the hand, and tell them to come back in a few weeks. A more concerned doctor might choose to biopsy the lump, to discover if the lump is cancerous or not.

Getting results from the Oxbow Evaluation Center is similar to getting the results of a biopsy. The proactive, scientific evaluation process has evolved during the many years that Oxbow Academy has been helping students.

“When it comes to sexual issues it is too much of a risk to take chances on it,” said Tiffany.

Disclosure Process

Young men know from the time they arrive at Oxbow Academy that they will take part in a clinical polygraph. They spend time working with their therapeutic team learning about healthy sexual relationships, and disclosing their sexual histories and fantasies.

Again, the reason for the disclosure is not so that the boys can be punished for what they desire or what they have done. The reason for the disclosure is that the therapeutic team must understand the challenges that each young man faces in order for the therapeutic team to be helpful. Healing comes when the truth is all on the table. It is the first step to the boys to start moving out of shame, and towards a second chance.

“Because we are dealing with sexual issues, each boy comes in with such unique and complicated issues, and we don’t want to take a cookie cutter approach to the boys. We want to identify and meet their individual needs,” said Tiffany.

Most often, young men are not ready to talk about their desires and experiences right away. Tiffany compares the experience of gathering information from the young men to following a trail of breadcrumbs, like in the story of Hansel and Gretel.

“[Students] will drop one piece of information. They will see how mom and dad react. They will see how their therapist reacts, and everyone in their safe circle,” said Tiffany. “Then if it is safe to keep going, then they will drop some more. So, this disclosure process can take a month to two months.”

After the student completes a disclosure, if his therapist and parents believe he is ready, he will take a clinical polygraph.

Clinical Polygraph and Psycho-Sexual Evaluation

When the boys experience the clinical polygraph, they are in a safe, well-lit room. The polygrapher takes the time to develop a rapport with each young man. Then the polygrapher discusses the boy’s disclosure with him. The polygrapher will not begin the polygraph until after the young man understands the polygraph process, and what will be asked of them. If it appears that the young man has not been honest in his disclosure and that he will not pass the polygraph, then he will not be given the polygraph at that time. The goal is to help the young man to pass the polygraph.

Once the young man has completed the clinical polygraph, then his parents will select a clinician to complete a psycho-sexual evaluation. This process is different from other programs which send young men to complete the psycho-sexual evaluation immediately. At Oxbow Academy, the psycho-sexual evaluation is completed with the benefit of notes from each department of Oxbow Academy, such as academics, residential, and clinical, and with the passed polygraph. A full history and disclosure is also provided. The clinical recommendations resulting from the Oxbow Academy psycho-sexual evaluation have the advantage of more information, thus being more accurate.

The purpose of the polygraph is diagnostic. It has nothing to do with punishment. By getting a clearer picture of the challenges that each young man must overcome, the Oxbow Academy treatment team is better able to help him to heal.