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The polygraph...A lie detector or clinical tool?

By Stephen C. Schultz


“The polygraph is not what you think it is. It is not a lie detector machine...there is no such thing as a lie detector machine...and the polygraph is not one.” ~ John Pickup, Polygraph Examiner

Over the years, Oxbow Academy has consistently had to answer one question;

“Why do you use the Polygraph?”



To provide an effective answer, it is important to understand the student population at Oxbow. Oxbow works with students who have engaged in Problematic Sexual Behavior (PSB). This behavior can take many forms and effect students in many different ways. The one common factor is that this behavior has affected the student's life or the lives of their family members in a chronically dysfunctional and unhealthy way. The students at Oxbow have generally lived a life of secrets and manipulation. Their parents don’t trust them and they often feel trapped by the unhealthy family dynamic.

Parents and mental health professionals regularly mention they “feel in their gut” there is more going on. However, the students swear there is nothing more and continue their manipulative and avoidance behavior. Family relationships spiral out of control. Often the student is quietly battling the demons of abuse, trauma and addiction. Some students demonstrate anxiety, depression and even self harm behavior.



So...why the polygraph? Oxbow is not an adjudicated program and has no ties to the legal system whatsoever. In fact, each student is independently placed by their family. Sometimes the funding sources vary, but the families are the ones intervening in their son's behalf.

One of the key factors to any therapeutic positive outcome is honesty. There isn’t much healing that will take place if the student is constantly lying or sharing half truths with the clinician. The whole idea behind the therapeutic alliance, between the therapist and the student, is to establish an alliance of trust. The foundation of trust is honesty...honesty with their therapist...honesty with their family and honesty with themselves.



The Polygraph is simply a therapeutic tool. It allows the therapist to assume the role of “advocate” with the student. The therapist becomes an advocate with the student to help them pass the polygraph. This also allows the therapist to assist the student in developing a “relationship” with honesty. As this situation unfolds, over time, with therapeutic expertise, true healing takes place. Families are reunited and students are able to repair relationships.

Take a few moments and view this short video. It is a video where former Oxbow students discuss their experience of taking a polygraph exam. I think you will come away with a renewed understanding and sense of hope in the process.

Owning Our Story

Editors note: Much of the video was shot in the Seattle, Washington area. The above pictures are simply cool places we went while filming. The "Red Rock" shots in the video were shot at the San Rafael Swell in Central Utah.

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