Nursing

Overcoming abuse: DNP grad treats both the victims and the offenders with compassion

January 05, 2018 by Cindy O'Dell

Brandman DNP graduate Joseph Giovannoni isn't surprised that women have begun empowering themselves to fight back against sexual misconduct. He has spent years working with both victims and offenders.

Joseph Giovannoni
Joseph Giovannoni, DNP, MS, MA, APRN-Rx, PMHCNS-BC 

Giovannoni is the person the state of Hawaii’s judiciary turns to evaluate and treat sex offenders. He also works with communities dealing with the aftermath of abuse or reintegration of sex offenders into society.

“I think it’s an epidemic. Certainly, women are empowering themselves to come forward. But it started way, way back,” he said.

What didn’t start “way back” was people in the nursing profession focusing on any issue dealing with sexuality, sexual dysfunction or sexual abuse. Adding that focus has been part of his longtime work as a nursing practitioner and teacher. It’s also led him to bring more compassion and self-care into his practice.

His nursing journey

Giovannoni grew up in post-World War II Italy where his mother, although not a nurse, served as a caregiver. “She used to take me with her on her night visits. I was always embraced by the people whose homes she went into, both wealthy and poor. I saw my mother being a wonderful and compassionate caregiver to those who were sick and dying.”

What he saw in his mother were traits he wanted to emulate. He turned to the Alexian Brothers (their history of nursing dates to the bubonic plague) and their school of nursing in Chicago where he earned a nursing diploma (RN).

Next came a tour of duty with the Army Nurse Corps in Vietnam where he focused on orthopedics and trauma and then teaching nursing in Chicago while earning a bachelor’s and then master’s degrees in psychology. Still eager to continue learning and teaching about nursing, he moved to Hawaii and enrolled in the University of Hawaii’s Master of Nursing program. There he began focusing on mental health and human sexuality, leading to his role treating and evaluating sex offenders in Hawaii. He’s also developed standards for the state and encouraged the legislature to provide funding for community programs.

“So, for 30 years, I was pretty much removed from nursing,” he said. But not from an interest in caring and compassion. At a conference in Anaheim, he met former Brandman faculty member Kathleen McCoy, who told him about university’s DNP program.

A return to school

Despite his accomplishments, Giovannoni said he often felt insecure when working with people who had advanced degrees. Still, he hesitated going back to school, in part because of painful arthritis and because “it’s not easy for advanced practitioners to go back to school, especially at my age.”

Giovannoni and Watson
Joseph Giovannoni with his mentor Jean Watson

Brandman, he said, provided the answer, allowing his wife to sit in with him through the entire program to take notes and type reports. “The courses were absolutely amazing and helpful.” Earning his DNP at age 70, he said, has brought respect and opened doors.

It also gave him the opportunity to research and develop theories on the use of human caring and compassion in sex offender treatment, including creating Society’s Safe-keepers, his program to protect society with compassion.

He continues that work as an associate faculty member for the Watson Caring Science Institute, as a certified Caritas coach (a Watson Institute certification for nurses and other health professionals, designating their commitment to compassion) and as the author of numerous publications that focus on caring and compassion as it relates to nursing. His work has taken him around the world as a keynote speaker and presenter.

“Nursing has a covenant with humanity to bring compassion and loving kindness, especially when the profession is becoming so mechanical. I want to bring that compassionate care back to nursing, and then we can use our evidence-based skills to help people heal,” he said.

It’s personal

On his web page, Giovannoni writes “Health science professionals who engage in therapeutic jurisprudence must be able to exemplify compassion in order to create a safe place for patients to discuss very sensitive, intimate and deeply shameful things … most of my patients enter treatment exhibiting antisocial and manipulative behavior … they are angry and mistrustful, and they exhibit an aggressive posture toward me and other workers.”

Sacred Spaces
Giovannoni's website features a variety of posters and memes that make use of his photos of scenic Hawaii and his writings on compassion.

Dealing with that is always a challenge and puts those who work with sex offenders in constant danger of compassion fatigue, he said. It also lays open old wounds, including, in his case, being sexually abused at age 11. As with so many victims, his abuse report was ignored.

“Part of my work is learning to forgive. It is my way of empowering myself, to understand, to be present with the fear of the boogie man. How do we perceive the world from our own negative experience? I think it’s important in our life journey to know why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’re on a journey of self-healing.”

On his website, he writes, “I am often asked why I do this work. The simple answer is that I am committed to helping create a safer and healthier community, free of sexual and other types of violence.

“My mentor Dr. Watson told me that grievances serve no purpose but are self-imposed punishment. When we forgive and relinquish our grievances, we engage in an act of self-compassion.”

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