Write about sex offenders, particularly if you champion their capacity to change, and expect angry phone calls when you return to the office. File those callers’ opinions under “Throw Away the Key.”
Then there was another reader. He typically reached me on my cellphone, usually on my off hours, but I never minded. It’s rare when callers go out of their way to thank you.
I’m going to miss William “Bill” Seabloom, a trusted, wise and unique source on a very difficult topic. Seabloom, of Shoreview, died Jan. 21 of a heart condition. He was 88.
A certified sex therapist and researcher, with a divinity degree to boot, Seabloom persisted in his faith-based, professionally tested belief that those we often fear most — sex offenders — still deserve our compassion. While personal accountability is essential, he was adamant that proven protocols exist to help sex offenders stop offending and that’s where our focus, and funding, should be.
Not surprisingly, he faced pushback from lawmakers, community members and even some fellow therapists.
But that was better than no pushback. I remember many conversations with Seabloom, in which he’d express his perplexity, tinged with sadness, that politicians and others wouldn’t return his calls. Their loss.
“Bill saw people as redeemable,” said Allan Bostelmann, a licensed clinical social worker emeritus and longtime family friend. Their two families spent many idyllic summers together in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where Seabloom felt most at home.
He believes that Seabloom’s connection to nature, and its “incredible diversity,” shaped his sexuality work with humans on a topic Bostelmann termed “a political football.”
“He saw sexual offenders as very treatable, if he could do it the way he knew how to do it, which was to guide them out of the pattern of behavior that got them into trouble,” Bostelmann said.
“His persistence was remarkable,” he said, adding with a laugh, “and sometimes annoying. But, you know, if you wanted to deal with your issues, he would be the person you wanted to go to.”
Eli Coleman, director of the University of Minnesota Program in Human Sexuality, remembers Seabloom with equal fondness.
Seabloom served on the Human Sexuality faculty in its early years and remained connected to it throughout his life. He started the program’s sexual offender program, Coleman said, “and built the foundation of its philosophy and treatment approach, grounded in humanistic principles.”
He also provided his expertise to the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis regarding sex abuse cases.
Seabloom was born in St. Paul in 1929, and grew up on land that was part of his grandfather’s farm. An Eagle Scout, he never lived more than 10 minutes from that home.
He earned a master’s degree in divinity from Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary in 1954 and, later, a master’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota.
He met his wife, Bev, a teacher, at the Minnesota State Fair; they married in 1957. She survives him. They had two grown children and four grandchildren. They were active in Incarnation Lutheran Church in Shoreview and traveled the world, from Fiji to Iceland to New Zealand to Korea.
Seabloom was like a lot of the “early pioneers” in human sexuality work who came from religious backgrounds, Coleman said. “In the ’60s and ’70s, it was all about social justice.”
The U frequently collaborated with therapists in Europe, Coleman said, particularly Scandinavian countries, which focused more on rehabilitation of sex offenders instead of the American “puritanical guilt mentality.”
“Bill was a missionary,” Coleman said. “That’s what drove him to work in a wider community, bringing the gospel.”
After leaving the U, Seabloom founded a pioneering program in 1977, administered through Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. Called Personal/Social Awareness (PSA), the program focused on adolescents who had committed sexual offenses.
The program combined group, individual and family therapy, with a focus on health, and an avoidance of the sex-offender label.
Twenty-five years later, the state funded a follow-up study of 122 of the teens who had participated in the program and found a recidivism rate of zero. Zero.
“These are young people who have problem behavior,” Seabloom told me years ago. “They’ve broken the law. But they need to know they can trust you. They need an expert in sexuality who can deal with them in a respectful way.”
In 1993, Seabloom earned a doctorate from the California-based Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality; he continued to consult until he was 86. His health began to fail at the end of last year. He enjoyed Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family, and died in January as his daughter Mary sang canoeing songs to him.
“When he got it in his mind years ago that I liked heart-shaped rocks, he’d come home with heart-shaped rocks for me,” said Mary, a licensed psychologist who often collaborated with her father. “As he got older, the shape of the heart got more abstract, but he could always find it there.
“That ties back to Dad’s work with adolescents,” she said. “He could find the heart.”