Featured job – Registered Psychologists, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service

We hear from Emma Preece.

When Emma Preece returned to work at Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) as a Band 7 Registered Forensic and Occupational Psychologist, she really noticed that 'You feel valued and trusted as a professional, allowing you to be flexible in the way you work.' Emma has dual chartership, having taken a master’s in occupational psychology before qualifying in the forensic speciality. She had left HMPPS in 2006 to work independently (‘I had young children and wanted a career break without stopping working, if that makes sense’) but returned in September last year. What does her present job involve?

‘I don’t think there’s a “standard day” for anyone. I’d stress to any candidate that the work is very varied. Of course, a great amount of time is taken up with risk assessment work for the Parole Board. But I also assess people to develop treatment pathways (I’m doing some cognitive functioning assessments at the moment) then communicate these to other professionals. We’re also providing consultancy to help develop rehabilitative cultures in prisons. Forensic Psychologists in Training have been assessing organisational cultures in prisons and working with prison governors. I have been collating the results across the North West region, feeding this back to relevant stakeholders and conducting staff workshops to identify the way forward. The emphasis on rehabilitation in our service drives constant change – we’re looking for patterns which might give keys to successful rehabilitation cultures.

‘My role involves a lot of different tasks, for instance: training needs analysis of offender supervisors using surveys and focus groups; supervision of forensic psychologists in training. But there are many others.’

What’s changed since you worked here before? ‘In the early part of my career in the prison service I, and a lot of my colleagues, were involved in treatment programmes. I knew when I returned that things had changed; I felt excited that they had moved on. There’s still the opportunity to be involved in treatment programmes, and there are some interesting developments, particularly in the high-intensity field,
but what I like now is that it’s not our core work – many more opportunities have opened up to use our skills in more creative and varied ways.’

‘I really notice that I work with a wide variety of service users. In my first spell at HMPPS, a psychologist would work to a governor in one particular prison. Now the psychological service is managed regionally and coordinated by regional psychologists. That means you have a regional base and the service is very flexible in allowing you to work as close to home as possible, while also giving you the freedom to work in other prisons.’

Emma, if you had a good candidate in front of you, what would you say about the benefits of working at the HMPPS? ‘Well, there are about 50 psychologists in the North West region and every single one is prepared to help and support you. They’re a very experienced and positive team who are keen to work collaboratively.  Second, psychologists are valued by others in the service: prison governors genuinely welcome our advice, for instance.

‘While mine is not a research job, if you spot a research opportunity or come up with a good idea, it’s welcomed. I know colleagues that are working towards a doctorate who have been supported by the prison service. There is a strong emphasis on keeping up-to-date with latest research: we stress evidence-based practice, and this is another element in the drive to move forward and constantly improve.
‘Given such a large group of psychologists, CPD is critically important. By next week I’ll have been on four courses since I returned in September as well as a conference. Good professional supervision is also vital to ensure a high-quality service. Our recommendations can have far-reaching consequences and therefore peer supervision is important.

‘I want to repeat my point about flexibility and professional respect – it’s assumed that you are responsible in making choices at work. A second point. I worked independently when I left in 2006. In 2013 I came off the HCPC register because I was taking a break from practising. When I approached HMPPS about returning they supported me in doing the amount of work which was needed to get me back on the register. That was a very positive experience.’

Apart from professional skills, what personal skills do you think these roles entail. ‘Being reflective – thinking about your own practice and wanting to improve it. Being prepared to learn from others – not just psychologists but other professionals – and, in turn, being prepared to give them your time. You must feel that you can make a difference in other people’s lives. You must have hope. You need to genuinely believe that every person deserves a chance and that you can help them take it. And you must be adaptable. Obviously, you’re working within a legal and professional framework, but things are changing, and you have a chance to contribute to new ways of doing things.’

And what is the key to future changes? ‘The emphasis on rehabilitation is central to what we do going forward.’

- Find out more on our Jobs in psychology website

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