Developing a trauma-informed forensic psychology

Adam Mahoney previews an online article.

On the 21st November I attended the excellent and thought-provoking event Trauma-Informed Care in Forensic and Prison Mental Health Services by the Quality Network for Prison and Forensic Mental Health Services at the Royal College of Psychiatry. This was a hugely oversubscribed event, indicating the burgeoning interest in this area. As a forensic psychologist with 20 years of practice under my belt one of the biggest concerns that has stood out to me is how we account for and help alleviate the interpersonal trauma that is endemic in our client group. Having worked with female offenders for the last 10 years I have always been of the opinion that you would have to be blind to miss this treatment and assessment need. The same is also true for many male offenders particularly if we take the time to view the impact of trauma through a gender-specific lens.

Along with many colleagues both in the Scottish Prison Service and south of the border I have gone out of my way to train in and implement various trauma therapies. However, several issues have continued to concern me, not least the massive disconnect between theories accounting for offender rehabilitation and my subsequent trauma relevant training. Similarly, the complexity of working with survivors who are also offenders is considerable. Often the existing trauma approaches don’t account for this complexity and there is also a startling lack of quality empirical evidence in this area.

Some of this complexity was evident at the trauma-informed care event. The truly inspirational service user accounts by Su Pashley and Sue Denison, for example, highlighted the difficulties many clients experience in institutionalised settings and in transitioning back to the community. However, perhaps one of the overriding reflections for me was how deeply a social and political issue this is. In response to a panel question about the overwhelming need and the minimal resources available to effectively address trauma within forensic settings, Richard Morgan-Jones, a retired consult psychotherapist, provided a one-word answer: ‘vote’. Obviously, apt in the lead up to this December’s general election. But it also highlights the following question: what type of society, and indeed what type of forensic psychology, do we want in an era where we continue to lock up ever larger numbers of people? To this end I have written an online article which I hope generates some debate.

Adam Mahoney
Consultant Forensic Psychologist
Lecture in Forensic and Applied Psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University

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