This study explored professionals’ perceptions of providing psychological therapy in prisons. Eight professionals, affiliated with counselling as well as counselling, clinical and forensic psychology, were interviewed. A social constructionist paradigm was used to understand how social and discursive practices shaped professionals’ accounts, allowing for critical engagement with taken-for-granted practices. Participants’ accounts were analysed using a social constructionist informed thematic analysis. Four themes were constructed: (a) performing therapy, (b) humanising the client, (c) frames inside frames and (d) a challenging but rewarding experience. The findings of this investigation indicated that therapy provision was interwoven with the socio-political ideals governing prison, which created a conflict between therapeutic values and penal values. This conflict has important implications for establishing and maintaining ethical and deontological practices in prison, particularly surrounding the dynamics power. The study indicated it is important for professionals to monitor and manage potential stigma and discrimination within therapy or service delivery. The results also found that working in prisons is a complex experience, which requires careful consideration for enhancing professional development for the prison therapist.

Faye Volker & Niall Galbraith

European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling, 22 Jul 2018

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