The experience of change in a prison therapeutic community: an interpretative phenomenological analysis – 2018

Purpose – Democratic Therapeutic Communities (TCs) provide an environment for offenders to work on long standing emotional and relational problems and address their offending behaviour. This study aimed to explore the experience of making psychological changes on a TC from the perspective of residents.

Design/methodology/approach – Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used to explore the experience of five former residents of the TC at HMP Gartree.

Findings – Four main themes emerged, each with two sub-themes: Motivation to Change (sub-themes, Engagement, Determination); Environment (sub-themes, Boundaries, Experience of care); Removal of Masks (sub-themes, Embracing vulnerability, Emerging authenticity) and Relationships (sub-themes: Re-enacting the past, Challenge from peers). Findings are discussed in relation to existing literature.

Research limitations/implications
Research limitations/implications – Understanding service users perspectives on what helps facilitate change can help staff empathise with their experiences and strengthen their relationships. The importance of clear and consistent boundaries that are perceived as fair and the development of meaningful relationships with staff in creating an atmosphere that enables change, has implications for other therapeutic or supportive environments. This research represents the experiences of five participants who were motivated to take part and comfortable to speak to a professional about their experiences. As such, generalisations about the wider TC population should be made cautiously and further research would be beneficial.

Originality/value – The research adds to the underrepresented area of service user perspectives in a forensic TC. It contributes a rich account of the experience of psychological change that can help staff working in TC’s understand and relate to their residents experiences.

Gareth Edward Ross, Jonathan Michael Auty
Therapeutic Communities: The International Journal of Therapeutic Communities, 2018