chapter  1
36 Pages

An introduction to psychotherapy in prisons: issues, themes, and dynamics

When we consider the notion of practising psycho­therapy in prisons, we are immediately moving into the realms of paradoxical thinking. Imagine, if you will, two diametrically opposed views of the world. One oper­ ates along the lines of crime and punishment, a system based on absolutes and reliance on a set of rules where the notion of clearly identifiable facts can be proven or not, and where a path of retribution is laid in concrete terms by the prisoner "doing time" and serving a sentence and by seeing that justice is done on behalf of the victims of crime and in the eyes of society. Now consider the other, a land of poetry and enquiry where free association-the playing with ideas and thought-is an alto­ gether more fluid process and one that is open to speculation. "Association" is the name given to the prisoners' free time when they are unlocked on their wings (living quarters) and are allowed to mix with each other, watch television, and generally move around the living space as opposed to remaining locked in their cells. In psychotherapy, both the therapist and the pa­ tient are engaged in a process of interaction in a psychic space, a

potential arena where the secret, shadow world of the offender can be gradually unlocked and illuminated by throwing light on his or her intrapsychic processes and object relationships. The criminal justice system and the process of forensic psycho­ therapy are both inhabiting the role of investigator, with one seeking to prove and then punish if guilty, the other seeking to consider, reflect upon, and make sense of the motivating fac­ tors that make up the offenders' core complex and enable them potentially to find their own path, one towards redemption. Within this context the prison provides the concrete holding in the prisoners' external world whilst the psychotherapist and the process of psychotherapy hold the prisoners psychologically and emotionally in the exploration of their inner worlds.