An account of how I learned to be a helping professional – not an instruction manual, but a prompt for you to explore your own story .

Stepping away from the life of a student, my first professional years involved coming up against all kinds of individuals, usually in the probation service – presented individually. At that time, the key first experience was the Social Inquiry Report, a document that aimed to distill the life of an offender into a couple of sides of A4, in which that life was to provide a kind of explanation for the criminal behaviour and to offer the possibility of an intervention that might turn the offender away from future crimes.

There are of course, a range of reasons why this is a problematic approach to tackling offending. Nonetheless, this was the structure of the mid 1970’s and there were things to be said for it. First of all, it meant that close attention had to be given to offending as a personal experience, part of the make up and impacting on the future of a person’s whole life, their family, identity, sense of self respect and standing in a community. It allowed the sordid, petty minded or plain destructive part of someone’s life to be contextualised into something richer and potentially healing. A thug was not just a thug.

This notion of starting with a personal history made intuitive sense to someone like myself who had studied history at university, and it is this intuitive sense that draws people into looking for explanations of the now, in the past. It is such a seductive intuition that it is sometimes very hard to get people to think differently, other than to react to a polar opposite position which dismisses any interest in history as sentimental and irrelevant.


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