Drawing from Psychodynamic approaches

Continued from previous posts, exploring the contribution of psychodynamic franmeworks to work with offenders and others in difficulty…..

  1. A talking therapy

Work with the bereaved suggests that part of the process of development through the experience is the expression of emotions to a significant reliable listener. Those who can share in this way, appear to do better that those who cannot. There is some overall indication that women are more able to express their feelings and cope more effectively with bereavement as result than can men.

It is however unwise to generalise from this into all work with offenders. In other words, we can be so struck with the traumatic events in the past lives of those we supervise that we can be drawn into generalised talking about the past. With the bereaved, there are two key issues:

  • The focus is specific to a particular loss
  • The need is for the expression of feeling, not mere talk about feelings.

If this is translated to work with offenders, we are taken to the need for a specific focus on offending behaviour which fits well with the same message from cognitive approaches. We are also directed to look at the way in which feeling is expressed, with a recognition that this is often through behaviour rather than talk. Indeed it is often through absence, lateness etc., that feeling is expressed.

  1. Case management and therapy

The role of therapist is very seductive. Although for some years, the notion of offending as pathology has been highly unfashionable, social work has somehow clung to the role of the therapist. The vogue for work with sex offenders from the 1990s  illustrates this well enough, but so do many fashionable ways of interviewing offer the probation officer the reassuring role of expert controller, in possession of the capacity to transform and change. A casual glance at the average case record could leave the reader struggling to reconcile the non-treatment dynamic theory with the reality.

In this context, the success of community service is of interest. Here at least there is no pretence at therapy, and the focus is wholly on what can be called ‘case management’. It may be a surprise to some that one of the pillars of the psychodynamic establishment, Donald Winnicott, also saw the social work role as one of case management not as therapy. The ‘management’ role also denotes a healthy openness about the power relationship between worker and supervisee which can be evaded in the supposed benevolence of therapy. The manager has to take responsibility for the authority s/he exercises.



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