Drawing from psychodynamic approaches – sex and the unconscious


Nothing has been more susceptible to ridicule than the Freudian preoccupation with sex and its manifestation through symbols. Occasionally probation officers have tentatively made links with some criminal behaviour, most notably shoplifting by middle aged women. It has however become less and less respectable to take such connections seriously.

Where rapists and sex offenders are encountered, emphasis is placed on issues of power and aggression rather than sexual feeling. Certainly in the world of offenders, potency is a crucial subject, or rather impotence is a central experience of their place in the world, and the need to achieve a kind of potency that integrates sexual and social identity seems to me a vital aspect of probation work. I apply the term ‘potency’ to both male and female clients, though I am treading dangerous ground here with some.

One of the most striking phenomena in the development of the Probation Service over the past thirty years has been the growing importance and presence of women staff. Focus on the styles of management has involved tensions between what are perceived as ‘macho’ cultures and ways of exercising effective power that are more ‘feminine’. Women managers have grappled with these tensions, and those that have had the courage to eschew a kind of anti-culture, a ‘sisterhood’ that in practice depends on male power for its existence, have had to tolerate some isolation and frustration.

The kind of practical down to earth no nonsense probation officer is likely to see these sorts of reflections and connections as so much eye wash. Poverty and unequal material comforts are much more central for them. Decent welfare benefits and employment opportunities are much more important than fanciful Freudian self indulgent preoccupations with sexuality. The irrational and unconscious are overlooked in favour of a rational materialism that finds an echo in enforcement rules in national standards of supervision. ‘Overlooked’ is probably too weak a word for the exclusion of the irrational and libidinous aspects of people from formal policy making – there is more than a hint of repression at work.

The unconscious

Taking an interest as I do in some modern literature, it is striking to me how much the concept of the unconscious has become a literary concept. This era of ‘what works’ being cognitive / behavioural highlights the absence of interest in the unconscious in probation work. Literature takes its existence and power for granted – the unconscious is woven into almost any writer’s way of understanding peo



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