Supervision of offenders and the treatment model

Whilst these models could be applied to clinical therapeutic settings, the whole treatment model ran into difficulties in the probation / social work settings. Bowlby’s model provides an important way forward, enabling the appropriate use of the material of emotional history without entangling us with a ‘treatment’ model. The traditional models appeared to lead workers into a kind of detective story, the workers seeking for clues to the trauma in the past that caused the blockage. They then endeavoured to bring it to the consciousness of the client in the hope that they would be released so that progress could occur. This was always a travesty of psychotherapeutic work, but Bowlby’s theory makes it easier to understand that history is important in its revelation in behavioural patterns in the here and now. The metaphor of the ‘script’ I have already mentioned. Dr Byng-Hall has found that the metaphor provides families with an intelligible way of getting in touch with their important emotional history without taking them into some cerebral escape into the past.

Underlying this whole discussion is an acceptance that the therapeutic model of social work is properly to be regarded with caution. Outcome studies and common sense observation combine to suggest that the most effective change leading people away from offending is maturation. It is to the process of maturation that attachment theory draws our attention, rather than to the identification of trauma and the ‘treatment’ of the resultant pathologies. In a setting where most offenders ‘grow out’ of crime, and where progress out of offending is more easily seen as a kind of maturation than a cure, this focus is welcome. The probation officer’s task is to foster this process of maturation through the relationship (s)he offers and through the attention (s)he pays to improving the quality of care available in the client’s environment.

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