I bloody love the Jobs For The Girls series. I love finding out what goes on in the day-to-day lives of women who have pursued career paths I never fathomed in my careers centre at school. The lovely Katy passed me Julia’s contact details after a shameless dig on Twitter to find some readers with unusual occupations (if you’d like to be featured on Jobs for The Girls, just send me an email!) It felt (and still does) like I’ve struck gold. Julia works with offenders every day, battling a system that does not make her job easy, and, at the risk of sounding like a cliche, makes a real difference in their lives (and the lives of their families). This is a fascinating read. Thank you, Julia:
1. Can you talk me through a typical day for you? If there is no typical day, what sort of things do you do on a weekly basis?
Not really any typical day which is part of why I love my job. At the moment I am doing some individual therapy for a prisoner who is in the Segregation unit as he has been subject to bullying. My aim is to enable him to cope more effectively and to give him more confidence to discuss his offending behaviour within a group therapy session. I also act as consultant to a domestic abuse therapy group, which involves dealing with issues such as whether group members should go on the group, how to set up and run the group, queries from solicitors about prioritisation on groups and supervising pre-treatment need reports and post programme risk assessment reports.
Outside of this I also interview prisoners and use structured risk assessments to write risk asssessment reports which go to the parole board and assist them in making decisions about whether the individual’s risk is reduced enough to move to open conditions or be released. I am then sometimes called to attend the oral hearing which is a quasi-court where I have to formally give evidence and am cross examined. I also deliver training programmes for other staff and conduct research.
2. What are the bits of your work that drive you, that make your eyes light up? What are the bits that are a necessary evil?
Seeing change in people is why I do this work. Helping someone understand why they committed their offences and to understand their patterns of behaviour to then be able to change them is amazing. Small changes such as seeing a man who used to walk around feeling angry all the time then be able to take feedback on board without shouting back. Or helping someone renew contact with a loved one, or give them the confidence to make that contact.
There is nothing I hate about my job although I find dealing with some officers frustrating. There can still be some resistance by a few officers about psychology and interventions (group programmes) and it’s important that everyone gives a positive message about programmes so that it increases motivation in offenders. So I help to deliver training programmes to staff to inform them of the benefits of this work and the research that has been done which proves its effectiveness.
3. How did you qualify for this? How could someone else get the skills they need? Do you need technical training? Do you intend to get any professional qualifications?
I completed an undergraduate degree in psychology then a masters in Forensic Psychology. I then got a position as a psychological assistant and then a job as a Forensic Psychologist in Training. There I worked under supervision for 5 years, submitting dossiers of work until I finally passed all the different parts and became Chartered with the British Psychological Society and a Registered Forensic Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council.
4. What are the characteristics of someone who is successful at being a prison psychologist? Do you have them all? What do you wish you did better?
I think you need good communication skills and to be non-judgmental. I feel these are some of my strengths as well as organisational skills, being flexible when having to rearrange appointments and change plans last minute. In my role I am developing my leadership skills and although I feel I am able to give feedback to others, I need to manage others more firmly sometimes and set expectations more clearly.
5. Have you ever wanted to do anything else? Is there a Plan B?
I have worked as an English teacher in France which I enjoyed and so I did contemplate going into Educational Psychology but decided it would be more interesting and more varied going into Forensic Psychology.
6. How do you stay motivated? Is it hard to keep pushing yourself to keep developing?
I am developing new skills all the time, learning about different therapies, such as schema informed therapy so that keeps me motivated. I have just started a new role in a different prison, which has different challenges and new ways of working.
7. Does your work push you outside of your comfort zone? If so, when?
Working with some offenders can be personally difficult especially if their offences are against children. Now that I have children of my own I am more sensitive to that so I have to really remain objective and it’s about judging the behaviour not the person and helping them to understand the reasons why they committed their offences. Often when you start working with an individual and you find out more about them and their histories, you start to build a good rapport with them and although you never excuse their behaviour, you begin to understand how their beliefs were formed which led to them acting in certain ways. It’s about breaking it down, looking at the links between beliefs, emotions and behaviours and work at challenging their beliefs to effect changes in behaviours.