This guest post comes from Ewan Lundy who was a participant in our stage 2 workshop in Glasgow. Ewan has 30 years experience of working with criminal justice services, including work as a volunteer, researcher, legal assistant and police officer. Since becoming a chartered psychologist 13 years ago he has worked extensively as a practitioner with mental health, criminal justice social work and prison services, and this continues. He has been independent for the last 5 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the first event of this kind that I’ve attended. Having service users and families taking part was great on various levels, not least that it kept alive the perspective of living daily with the consequences of our work as practitioners; work that is often well-intended but misguided.
At the close of the day Fergus suggested that perhaps this phase of the project might result in a set of broad principles that people could agree on. However, he was less confident that it would deliver the framework for practice that had been the original aspiration for the project. I was surprised to hear this because the day had left me thinking that there was lots of scope for some of the ideas raised to be translated into practice relatively easily. For example, the idea of a prominent role for ’graduate’ mentors is exciting on lots of levels, not only could it reduce stigma and form part of a redemption script, but it could also be a form of gainful employment, help model how to be a pro-social peer, cascade into other community based initiatives, etc.. I imagine that this could also draw many service users into engaging in the change proces that would otherwise stay well away from it.
I think some of the ideas mentioned on the day and in the existing materials can also be woven into the fabric of existing good practice. My own experiences with personal change work over the last few years has been that, with a bit of creative thinking – mostly from families and service users, often little more than a guiding framework from myself – we have usually been able to find ways to make things better that are solution-focussed and strengths-based. For example, encouraging a young adult who had taken on the values of his peers and was obsessed with committing violence to gain respect (including wanting to stab a member of staff in the neck) to build on previous successes where he would follow the example set by other male role models in his community and family (in particular his grandfather) who had gained respect in non-violent ways: regular prompts and praise were enough to get the change sought, and keep it going.
I am also finding increasingly that there is little – sometimes no – need for any of the work to involve being in a room doing CBT, as was the case in the example above; the conversations took place while going for a walk and being in a cafe. When I do tap into approaches that I have accrued through CBT I find that investing in language and approaches that are as common-sense/down-to-earth as possible helps. For example, adopting terminology that service users volunteer such as ‘digging myself up’ rather than thought-challenging, ‘calming my jets’ rather than emotion-management, and ‘getting my finger out’ instead of behavioural experiments. This seems to make service users feel listened to and understood, which keeps them engaged, even if we cannot immediately help them effect the change that they are looking for.
In pursuit of approaches that feel grounded in the client’s reality I always try to go with where each individual uniquely wants to focus their energy positively, whether that’s getting quality time with their gran before she dies, taking their kids to the park, being good at football, fixing cars, etc.. I find that this not only gets the motivation required but also there are invariably ways of using this to tap into their strengths, achievements and the relational attachments that mean the most to them. It’s no coincidence that people are drawn to doing things that are tapping into innate abilities whether that’s kicking a ball or putting up shelves – I think they’d call that the bio-psycho-social model in action in CBT.
Finally, I find that consistently framing personal work with phrases such as ’where do you want to get to and let’s try to get you there’ (they invariably describe something pro-social) makes a difference too. I rarely make reference to the work being about stopping bad stuff happening, and if I did I would take care to mention the rationale for conceptualising what we are doing in this way.
In closing, it seems to me that there are a host of practical applications of desistance that are already under-way, with practitioners as catalysts and/or guardians of the process in many individual cases, but perhaps they are not being construed or researched in desistance terms. I would welcome hearing the experiences of others who feel that practitioners are already consciously trying to facilitate desistance. It may be that what’s needed is a system for recording and sharing existing good practice. Perhaps we will find that there is a lot of ‘bottom-up’ practice already influenced by the ‘top-down’ desistance theory, just waiting to be more formally recorded and mined.