Counselling, Supervision, Training, Research, Teaching, Writing. Providing therapeutic services to the people of East Lancashire and beyond.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Book Review: Psychological Therapy in Prisons

Harvey, J. and Smedley, K. (eds.) (2010) Psychological Therapy in Prisons and Other Secure Settings, Abingdon, Willan.

This book will be of particular interest to those counsellors and psychotherapists working within the criminal justice system. It contains an introduction and ten very well written chapters on therapy in prisons and secure institutions.

The early chapters describe a prison system struggling to cope with very high levels of psychological distress amongst an expanding prison population. The consequences of increasing demand and the reforms introduced to improve mental health services are expertly discussed in chapter two of the book.

The next four chapters describe how specific therapies can be used in secure settings. There are chapters on attachment-based psychodynamic psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy with adolescents, cognitive analytic therapy with young adults and systemic therapy. Each chapter provides an outline of the model being used, its evidence base and its application. A case example is used to demonstrate the strengths of each approach and are a particularly interesting read. The problems inherent in providing therapy in prisons are discussed. One author describes prison as an ‘anti-therapeutic’ environment. The tension between security and care is a theme throughout the book.

The remainder of the book focuses on trauma work in prisons, there is a critical examination of therapeutic communities and an excellent final chapter evaluating the effectiveness of offender programmes. The chapters on therapeutic practice with women and therapy with black and minority ethnic people raise important issues that go beyond the context of prisons and secure hospitals. The chapter on race and the failure of the prison service to recognise the needs of black and minority ethnic prisoners is extremely powerful.

The book gives a particular view of psychotherapy in prisons as something practised by psychologists if it’s practised at all. The approaches discussed tend to be cognitive or psychodynamic. Neither Counsellors nor the humanistic approach feature in the book and Carl Rogers is mentioned once only - on page 250 – the book is 254 pages long! There’s no mention either of the work done by the chaplaincy or the listeners service - prisoners trained by the Samaritans to support their peers – which is currently under threat because of cuts in the prison budget. The book lacks a concluding chapter, which could have brought the key issues together and reflected on the overall picture. Despite these criticisms the book is an extremely interesting read and highly recommended for those interested in the health and care of prisoners or therapy with forensic populations.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Existential Psychotherapy - Irvin Yalom

I've started dropping the name of Irvin Yalom when talking to my students. So far it's been pretty successful, with a couple of them reading his work and expressing pleasure in what he's written. So I wanted to put something about Yalom on this blog with a list of references and a few links to resources.

In my opinion Irvin Yalom is one of the world's great therapists. I've formed this view after many years reading his books and watching his DVDs. His writing includes intellectual work on existential psychotherapy and therapeutic groups; several novels, Lying on the Couch, When Nietszche Wept and The Schopenhauer Cure; works about the process of therapy; two collections of case studies, the finest of which is a wonderful bedtime read and called, Loves Executioner; recent works include a book about death anxiety called, Staring at the Sun. A novel about the philosopher Spinoza is published in March 2012.

Yalom's DVDs include an amazing set of recordings on the practice of inpatient and outpatient group therapy. It seems to me that Yalom is an amazingly humane, empathic and sensitive man in those films. The work is pretty challenging but the overall impression is of Yalom accepting and working with whatever his patients bring. Carl Rogers talked about 'prizing' his clients and I think this is what Yalom achieves. Another DVD sees a much older Yalom (he's 80 now) providing case consultation for a number of psychotherapists; again the same themes re-occur: existentialism, working in the here-and-now, therapy in groups, the therapeutic relationship and the importance of dreams. In his supervision session Yalom listens out for these themes as they emerge in the course of the consultation, it's nice to watch.

So here are some Irvin Yalom links. is a Yalom company. Their YouTube site includes clips from Yalom's DVDs here
Yalom's personal website is here and his Facebook Page is here
Most of his books (and now his DVDs too) are available on Amazon here

Annotated Bibliography


What if the existential philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, had asked Freud for help with his neurosis and benefited from the talking cure?

Twists and turns as a client out for revenge entraps her therapist

A philosophy teacher with a love for the pessimistic philosopher Arnold Schopenhauer joins a therapy group.

Soon to be published - mine is on order!


1970 The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy

Yalom's huge contribution to the practice of group therapy

1974 Every Day Gets a Little Closer

Yalom and his patient write an account of their therapy together. Thus he can charge her reduced fees and help with her writing block. I read this and thought Yalom was way off with some of his interventions - an honest account of therapy in all it's movement and stuckness.

1980 Existential Psychotherapy

Yalom's magisterial account of existential psychotherapy, in which existential concerns (freedom, isolation, meaning and death) are presented as the unwavering facts of our existence, to be addressed in therapy, the cause of great and often displaced anxiety.

1983 Inpatient Group Psychotherapy

More insights into group work where distressed individuals are able to work on their own issues by working with each other.

1989 Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy

Wonderful set of case studies - Yalom called them his teaching tales. Each is full of wisdom, thoughts about practice and Yalom's core concerns.

1998 The Yalom Reader

A selection of Yalom's writing from his novels and text books

1999 Momma and the Meaning of Life

More case studies or teaching tales with a focus on existential issues and in particular our mortality and what that means

2001 The Gift of Therapy

Beautifully written short chapters covering numerous FAQs about the practice of good therapy.

2008 Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death

As Yalom has got older the subject of death has become more compelling. This is a book length treatment of death anxiety and how it might be overcome, containing Yalom's idea of 'the ripple effect'.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Film Review: A Dangerous Method

You can see from the picture above just how much Mortensen and Fassbender look like Freud and Jung. There are uncanny moments in the film, when one or the other turns his head, and the resemblance is striking. I particularly enjoyed the sight of Mortensen/Freud lighting his cigar and Fassbender/Jung tamping away at his pipe - there must be some symbolism here!

Choosing the above picture is no slight on Kiera Knightly, whose performance as Sabina Speilrein gives this period drama some much needed emotional intensity. Everything else is starched collars and buttoned up emotions - which beautifully captures the period and the personalities of Freud and Jung, but makes for a rather slow and stilted film. Having said that the film is lovely to watch, at one point Jung and Speilrein are aboard a steamboat, which reminded me of the Esmerelda in Visconti's Death in Venice - nothing quite as luxurious here but beautiful nonetheless.

In this film, the director David Cronenberg, suggests that Jung's encounter with his patients, Sabina Speilrein and Otto Gross, leads to his sexual, emotional and philosophical development and ultimately to the break with the dogmatic Freud. But there is enough evidence in the Freud/Jung Letters to suggest that two such powerful personalities were inevitably going to disagree. I don't believe that Speilrein and Gross performed the crucial roles assigned to them in this film. What we know of as Analytical Psychology emerged following Jung's break with Freud: out of the psychosis that the break-up precipitated and the recovery that Jung was able to achieve. I don't think we can give too much credit to Speilrein and Gross.

For me watching the film was a little like watching Freud and Jung's greatest hits: there is the thirteen hour discussion when they first met, the cracking of the bookshelves whilst Freud discouraged Jung from writing about parapsychology, the refusal of Freud to 'risk his authority' and tell Jung his dreams and Jung's "death wish" which caused Freud to collapse on a couple of occasions. I recognised these episodes as they came along, all well known biographical details. Interesting to watch and it's great to see Freud and Jung up there on the big screen, but in the end, no cigar!

Director David Cronenberg, with Viggo Mortensen (Sigmund Freud), Michael Fassbender (Carl Jung), Keira Knightly (Sabina Spielrein), Vincent Cassel (Otto Gross) and Sarah Gadon (Emma Jung)

Thursday, 9 February 2012

More about Edupunk

I've had a good time doing a chunk of professional development with my colleagues at the University Centre at Blackburn College. It gave me the confidence to explore open educational resources - introducing into my teaching Webinars, videos and wikis (amongst many other technologies) that support and extend the learning of my students. So, thanks to Craig Hammond and Phil Johnson for the chance to participate.