Demystifying Treatment by Involving All Staff in Therapy

Article excerpt

Treatment programs operating in prisons today often are misunderstood. They sometimes are seen as naive attempts by liberal-minded mental health professionals to ease offenders' consciences and elevate their self-esteem.

While the concept of psychotherapy for offenders may be rooted in a liberal philosophy, state-of-the-art treatment programs increasingly are based on confrontational, reality-oriented models that emphasize accountability. These models assume that a high percentage of participants will become repeat offenders. Based on this assumption, these programs teach offenders intervention skills they can incorporate in their daily lives.

In its broadest sense, treatment requires creating an environment in which offenders accept responsibility for their behavior and learn control. To be successful, offender treatment programs must recognize that all correctional staff play vital roles in rehabilitation. Treatment staff, custody officers, parole officers, caseworkers, educators, and those who provide support services all can act as agents of change. For an effective rehabilitative climate to exist, all personnel must hold a set of shared beliefs about the pathology of the offender, how this pathology develops, how change can occur and what is expected of the offender.

Mystique of Treatment

There are disparate ideas about the causes of criminal behavior and the methods for effecting change in offenders. There is a general mystique surrounding treatment programs and, too often, only staff who are involved directly in these programs understand their principles.

The tenets of more commonly used systems such as that of Yochelson and Samenow and Reality Therapy should be taught to more than counselors, psychologists and other mental health professionals. Staff development programs should teach all employees about treatment concepts and establish guidelines for dealing with inmates.

Correctional officers and support service providers have the most interaction with inmates and are most likely to witness fights and other aggressive behavior. Yet most staff in these positions do not have access to treatment information that can help them rehabilitate offenders.

Staff may believe that offenders are the way they are for reasons beyond their control, such as mental illness or childhood abuse. As a result, they underestimate their role in the change process. Consequently, staff who lack formal psychological training may fail to monitor and address critical aspects of inmate behavior because they do not recognize the connection to treatment. …