Throughout most of history, we have treated criminals with vicious cruelty.  During the sixteenth century, for instance, those accused of vagabondage (i.e., beggary) could be imprisoned for life, or hanged, or even disembowelled.  The punishments prescribed for criminals would invariably be far more sadistic than the original offences

Happily, the prison reform movement of the nineteenth century fostered a growing compassion for those who, for whatever reason, had transgressed; and gradually, we began to treat perpetrators with greater respect.  As the pioneering ideas of Sigmund Freud and other psychologists in the early twentieth century began to take root, the criminal justice system turned to psychoanalysis – albeit slowly and with a certain sense of suspicion – and gradually incorporated some of the findings of the new depth psychology.

By the late twentieth century, prisons and other forensic institutions employed mental health professionals to provide treatment for offenders, rather than punishment.  In 1990, a group of pioneering clinicians formed the International Association for Forensic Psychotherapy under the presidency of Dr. Estela Welldon, Consultant Psychiatrist at the Portman Clinic in London, to research and promote the use of psychotherapeutic interventions in both the forensic psychiatric sector and in the criminal justice sector, in a valiant effort to provide more enlightened

The International Association for Forensic Psychotherapy has recently celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, and continues to provide a professional home for all those mental health workers who wish to offer more enlightened treatment and, hopefully, prevention, as

The prison psychotherapy movement in Great Britain, one of the branches of forensic psychotherapy, has distinguished itself over the last several decades, and many of our colleagues have created vital and visionary services for those who live behind

Regrettably, in spite of the wide-ranging accomplishments within the forensic field, many people still regard psychotherapy as a luxury, claiming that prisoners do not deserve seemingly self-indulgent therapy.  The recent closure of the outstanding service at H.M.P. Holloway remains a poignant example of the attacks on more enlightened forensic

I congratulate the Saturday Forensic Forum for providing an important, ongoing space in which like-minded colleagues can provide support and inspiration for one another as we attempt to band together to better understand the traumatic origins of crime and the ways in which the psychotherapeutic relationship has the capacity to provide some relief to perpetrators and victims alike.  May the campaign continue!

Professor Brett Kahr – Series Editor, “Forensic Psychotherapy Monograph Series”, Karnac Books.

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