By Dr. Anne Aiyegbusi and Gillian Kelly, editors of the new volume in the Forensic Focus Series, Professional and Therapeutic Boundaries in Forensic Mental Health Practice.
The word ‘boundaries’ is used a lot in forensic mental health practice. This is not surprising given that by definition the offender populations who constitute the client groups in forensic services have breached boundaries in serious ways. It is also clear that forensic populations include a large percentage of people who have also had their personal and bodily boundaries breached in traumatic ways during their early development.
When groups of people with these backgrounds are locked up together in secure settings where they feel disempowered, restricted and themselves to be victims of the system, the task professionals have of establishing and maintaining safe boundaries is a challenging one. Although there is little research evidence available, a picture emerges from clinical practice that suggests there are complex gender issues at play with regard to boundary violations in forensic settings. Indeed, if we turn to newspaper reporting in the United Kingdom we will find that there are regular stories of female staff accused of sexual relationships with male patients in secure services.
A complicating factor that emerges in forensic services is that clients have a combination of vulnerability and risk. Clients may be vulnerable to being abused and at risk of abusing. Sometimes it is not easy to separate vulnerability from risk, especially when clients are high profile or severe offenders. Working with this combination and maintaining balance is a particularly delicate task.
This book provides detailed accounts of therapeutic practice in all forensic settings, explaining exactly how clinicians from a range of different disciplines work with complex boundary phenomena in the context of nursing, psychotherapy, arts therapies, family therapy and psychology. Importantly, the perspectives of victims and perpetrators of professional boundary violations in psychological therapies are included in this book which provides an insight into the impact of professional corruption on clients who enter into therapy to recover but end up being used by their therapists. The perspective of perpetrators is included by reference to a service in the USA specifically for boundary violating professionals.
This book is important because establishing and maintaining professional and therapeutic boundaries in forensic mental health practice is crucial and yet shockingly there is little available literature to support clinicians in the complex task they have. In particular, there is a complete absence of guidance which elucidates the reality of day to day clinical work with its difficult balancing acts, slippery concepts, confrontation with offence paralleling behaviours and being tested, pushed and pulled out of professional role.
This book is a valuable resource for clinicians of all disciplines and grades who practice on the front line of forensic practice because it clarifies that they are not alone in facing the boundary challenges inherent in this work. The key roles played by supervision and reflective practice are emphasised throughout the book. Training in boundaries work is also referred to. These are the tools that enable effective clinical work which is important information for managers and academics organising services and providing education for front line workers in order that they ensure their products are sufficiently robust.