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Working with Resistant Offenders Programmes

For many staff delivering a variety of offending behaviour programmes to groups of offenders on a day to day basis, the main challenge to be faced is having to deal with a lack of willingness to engage in rehabilitative work and a lack of motivation to change.

This resistance can sometimes reflect on staff motivation, making it difficult for them to engage effectively with the offenders and raising concerns about issues such as:

  • How do you motivate groups of offenders to change the habits of a lifetime?
  • How do you apply motivational interviewing techniques effectively in a group setting?
  • How do you challenge individuals in a group effectively, without building resistance?
Motivational interviewing and Socratic questioning approaches are generally advocated as effective ways of working with offenders, but these techniques were designed for use with individuals, and there is little evidence of their utility within a group setting. Whilst these techniques undoubtedly have much to offer, the way they are used within a group setting has to be different from how they are used on a one-to-one basis. Often they are used ineffectually, because the dynamics of group process are not taken fully into account.

The notion of "groupthink" was introduced by Irving Janis (1972) to describe what happens to decision-making in high-level groups, such as governments, juries and committees. But the insight into group processes which Janis reveals can teach us important lessons about the perils of working with groups of offenders:

Groupthink obtains when the decision process of a highly cohesive group of like-minded people becomes so overwhelmed by consensus seeking that their apprehension of reality is undermined… this process is encouraged when a number of conditions are fulfilled: when the… group is highly cohesive, when it is isolated from alternative sources of information; and when its leader clearly favours a particular option… These processes occur both at the intra-individual (self-censorship) and at the inter-individual level (conformity pressures).
(Van Avermaet, 1988)
We would suggest that programme tutors sometimes inadvertently create a kind of "groupthink" effect, because of their lack of understanding of how and when to use techniques designed primarily for work in a different setting. Techniques which might be effective on a more personal, one-to-one basis, when used inappropriately with a group tend to result in heightened resistance to learning and challenge in the group as a whole.

We are offering a two day interactive Workshop which gives staff an opportunity to:

  • Learn more about theories and techniques which will aid their delivery of programmes
  • Understand how resistance and motivation works, in particular in a group setting
  • Develop skills to enable them to both work with and challenge thinking within a group setting.
The training is applicable to all staff working with group programmes for offenders.

It is equally relevant for staff working with individual offenders and those working in support roles who wish to improve their motivational style.

When I was young nothing could hold me back. No, sir! I thought I could change the world. It took me a hundred years to figure out I can't change the world. I can only change Bessie. And, honey, that ain't easy either." - Bessie Delaney
For further information or details please do not hesitate to contact us.

Linda Blud
Yvonne Copley
email: "Alembic.org.uk"

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