What you will study
This module provides a comprehensive introduction to the fascinating relationship between counselling and forensic psychology in general, and mental health problems and crime more specifically. The module is divided into five blocks, and you'll study a new topic each week.
Some of the topics have been personally triggering for some students, so before signing up, you should look through the topics covered as described below to consider whether this is the right module for you.
Block 1 sets the scene for the module. You'll look at the tensions between therapeutic and forensic settings. In addition, you'll learn how mental health treatments have developed over time and how prisons developed from places designed to hold prisoners before trial to become facilities used as a form of punishment, and the development of forensic mental health. This block will also examine media depictions of crime, forensic psychology and therapy, and discuss whether they are factually based. The block concludes with a look at the diagnosis and categorisation of mental health problems and how being diagnosed or labelled can affect individuals.
Block 2 explores ‘mad or bad’ identities. You’ll find out about the role of race in how people are seen and treated by mental health and criminal justice services. You’ll learn about how gender influences the ways offenders and victims, and clients are seen and treated in the criminal justice system and in the therapy room and mental health services. You’ll study the impact age has on the perception and treatment of offenders and victims/counselling clients, as well as practices for different age groups in both counselling/mental health and the criminal justice system. You’ll also explore the central place of social class in understanding reasons for pathologisation and criminalisation, including the key theoretical debates and research studies to explain class disparities in mental health and crime.
Block 3 explores how the issues of sex and sexuality are covered in forensic and counselling psychology. You’ll find out about sexual assault and abuse involving adults and children, and about how perpetrators and survivors are treated within therapeutic and criminal justice contexts. You’ll cover sex in the therapy room: how counsellors can talk about sex and sexuality with their clients, and also the issues around consent and abuses of power when therapists step over the line and have sexual contact with clients. You’ll study how counselling and forensic psychologists have drawn lines between normal sex and abnormal sex or ‘paraphilias’. You’ll also explore sex work from both a forensic and counselling perspective: how and why has this form of work been regarded as a crime over the years.
Block 4 looks at treatment. You'll be introduced to four common approaches in working therapeutically with offenders and victims of crime. You'll explore attachment-based approaches and their notion of different attachment styles dependent on early relationship experiences. You'll examine how strategies and techniques from cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be employed to work with diverse forensic populations and problems, with a specific focus on trauma-focused CBT. You’ll study systemic concepts and how they are used in working therapeutically with young offenders and their families in the community and in secure in-patient settings. You'll also explore mindfulness and how ideas and concepts from this approach can be utilised in counselling and forensic settings.
Block 5 looks at four different topics that explore areas of tension between therapy and the criminal justice system. In this block, you'll explore the controversial topic of repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse that are recovered during therapy sessions as an adult and look at the challenges this poses in terms of criminal evidence and prosecution. You'll learn about suicide and self-harm, and where ‘offender’ and ‘victim’ are often one and the same person. You'll find out about how therapy is conducted within a prison or secure unit, including a discussion of therapeutic prisons. At the end of this block, you'll look at the prevention, rather than treatment, of mental health issues and offending behaviour.
Looking at all the different topics covered in this module, you may have noticed that a few of the real-world contexts explored in the module involve issues that some people may find personally emotive or currently sensitive. Individual content warnings will be given before such material is presented, outlining the issues to be covered and suggesting ways in which you might engage with it if it is personally relevant to you.
Supporting study materials
The module is built around a textbook entitled Mad or Bad: A critical approach to counselling and forensic psychology and an extensive module website built around an online study guide. The website contains further teaching to support the chapters in the textbook. The teaching on the website includes video (e.g. of therapeutic approaches in action) and audio interviews with a number of psychologists, counsellors and criminologists, and a variety of interactive activities to help develop and consolidate your knowledge. You'll also spend some of your study time using The Open University Library’s extensive collection of online resources.