Doing time: Clinical psychologists' experience of community service in a prison placement

Rohleder P. ; Miller M. ; Smith R. (2006)


In South Africa, graduating health professionals are required to do a compulsory year of community service before being able to register with their respective professional boards as independent practitioners. Community service posts for clinical psychologists were introduced in the Department of Correctional Services in 2005. The authors were among the first batch of clinical psychologists doing their community service within the Department of Correctional Services. Most publications on psychology in prisons tend to focus on diagnostic issues, models of therapeutic intervention, and forensic theory, with few articles focusing on organisational issues. The existing literature describes work within these organisations as particularly challenging. This article presents the authors' reflections on their experience of working in correctional centres. They highlight the institutional challenges faced, namely working with limited resources, in an unsafe environment, with an unclear professional role, and a lack of institutional support. They go on to discuss the emotional challenges faced, as they dealt with high levels of anxiety, fear, isolation, anger, and helplessness. The authors raise concerns about using newly qualified, inexperienced professionals to expand the health care service in South Africa without providing adequate institutional support and supervision. Reservations are presented about the appropriateness of placing community service psychologists in prisons, without appropriate supervision and institutional support. © Psychological Society of South Africa. All rights reserved.

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