Offering counselling support for women on bail supervision

This week’s blog comes from Alison Wood, Person-Centred Counsellor, Sacro

The South West Scotland Bail Service is a partnership between South West Scotland’s local authorities, South West Scotland Community Justice Authority and Sacro. The service provides Bail Supervision for Ayr, Kilmarnock, Dumfries and Stranraer Sheriff Courts for accused who reside in Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway. Supervised Bail has 3 main components:

  • Monitoring Element – a minimum of 3 contacts per week for first 3 months – thereafter level of contact is assessed by Bail Worker with the sanction of the local authority Criminal Justice Manager where appropriate
  • Support Element – the individual is offered support and advice in relation to issues that could result in further court appearances
  • Reporting Element – reporting back to the court on the level of adherence with regard to the individual’s progress during the supervision period

Sacro’s Bail Supervision Service was given additional funding from SWS CJA in October 2015 in order to provide a counselling service specifically targeted at women on bail supervision and residing in Ayrshire. A gap had been identified within Bail Supervision for females requiring crisis intervention and counselling.

Prior to my work as a Criminal Justice Support Worker with Sacro Bail Supervision, I qualified and trained as a counsellor. My counselling experience has provided me with a greater understanding of this service user group and my first counselling session commenced in November 2015.

To date, 35 referrals have been made to the counselling service from across Ayrshire. Service users are advised that this is a voluntary service and those that agree to participate are offered weekly counselling sessions which last approximately 50 minutes.

Many of these women present with more than just criminogenic issues. They also have emotional, psychological and physiological issues which in turn contribute to their offending lifestyle. Some of these women have long histories of psychological abuse and trauma – many have suffered years of maltreatment and have received little or no support at all, with a large number feeling they were unable to seek support because of their lifestyles, their family issues or the stigmas attached.

Overall my work is specific to drugs and alcohol and as such brings a wide range of emotional, cognitive, behavioural and practical issues, acknowledging that when working with service users with substance related issues they can pose the same set of difficulties often faced by any other client group. Examples include relationship issues, financial difficulties, debt, housing, bereavement, loss, legal matters – with each of these having the capacity to be complex and hard to disentangle, for as with life they are very often inextricably connected.

As a crisis intervention service it is important that I am fully aware of other support services and the help they provide.  I assess each referral accordingly and liaise with other agencies including Social Work, Ayrshire Council on Alcohol, Addaction, Housing Aid where appropriate, ensuring good practice and ethics at all times.

Here is a case study of the therapeutic relationship between myself and my client which took place over a period of ten sessions.

When my client first arrived she was anxious and vulnerable, as if treading warily into unknown territory. I felt that our initial meeting had taken down the first barrier but remained very conscious that she had already met with bail supervision workers and contracted to work within a very structured, compulsory setting and here she was contracting voluntarily to engage with the counselling service.

 The setting of the contract I believe is fundamental in establishing the rudiments of mutuality, the client hopefully feeling that a counselling session is not about me being the expert sitting in judgement offering guidance and advice, but rather an hour whereby they can bring what they wish. This suggests equality, with the establishing of confidentiality and the understanding that this wouldn’t be breached without her consent further facilitating this.

 This client had been encouraged by family and friends to re-engage with her drug worker and whilst she did acknowledge the need to do this she was aware that she was only just touching on the difficulties affecting the choices she was making and the links and impact this was having on other significant aspects of her life.  She was so deeply self-rejecting that she was close to self-destruction with repetitive feelings of worthlessness, rejection and disgust being voiced, but initially very tentatively.

 She spoke of not being able to allow herself in the past to acknowledge these depths of feelings because no one had listened and her family system would have made this hard also. So my total acceptance of her at these points allowed her to express all the confusion she was feeling.  To help her focus her attention on these feelings I used immediacy, for at this stage trust had been well established with warmth and unconditional positive regard provided. So the immediacy allowed the separation of her confusion, and focused more on the feelings that had been denied and repressed and this can indeed be a very crucial stage.

She realised that what had happened to her as a child was never acknowledged. She had tried to voice the abuse that had taken place and to name the abuser but she described being ushered out of the room by her parents and nothing ever being discussed. Years later she tried several times to raise this with her Mother but was repetitively dismissed with the hurt further compounded by being called a liar.  This was an emotional time for her as she began to question values and attitudes she realised were the standards that others had given her to live by, and the realisation of this was shocking for her particularly in relation to her Mother and her fantasy of how a Mother should behave and ultimately protect her child.

One theme that was persistent throughout our sessions was the loss of her childhood seeing links between these experiences and her and involvement within the criminal justice system. This is the first time she has been on bail supervision but disclosed previous experience of being in Prison and completing community payback orders.

Towards the end of our sessions this client asked if we could facilitate a meeting between her CPN and drug worker with her wish to reach self-determined goals through more well informed choices. This meeting went ahead, and within this piece of work I have tried to give a picture of what I believe was happening as she opened herself up to feelings that she had denied to her experience. I believe that as she became more trusting of new aspects of herself that she was able to drop some of the defensive masks with which she had faced life and became more accepting of the person who was hidden underneath. A person who is in the process of becoming and not in a fixed state. I wish her well.