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Welldon, E. (2015). Forensic psychotherapy. Psychoanal. Psychother., 29(3):211-227.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 29(3):211-227


Forensic psychotherapy

Estela Welldon


This edition of the journal looks at the contribution specialist forensic psychotherapy can make to the rigorous disciplines of forensic psychiatry and the law, as well as helping general psychotherapists who encounter forensic issues. As Bluglass (1990, p. 7) put it ‘The role of the forensic psychiatrist in confronting and trying to reconcile the differences between the interests of the law and those of psychiatry is a crucial and important one’.

Forensic psychotherapy can help. It is a bridge between traditional forensic psychiatry with a major focus on diagnosis and risk, and traditional psychotherapy with a focus on understanding why things happen. Williams (1991) described the difficulties encountered in the successful bridging of both disciplines. According to Harding (1992), there is an inevitable, and indeed necessary, conflict of values between the forensic psychiatry and criminal justice systems. Evaluations should ideally be conducted independently, according to criteria that correspond to health-based values (Reed Report, 1992).

Forensic psychotherapy seeks to understand the unconscious motivations that underpin specific offending behaviours. We need to understand not only the detail of the crime, but about the individual as a whole person within his environment (including the criminal justice environment). The criminal action is the central fact. Unfortunately, some psychotherapeutic approaches can seem to be a ‘soft’ option, justifying and rationalizing behaviour to provide ‘false understanding’.

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