What’s it REALLY Like Doing a Counselling Placement at HMP Brixton?

The Awareness Centre (TAC) has been offering talking therapies to inmates at HMP Brixton for the last three years, through its contract with NHS England and working alongside IAPT (Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies).

The counselling placement TAC offers at HMP Brixton is challenging and rewarding – allowing placement therapists an opportunity and experience they are unlikely to gain elsewhere. Inmates are offered 6 sessions to help them work through issues such as relationship challenges, self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and how to adjust to the world when they are released from prison.

The placement is one day per week, and placement therapists see up to four inmate-clients during the day. The reason the placement is a whole day is to accommodate the unpredictability of working in the prison – for example, a scheduled session may have to be cancelled last minute because of lockdowns. Being there for the day means that placement therapists have the flexibility to see clients at other times.

An added benefit to doing a placement at HMP Brixton is that placement therapists are trained in triage – assessing clients’ needs and pointing them in the direction of either CBT or counselling. They can then triage clients during periods of lockdown, which means placement therapists can use their time effectively. The experience of carrying out assessments and short-term counselling builds the kind of expertise and skills that are valuable for a therapist’s future career, whether in private practice or employed within an organisation.

Group supervision is included in the placement twice a month – and a team leader also supports placement therapists at HMP Brixton.

To offer insight into what the experience of a counselling placement at HMP Brixton is really like, we asked one of our therapists to share their stories…

Lee White qualified as a therapist in 2012, then took a break from counselling before joining The Awareness Centre as a placement therapist at HMP Brixton in autumn 2016.

Lee WhiteI was interested in working with this client group to help give prisoners a voice and offer psychological help while going through the prison system. Brixton Prison prioritises the rehabilitation of inmates to help reduce the risk of reoffending, and that side of it appealed to me.

The security and vetting processes can take a while before you start work at HMP Brixton – but that’s necessary because you’re working within the criminal justice system. The big moment for me was getting my keys, which means I don’t have to be escorted everywhere around the prison. Walking around a prison can be a sensory overload in itself – so be prepared for the noise on the inside.

The counselling work with inmates can be hugely rewarding. You are sitting with someone who may never been listened to before. You can give them a proper relationship, and a lot of people in prison haven’t had that in their lives. You give them that.

Some inmates may be guarded at first while they suss you out, but once you build trust I’ve found they can quickly open up. We’re there to help them through a bad time in prison – perhaps they’re suffering anxiety or depression and feeling hopeless – and we can help them cope with their feelings better. We’re mindful that we can offer 6-12 sessions, and so we keep the work focused on what can be achieved in the here and now.

It is a unique type of work and I would recommend you choose a placement at HMP Brixton if you’re looking for the experience rather than just meeting your training and accreditation hours. There may be frustrating moments when there’s a lockdown and you don’t get to see your client that day, but it’s an amazing opportunity and you will get access to a client group that is so rewarding to work with.

If you have some questions about the counselling placement at HMP Brixton, call our clinical manager on 020 8673 4545, or email info@theawarenesscentre.com Or you can apply online today.

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