#5 Speaking with Forensic Psychologist William Wainright
Amy: Hi, and welcome to episode five of We All Wear It Differently: A Podcast for Early Career Psychologists”. I'm Amy Felman. Today on the show, we have Forensic Psychologist William Wainwright. William currently works as a team leader and police psychologist for the Wellbeing Team at Victoria Police. He has over twelve years experience in the forensic field, assessing and treating forensic clients and their victims.
Most of us are attracted to the field of psychology because we want to help people. But what about helping those people that many think don't deserve help? Or even worse, are beyond help? Hang around to hear what drives William to work with one of our field's most challenging and complex populations.
Wiliam worked for six years as a psychologist, senior psychologist and supervisor with Corrections Victoria Sex Offenders Program. He has worked as a consultant forensic psychologist treating violent offenders with personality disorders in London, as well as with the Melbourne Adolescent Positive Program Sexuality (MAPPS), and the PBC group providing critical incident Debriefing. More recently, William spent four years at the Disability Forensic Assessment and Treatment Centre, working with intellectually disabled sexual and violent offenders.
William completed his Masters of Psychology in Sussex, England, in 1999, and a Masters of Criminology (Forensic)at Melbourne University in 2004. William is currently the president of the Australian and New Zealand Asociation for the Treatment of Sexual Abuse. Our interview today focusses mainly on his work with sexual offenders. So, let's see how we all wear it differently with William Wainwright.
Amy: William Wainwright, welcome to We All Wear It Differently. It's great to have you on the show.
William: Thank you.
Amy: To get started, I'd love you to tell me how you first discovered psychology.
William: Um…ah, basically when I did – I was born in England, was raised in England – and we didn't do psychology in Year 12, or the equivalent, which is A-levels. And so I did economics and business studies and stuff, and I absolutely hated it all and dropped out of them. And then I went back to night school, and one of my friends had been talking about doing this course, and he said, “Psychology, are you interested?”, and I said, “No, no, no no.” So I re-took – in England you do A-levels, you do three – and I did economics, business studies, and psychology, and I thought, OK, psychology will be the easy one, just get it out of the way, and I really liked it and aced it and I did rubbish in business studies and rubbish in economics so I thought, well, clearly this is going nowhere, I need to, ah…what I'm more interested in is where can this go? And at this point I had no idea what a psychologist did, (3:00), or any interest other than what…………….night school 19 or 20, something like that. But I just thought, I'm good at this and I understand it, and I started reading about…the more I read about it the more I thought “this makes sense to me,” whereas everything else I had to sort of work at, but this I went, oh yeah, this makes sense. So that's when it sort of took hold and took traction with me, yeah.
Amy: Do you remember what it was, specifically, that made so much sense to you?
William: Um, I think what made so much sense to me was I'd always been fascinated with people and the way that people work, and interacting with people, and that, to me, this explained it. I mean, obviously, psychology, mind and behaviour is the study of mind and behaviour, so, and I just thought, well, isn't it interesting to see how people work. And the more I thought about it, I thought well, what would we not know? Well, there's loads we don't know, so, there must be so much more out there. And then obviously, as I got more into the different modalities, treatments and different styles, then it just got further down the rabbit hole, so to speak, and I enjoyed it more.
Amy: So how did you end up becoming a Forensic Psychologist then?
William: Um..well, I'd been working as a case manager for the Department of Human Services. I actually finally got my permanent residency and I could be a psychologist in England but I had to re-do everything over here. And I was working for Disability and one of the clients came up who had an intellectual disability and he had a forensic history – he'd been inappropriately touching younger boys. And everyone in the office wasn't interested and said, “Oh, we can't work with them, you can't work with them,”, you know, and I started saying, “Why? Why do they bring this reaction in everybody?” Certainly on the forensic side and certainly sex offending. And I thought, I need to more about this. This sounds interesting. And so I took all the sexo ffenders as the case manager, of which nobody else wanted. Sex offenders, and ID clients who had sex-offending histories. And then it was just from then on, it was just an addiction. I just loved it, and loved talking about it and the more I did it, the more I realised people didn't know anything about it in my field, the disability field. Which made me think, “I need to know more, I need to know why”. And also, most importantly, why does it create this reaction in people? I found it absolutely fascinating.
Amy: Fascinating. So you became addicted because of other people's reactions, or almost standoffishness towards working with that population, and all the stuff that people don't know about. Is that what –
William: Yes, it was the misdemeanors (5:30)?, – I mean, this was late 90s, and very little was known, and also, you know, like the institutions of the 70s with intellectual disabiilty, nobody wanted to know about it; keep it behind the boards. And it found that this was the new sort of pariahs, social pariahs, and I was like, “why?”. Why is there…hierarchically, why are they considered worse than murder? Or why is this worse than robbery? Why does that fit in? Why do people hierarchise them? And so that interested me more; so it wasn't just the client, but the reaction, and the fact that people have really strong reactions to it but know nothing about it. And that, you know, you'd say, well, what is it that you're scared of? And they didn't know, it was just bad. Well yeah, many things are bad, but why that? Why is that worse? And the fact that people didn't know meant that they hadn't stopped and thought about why their reaction affected them. So then I wanted to know, me, OK, well if it doesn't affect me like that, maybe this is a field that I should continue in because I'm more interested in the whys and hows and how you can manage it, rather than getting an emotional reaction and being scared off by it. So I thought, oh, well, let's keep going.
Amy: Wow. It's funny, because just thinking about the questions I was going to ask you today, already I ‘ve got some questions further down about stereotypes and first impressions and that sort of thing. So it's just so pertinent, what you're saying, that it's so much more than actually working with these clients, but the public's and pyschologists' responses to them.
William: And it was just not just the public's; it was the psychologists'. I worked in a prison where one of the Clinical Psychologist's said, “I don't work with sex offenders”. And I said, well, considering maybe 80% of sex offences aren't reported, how do know you're not? Which didn't go down a great treat, but it made me sort of think that, you know, this person's in prison, not for – you know, this isn't the 1800s, he didn't steal a loaf of bread – they're in prison for a significant reason.
William: You're saying you can't work with sex offenders, but you can work with the clinical facets of a murderer? What's the difference? So, if you could work with the trauma of a murderer, why can't you work with the trauma of a sex offender? You know, then you're picking and choosing who you can work with. That doesn't make any sense to me. If you're interested in the wellbeing of a person, their behaviour, the clinical case formulation, should be the clinical case formulation. Their behaviour that got them into prison should be, although relevant, shouldn't be the focus of the of the treatment??? (7:50). So you just don't talk to them about the things that you think are irrelevant to treatment???. So again, the reaction that this created, I found fascinating.
Amy: Mmm. So you sort of fell into this area, or at least discovered your passion about this area in your early work before you'd actually done your Masters of Forensic…Criminal…yeah. OK. So what was that training like?
William: It was really good. It was focussed primarily on ethics within the court, working as a – what are they called – expert witness, doing court reports. We did lots of stuff on psychopathy, obviously treatment and assessment within the prison system. So it was quite comprehensive. But again, it just picqued my interest more: well, we don't know so much about this, and again, if you look at research, if you become more sceptical about research, you start looking at things at a deeper level. You don't just say, oh, you know, Robert here says PCLar (8:53) between this level is 25 and that means a psychopath and it doesn’t, or what is about that factor, and what is it, and actually take it to Europe and it’s a different cut-off score; well, why’s that different? So, you can start looking at this stuff and instead of sort of taking – which I used to do in my early days, which is – I’ve read this article, it’s by Dr So-and-so, it’s by a professor, it must be right. Well, is it? What’s the sample size, You know, look deeper into this stuff…well, how many times has it been referenced? Is there a theory? What has the opposing argument said? So again, I was just more fascinated and the more I found out about it the more I realised that we were making a lot of assumptions about the treatment and management of sex offenders and violent offenders. And really, there was still a lot of contention in the field. Again, it means it’s ripe for the plucking, it’s ripe for investigation. So.
Amy: Did anyone try to steer you away from working with that population? Early on, being early career?
William: Well, I was 29, so I wouldn’t say early career.
Amy: I’m 33, but I consider myself early career just in the sense of the psychology world. But you’re right, you worked for years in that area, so it wasn’t…
William: Yeah, well I’d worked with disability and I’d worked with that sort of presentation for a while, so I was…I think if anyone had tried to steer me away, I would’ve gone, well, there must be something very interesting for me to view. So, it would’ve been, that was the end of it, I would’ve been more fascinated. So no, not at all. Some people said, it’ll change you. That was probably the most common. Or, be careful – there was a lot of that. And again, you have a lot of those sort of “why do you treat them? I’ll give you treatment, it’s a $5 bullet”. You know, that sort of nonsense. So you get a lot of…it’s more the negative. And again, you get people who know nothing about an area who suddenly think they’re experts. Now, you know, I think in the world of social media now it’s much more that everyone thinks they’re an expert on everything ever, but back then, when social media wasn’t around, or certainly wasn’t as big as it is now, I was still surprised how many people thought they knew best. But you’d say, OK, well, you know, you think these sort of offenders should be treated differently. What would you do with them? And of course, nobody’s got any answers. Well, you can execute them. I said, fine, then change the law. Make execution fine. But who are you going to execute? Is it the sex offenders who touch kids, or is it not? Is it the rapists, or is it people who look at online pornography? Which ones are you going to kill? It’s not a heterogeneous group. It’s all over place. So that was, again, what are we doing about this? One of the risks involved in that is you end up being in quite an insular sort of group of people. In those days, the sex offenders program was about 8, 9 people. It’s now about 45. And we didn’t know much of what we were doing, we were still very early days. We were following Good Lives model, which was Tony Ward from New Zealand’s model. And we were learning as we went along, really. But because it was new and it was exciting, we were all very sort of passionate about it, and it was a very good group of people. And I think that’s what sort of kept us going. So, risks, but a lot of enjoyment, a lot of enjoyment.
Amy: So from 9 practitioners now to 45. So it’s grown a lot.
William: Hugely. I think that’s funding. Because, you know, you’ve got moral panics, and what do moral panics cause? Mugging in the 70s, you know, video nasties in the 80s – sex offenders are the new moral panic, you know? Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat them and it doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the massive amount of funding, but – put it into context. Which is, low recidivism rate – much lower than violence, much lower than everything but basically murder. Good treatment gains. But put it in perspective: it’s a low amount of people. And a low recidivism rate as well.
Amy: OK. Are you sort of referring to cases like…what was his name? Bayley.
William: Sean Price recently, Adrian Bayley…
Amy: OK. That hype.
William: All the sort of stuff, you know…and again, look: whatever brings the funding in for treatment, I’m absolutely fine with. But be very certain that you’re doing what research says, not throwing money at a wall to look like you’re doing a thing. And I think where it can happen in the forensic field a lot is where there’s a moral panic, there’s a you know, what are we doing to save the people? They throw money, and the money goes – seems to be – to the perception of doing something. You know, for example, earlier research says you don’t treat low risk people. As assessed by static risk assessments. (13:41) But after Adrian Bayley, they started treated everyone who was low risk anyway. Why? Because everyone should get something. Does anyone think it does anything? Nope. Quite the opposite: it doesn’t do anything at all. But, we put the money into it. Again, I’d prefer them to put the money into it than not – I’m not against that. But again, coming back to “it’s not my opinion, what does the research say?” Can we treat it, does it have good treatment efficacy? Is the research behind it good – you know, controlled blind studies, are we doing a really good job with that? And are we effectively treating what we say we are? And that involves, not, you know…treatment of any offenders specifically looks at not just sticking someone in a group or individual session, but it looks at all the supports they have in their life and how those are being utilised. Whether it’s a corrections officer or parole officer…the work they do in prison, the work they do in the community. The workers who may work with them or interact with them in the community…anything you can do with the family, friends, relationships…all of those things are the building blocks of staying safe and healthy and non-offending. It’s not just sitting in a room, nodding your head with a client and agreeing that sex offending is bad. Which we all know anyway. It’s more complex than that.
Amy: Yes it is more complex than that. I’d love to get a really good sense of what your role entailed then on a kind of day to day level. What would that look like?
William: So we would basically do assessments about 30% of the time, and then treatment about 70% of the time. The assessments were using static or historical risk assessment, which was called the Static 99, which I still think they use it – although I haven’t been in the field directly for a few years. And then we’d use dynamic factors such as the Stable and the SVR20, which is the Sexual Violence Recidivism. And we would look at all those factors that you would then…they would be the treatment domains. Then when the person’s been assessed: these are the reasons. The assessment would be: this is what the court said, this is what the person says, let’s look at the factors that would contribute to the offending through the Good Lives model. We’d come up with a case formulation, they’d go into group, and then they would be treated based on those needs.
Amy: So what are those general domains that come up? In that population.
William: Social competency, intimacy, emotional regulation, deviant arousal – their sort of internal stuff. But of course, housing, employment – you know, the usual stuff that keeps us all sane and headed in the right direction. Maslow talked a lot about this a long time ago, and it hasn’t really changed. Somebody has to be feeling stable in all of their areas of their life to be in a place where they’re more likely to look after themselves and thus look after the community and not react in a negative way. So, feeling successful. And the Good Lives model talks to this: if you’re going to pull out a pin from a pin cushion – and that happens to be offending, “I can’t offend anymore” – what are you going to replace it with? Because whether we agree with it or not – and hopefully we don’t agree with it – but that offending, maladaptive as it was, as a strategy meant something to them. It got a need, whether it was identity, whether it was sexual outlet, whether it was feeling a power or control, whether it was the only time they had any sense of importance in their life…it had a function. A maladaptive, harmful function, but definitely a function. How are we going to replace that function? We can’t take it out and expect them to…you know, you can’t take away something as important as sexual arousal to children and then say, “go and play on a Playstation. Off you go.” It just doesn’t work. It’s too powerful, there’s two different gravities to those. So, it’s pulling apart that for them, about the contributing distal, historical and current and acute factors – dynamic factors which contributed to the offending – and how they can then better identify them early – the triggers to those things. And manage them proactively so that they don't place themselves at risk. So you can be sitting with a child on your knee, you don't necessarily have to offend, but Jesus Christ it's going to be much harder for you not to at that point than earlier on when you're feeling uncomfortable or you're thinking about these things or you're feeling that you're getting nowhere in life or you're feeling unimportant, or you've got all of these stressors of life. You can do something then, much more proactively, and find yourself not in a situation of placing yourself at risk or opportunity.
Amy: You know, I'm just wondering what kind of…I mean, these are such extreme behaviours we're talking about, so you're talking about them as coping mechanisms, in a sense. They would therefore, I'm assuming, need to be replaced by big behaviours as well, you know? Or not…I guess you break it down into lots of smaller pieces? But I'm just wondering, what kinds of things you'd come up with? Just, the ladder.
William: It's the ladder. You're not going to replace something as powerful as that; reinforcing the sexual arousal with one big thing. Because there isn't such a big thing, is there? But, the sexual arousal is only one component of it. You know, you're not a robot. You're not going around…as a lot of guys would say in group to me, “it just happened”. And I said, fine, maybe I should leave the room? Because if it's just going to happen, you're going to grab me. If it just happens, I shouldn't be around you. “Oh, William, but I'm not attracted to you.” Oh, so you did some thinking? So there was some consideration. OK, so you had a target. “No, no, no, it was anybody.” Oh, so I should worry myself, no? OK, so there was a target group. And so if they were standing next to their dad, would you offend against them then? No, OK. So there was some thinking – what was that about? So there's always contributing factors. And if you break it down to a lot of the stuff that goes on is, humans are incredibly fallible. And we can convince ourselves of things that we shouldn't do very easily: smoking, speeding, eating fast food, drinking too much. Very easy for us to convince ourselves. Now the old adage is, you go to your doctor and the doctor says, “how much do you drink?”. And I say, I have a sherry at Christmas. Why do we do that, if it's not true? And we're trying to avoid judgement, we're tyring to avoid self-reflection, we're trying to sort of go, no no, I'm fine. We're trying to repress it, we're trying to avoid all those other things. That's a human reaction. If I said to you, you know, you smoked? And you said “yep”, and I said, well, how do you convince yourself of something that's going to kill you? I don't care, or it's my grandad lived til he was 120, it doesn't matter, he smoked every day, everyone's got to die sometime…it's the same distortions. It's the same thinking errors. They don't necessarily lead to harming other people, but it's the human nature of trying to make sense of things that we want to happen. We minimise the bad, and we magnify the good. Because that's what we want, that's what our narrative is. So, if your narrative from trauma or history or lack of success in life is, “I need to find something to make myself feel better”, you'll justify your actions. Very few people say, “yeah, yeah, I raped them and i just didn't give a shit.” Some, but very few. Mostly it's, they were asking for it, they were dressed in a certain way, what do I care, it happened to me when I was a kid…there's still ??????(20:45) So, if you're exploring that, you can explore the reasons behind they continually put themselves on a sort of incremental, step by step basis. You know, the stranger rapes like the Adrian Bayley one are always fascinating from the sense that they're really out of the blue. But they're so rare…isn't it awful and it's absolutely terrible – and no way when I say rareness means the tariff isn't horrible and it's wrecked lives, absolutely not – but, let's put this in perspective. And this doesn't happen all the time; very, very rarely. So to concentrate that as a sample of what actually goes on is misinformation. The majority of them aren't like Adrian; the majority of them are pretty much normal average guys and women.
Amy: OK. I was going to ask you that. So speaking of misinterpretations and stereotypes, what were the types of people that you were working with? Age, gender, class?
William: Well, class is definitely everything from working class up. We had some that were accountants, we had some truck drivers, bus drivers…we had a couple of ex-coppers. Security guards…I mean, everything. You wouldn't, you know…half the time it was so random you'd sort of quickly check in and say, oh, what interests did you have? What did you used to do before? We had teachers, everything. Everything. But we worked primarily with men, because there's a very very small sample size of females, and most of them, by the time they get to prison and get convictions are very damaged people in the sense of huge amounts of abuse, trauma, self-harming, high levels of Borderline Personality Disorder which is a nightmare to treat at the best of times. Add in the sexual element…most of the time it was under reported because most men don't want to say “I was a kid and my aunt was sexually offending against me.” Some people see it as, confusingly, as sort of, “oh yeah, I got to have sex when I was 13 with a 50 year old woman or a 30 year old woman – how exciting”. I certainly heard from one judge who said to me about a teacher who was about 30 and the boy who was about 14, and said, “I'm not sending her to prison, I've spoken to the victim and he says he loves her and wants to be with her and he's happy with it”. That was a judge. So I said, OK, let's turn that around; that's a 30 yearold man and a 14 year old girl. How do you feel? Oh, that's different. Is it? Is it really different? How is it different? Can that 14 year old boy vote, drive a car? Can he drink alcohol? No. So he can't make those decisions, but he can make that decision? That's interesting. So, you'd have this idea that a lot of the system just struggled to make sense of the fact that women could sexually offend. And so you wouldn't get many referrals or much interest. And towards the end…now they do have a few more treatment groups. Maybe I've assessed 3 or 4 women ever in those years? They were very very few. Most of the time they'd say, “no, I'm not going to do any treatment,” and there was very little treatment for them if anything. I mean, it was all individual, so it was high resource low need. In the bigger picture, low need as in the bigger picture of we could run more groups with more men, which was much easier and you'd get a higher quotient of people through rather than concentrate on a couple of females. Which again, people were sort of going, yeah yeah, but it was her partner that did it, he forced her into it, she had to. People were still justifying the behaviour of the female much more. Because if you talk to the men – and I talked to a lot of men about their early sense of early sexual experiences, and a lot of them were with aunts and grandmothers and mothers – it was very under reported. But they were never going to report it. So, that's anecdotal, so I don't know what the stats are on that, but I still believe absolutely that it's under reported. And I believe, with current research, we're now uncovering much more. But it just, it flies in the face. You know, it's like Queen Victoria didn't believe in lesbians. We just didn't believe…we don't believe women do it. And it's very hard to make sense. So if you don't want to believe something, you just twist it until it does make sense to you. So that seemed to be the…again, this is going back 10 years. I'm sure it's much more. I certainly know of female groups that have run, succesfully. So, you know, it's definitely on the radar now which is great. I think it's absolutely vital. Even if you're treating the areas like emotional intimacy, and emotional management and the BPD…even if you're treating that stuff, whatever they do, they're more likely to live healthier lives and less likely to offend in any form. Less likely to be involved with the criminal justice system, which is great anyway. So you've really got nothing to lose.
Amy: So it always tends to be groups in prison, yeah?
Amy: Why is that?
William: Most people would tell you 'cause it's about funding; that actually isn't true. That's a bonus. But fundamentally, if I was to do…if you want to be challenged about your beliefs and your preconceived beliefs, I can sit there as a nice, middle class white man and go, actually, you shouldn't do this, this is ?Matthew?????? (25:45), and he's going to go, “what the hell would you know?” I sit in with 10 other people, and they have lived his life, or a similar version of his life, they can go, “you know what mate? That's what I used to think”. It's a powerful challenge. Because he can't go, “what the hell would you know?” Also, that message – so if you're getting a few people on side and they're understanding it – they're then going to spread the message amongst the other prisoners. They're going to spread the message amongst the other guys. And, most importantly, change happens because you go from pre-contemplative to contemplative. That's all. You get to the point where maybe this isn't helping me anymore. And that's all you want. You want them to be contemplative. You're not expecting them to go off and run Mac and be the general CEO of Microsoft. But you are wanting them to engage appropriately, and at least go, “maybe this isn't the life I want”. And so you get that much more powerfully from a group. Most of the research about treatment is 70% is the group dynamics; the connection to the others, how well the group is run. The content…that changes. It's important and it should be structuredbut I've generally found that if you connect to the people and you connect and you run a good group where people are thinking and you can move to that contemplation, that's the real gains. ??????? (27:00) “Psychologists aren't all terrible people, other people have struggled like I've struggled, other people have been abused, other people have been in prison, I'm not the world's worst person”…you know, because as much as there's resistance and anger to this stuff, they hate themselves. Truly, truly hate themselves. And the world reminds them of that on a daily basis. You're the scum, you're the lowest point, you're the lowest of the low. Even in prison, all these hierarchies: the murderers are good. If you've shot or killed a cop, then you're at the top of the round. Touched a kid, you're the bottom. So, the hierarchies come back. And again, I don't care that there's are hierarchies; what I do care about is those hierarchies playing into their treatment. So if you think you're the world's worst, how is that going to help you on the mound? Because we know that low self esteem is connected to mental health issues and ability to work and connect with other people. If you've got low self-esteem you don't like yourself, you're angry at the world, and how can it perpetuate? You're not going to be more succesful, so you're going to need your needs met in other ways. You're more likely to – I mean, you're going to offend. You're more likely to find yourself around other people who agree with you, or making worse choices because you either don't care about them or you don't care about yourself. So we know those things are connected. So that's the most important thing.
Amy: What were some of the challenges- typical challenges – that you faced working with that client group?
William: Well, resistance is number one…there’ s denial: “I didn’t do it, I was in Belgium, the courts have set me up, it’s a conspiracy theory’, that sort of stuff. That was difficult. The resistance is basically, you know, people wanting to defend themselves. So, it’s difficult and tiring, but absolutely expected. If it wasn’t resistance, I’d think they’re all lying anyway, and they were just complying with me to keep me happy. So…but it’s tiring. The prisons often didn’t want it; a lot of the prison guards didn’t agree with it. They actively did their best to engage, but you could say they wanted to separate themselves. One of the hardest things in all these situations is, people think if you meet a person who’s committed a sexual offence, and you like them- what does that mean about me? Does it mean I’m a bad person? Am I justifying it? So they’d see us as, sort of like, the um – they used to be called the “crim lovers”. Because we’d sit, and we’d be nice to them. We were the crim lovers, we were justifying – you know, we were laughing with them. You’re basically saying, “his offence was fine”. Err, no, I don’t think so. What I’m saying is, if I connect to this person they’re more likely to trust me. If they’re more likely to trust me, they’re more likely to talk about the historical factors that contributed to their offending, and I’m more able to work through them, then that reduces the factors.
Amy: That sounds like a hard workplace to work in.
William: it is if – and one of the things I see when we have students at our place and other places I’ve worked in, is they’re very, very keen. They’re very, very keen to change the world, and that’s a wonderful passion. But within that passion comes risk, and that risk is you’re naïve, and you’re blindsided to the fact that not everybody in the forensic field wants to change. Some of them actually quite like the skills they have. A lot of the violent offenders and domestic violence offenders I work with – who are very unsophisticated people – they get what they want when they punch somebody. Why would they change that? Why would they go through this complex needs of compromise and negotiation and caring, when you can just say, “do it or I’ll kill you”? Much easier. So, working with that sort of forensic field, people are like, “oh, I thought they wanted to change”. And of course, with that naivete it becomes that they can get manipulated, they can get taken advantage, they can fall into the trap of “no, you’re the best psychologist in the world, you’re going to care for me”- that sort of stuff – and not see it coming. And then they get disillusioned when the person turns around and says, “nah, it was a game mate, I was trying to take the piss”. So, or, in some cases, we still see, the two reasons psychologists are constantly de-registered is confidentiality breaking, and sexual relationships or unappropriate relationships with their clients. It happened when I was in prison. You know, people would, psychologists would have inappropriate relationships with the prisoners. Because they’d want to save them. And I understand that – you get into the field because you want to help people. They know this, and they’ve got an awful lot of time on their hands. And they’ve got a lot of time to make you feel that you’re important.
William: But that’s their…that’s sort of their skill set.
Amy: It’s that sociopathic, psychopathic kind of skill set, like you said.
William: If I lose all my power because I’m in prison and I can’t threaten you, I need to try something else. And if that’s to manipulate you, or make you feel special, or…if this is a way of getting a better report for parole, I’ll do it. Lot of time on their hands, a history of learning to manipulate or use inappropriate or maladaptive strategies to get what they want…why be surprised they do it in prison? I expect it constantly. But for a young person – sorry, junior person in the field – there’s the real risks. Always for me, that’s the real one, and that means regular supervision. Checking in, being honest with yourself, being honest about what’s triggering for you and being transparent. And the people who’ve struggled most, the ones who think they’re, “I know, I’ve got this special connection,”…and I’ll say, that always scares the hell out of me.
Amy: Yeah, the special connection thing. So, would you say there are particular character traits or personality types that work well in this environment? Or is it just something we can all learn if we want to?
William: I think you need to be able to be very open to what your skill set is. And I mean, that is, you can learn the content of a group, but can you interact with someone in a way and step aside and think a bit in a scientific, sceptical, pragmatic manner? Or are you over-connecting? You need to be able to see their offences, their behaviour, and separate yourself from investment in the victims’ struggle. Because otherwise you turn into a punishment regime, and it doesn’t work. They’ve already been punished, they’ve already been in prison, they don’t care what you think of them in that sense. So, I think to answer the question, I think it’s a personality type that’s able to know themselves very well, know their defensiveness, know where they start and stop. And I think that’s really important. And I think you can teach it, but I usually get the sense when I first meet somebody whether they’re really willing for that…when you supervise them or when you oversee their practice, whether they’re willing to take that feedback. So regular constant feedback. Sometimes you feel you’re going nowhere; it doesn’t matter. What are you going to do to make it better next time?
Amy: Did you learn any hard lessons?
William: Oh, many. I was fooled hundreds of times. What were the hardest lessons…I made some inappropriate comments in prison about…I forgot, we were having a really good group, and I mentioned – we were talking about things we could do on the outside – and I said, “wouldn’t it be a good idea to open a petting zoo?”. I don’t know where that came from. And everyone laughed in the group and said “how stupid”. Of course, I use it as a good example to go, “wow, I’m human eh, I’m making mistakes. Thank god you guys picked up on that, because that would’ve been worse if we hadn’t have picked up on it”. So you can still roll with that stuff. But certainly the fact…the hard lessons…I got investigated by the APS, I had complaints put in, threats of legal action…threats against you – professional – threats against you personally…all of that stuff.
Amy: Who by? The prisoners?
William: Oh yeah.
William: Regularly. To the point I just wanted to carry around a list of lawyers and so when they’d say it, I’d just say “look, here’s a list, help yourself, mate”. Because again, it’s just a strategy to put you off guard. If they’re going to sue me, if they’re going to report me to the APS, or the AHPRA now – the Reg Board as it was then – that’s fine, because I know my practice can uphold under scrutiny. Because I know what I’m doing is right. I’m know I’m keeping good case notes, I’m using good supervision, I’m using the current best practice and research. So why would it put me – and that’s why I started thinking – well, why would it put me off guard? Anyone can investigate you at any time, and part of the great thing about our field is, we can be. If I want to go and see my psychologist and I want him investigated or if I want to complain to him, he has to uphold to that scrutiny as well. So should I. Absolutely. So I’ve got no problem with it. The problem is, of course, the first few times it happens it puts the wind up you. What happens if I have to go and talk to the APS? Well, who cares? And of course, when they did write to me, I wrote back a letter and said this is what I did, and they said “OK”.
William: And of course, I’ve never been – I was never – taken to court. I mean, as in, legally sued. But what are they going to legally sue me for? Doing a treatment program which is, under legislation, overseen by the Parole Board? OK…
Amy: Is that common for a lot of Forensic Psychologists, who have had that experience? Or is it something about you, you think, specifically – you’ve gotten under the skin of –
William: That’s a very good question. I don’t know if other people have…I’ve known quite a few…When I was investigated by the APS, it was part of a group. My manager was investigated, the complaints were put against a few other people as well, so I don’t think that was me. And it was a Parole Board issue…but, in the end…I don’t know. I think sometimes that my personality type, and the way I’m fairly blunt and clear about where I stand in it, sometimes it infuriates, frustrates, or pushes the buttons of the offender, who feels the only way I may have some control over him is by threatening it. Maybe? You know, I think at times if you don’t know a client you may dive in too fast? And maybe I was…maybe there was some risk of that? Again, you have to be aware of your presentations, your body language, how you talk, are you smiling? I remember a guy getting upset because I smiled in a group, and then a guy got upset because I didn’t smile in the group, so…what do you do?
Amy: You just be you, don’t you? You just be authentic.
William: Well, you just…I mean what you do is – the great thing about group is, you put it back to them and say, why is it important for you for me to smile? What is it you’re reading that I’m saying? And then you can go back to, OK, so how do other people feel when I smile? And what are the different ways that may be interpreted? So you can use anything that somebody throws at you to look at the group process: “it sounds like that really upsets you – so what is it that upsets you? Am I setting you off? Am I reminding you of someone you don’t like? Have I said something in a way that’s disrespectful? If I do say something disrespectful, do you feel comfortable telling me that so I know not to do it again? Or are you going to sit on it and stew? And how does that fit into your offending?” So you’re straight back to what you’re there for – which isn’t about me smiling or not smiling, but the treatment.
Amy: Yeah, groups are so fertile, aren’t they? Such fertile ground.
William: And they’re great, and I never get bored of running group, as difficult and tiring as they are. Whereas individual sessions sometimes you can feel you’re run into standstill, or that you’re making very slow progress, I never felt that in group. Ever.
Amy: You’ve worked with victims as well, so, the flip side…
William: Yeah. I worked with victims in my private practice, mostly. I never do the two things at once.
William: I think if you’re working with offenders, working with victims at the same time is, I think, inherently difficult. Why? Because you’re listening to them and their minimisation of the harm, and then you’re actually seeing the distress it causes. And some people can, it’s a personal choice, but I find it very difficult and most of the people I know refuse to do that, because for their own self-benefit. I once had to interview a victim and the offender on the same day – the offender of the victim, who was in the community on a parole order, and they wanted to live together, and she had now turned 18. And he was, I don’t know, he was 40 or whatever, he was the stepdad. And he wanted…he wasn’t pushing it actually, she was pushing that “I want to live with[him]”, and I interviewed him. And he’d done three years in prison. And I interviewed her, you know, and it was an absolute eye opener – to see how it had wrecked her life, but – and the thing that hit me the most while I was chatting to her, and she said – she turned up in very sexualised dress, young girl, sort of tank top, really short shorts and very heavily sexualised, drug problems and all the other stuff had happened – and I said to her, you know, how do you feel about this? You’re pushing you’ll be living under the same roof as the person who offended against you when you were 12, 13 years old? And [she] said, “If you think that what he did was the worst thing that’s happened in my life, you’re mad.” And I went, OK. OK, I need some perspective as well. She was basically saying, he’d sneak in, she was asleep, “asleep” as in she pretended to be asleep, he wouldn’t be physically violent or anything, so he’d just touch her and leave. That’s the way she interpreted it…it was a little bit more than that according to the courts, but that’s the way she interpreted it. And she felt compared to the violence that she’d been – you know, she’d been a prostitute at a very young age, and the violence and the drug issues that she’d had – and she said that he was one of the most caring people in her life, that she could put that aside. She could put that aside, for him. So, what does that mean? It means that humans are incredibly complex, but what it meant to me is, never underestimate the ability for people to make sense of a very complex situation in the way they need to survive. It made me revisit and think about how I thought of offenders and victims and how they interact. But it made me also realise I didn’t want to do that. Because it was too emotional. It was hard not to invest in her suffering, to see what she’d been through, and that was the least worst thing that had happened? Well, then I was just like, well I can’t even imagine what was the worst thing that has happened.
Amy: Yeah. Wow.
William: But again, that was a one-off, and I chose not to do that ever again.
Amy: So have you continued to work with victims? Or do you prefer to work with the perpetrators?
William: I prefer to work with the perpetrators. Unfortunately, most – well, a good percentage of the perpetrators – have got trauma of their own as well, so they’re victims in their own sense. But, I concentrate on the offending pathways. Why? I think I’m better at it. I find it more interesting. I find that I have a good interactional style with the majority men who have done these offences. And usually it’s sexual and violent, and, you know, drugs and stealing and stuff like this. I just find that the interaction I have with them, I’ve got a comfort and a safety of being able to challenge them without fear of retribution and really pick up what’s going on for them very well. So I think I just know the area a lot better, and I feel more comfortable with it. I never felt as comfortable working with victims.
Amy: Mmhmm. Does every offender get the opportunity to access psychological treatment? I’m going off on tangents a little bit here…
William: Yeah, uh..look, you’d need to speak to someone who works in the prison system still, which I don’t. It was in Marngoneet which is the treatment program, obviously they do, generally. Places like Ararat have a Clinical Psychologist attached to it…chaplaincy, you know, general counselling services…I’m sure Dame Phyllis, the female prison, I’m sure the other ones do that. I’m sure there’s access to it. What it looks like? You’ve got to remember that access to services in the sense, “I’m struggling”, or access to treatment, “It’ll get me out of prison faster” – they’re two different things.
Amy: OK. But, both could present quite similarly…
William: They have crossover. They have crossover. So I’d say they all have access to clinical services, but obviously self-harm, trauma, depression and, you know, self-esteem issues and all those sort of things are absolutely incredible within the prison population of course. And, being locked up exacerbates that. Magnifies those issues as well…you know, grief, loss, missing out on your kids, lack of access to services, self identity is all XXXXXXXX Do they all have access to treatment? The violent offenders, there’s a lot more now. It was never really taken that seriously 10, 15 years ago, because it just wasn’t funded. Sex offending was the soup of the day. But now it seems there’s a lot more money put into violence programs, and certainly when I finished in 2006, Marngoneet Prison had just opened and they had a violence program in one quarter, sex offender program in one quarter – well, third then, wouldn’t it be – and the other third was Drug and Alcohol. So they were taking it very seriously. And often you’d do a bit of Drug and Alcohol, and you could do a bit of this, and you could do a bit of this, that, and the other, so there was definitely…and the point of Marngoneet was it was a Treatment Prison, it was made bespoke, it was designed that way, which is fantastic.
Amy: Uh huh, yeah. So, shifting to your current work which is a Police Psychologist…what does that look like? Because I’m thinking about this and it’s not the perpetrators, it’s not the victims, it’s another level.
William: Yeah, yeah. It’s working with the police officers about their wellbeing. So obviously, one of the big things we see within people who work – you know, prison officers, custodial officers, whatever it is, even lawyers…I’ve worked with some Legal Aid people who’ve really struggled – is you have this risk of vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma being, to explain, is when you parallel the effects of the victim yourself, and the big risk is you’ll change the way that you view the world. It’ll distort the way you view the world, everything’s bad, it’s a bit darker, you’re more cynical, you distrustful, you’re hypervigilant to threat and fear everywhere you go in the extreme case. But it’s an incremental change. If you work enough with one set or group of people, you start to sort of, take that small sample and expand it to the rest of the population. So, if you’re a police officer and you’re dealing with the most difficult portions of society whether they’re mentally or intellectually disabled, or offenders, which it is generally, you start to think the world’s a dangerous place. It’s normal. A lot of the research used to be that we felt there were special personalities that could handle it better, actually the more current research is saying it’s sort of like waves; everyone’s going to be affected, it’s how you manage yourself. You are going to, at some point, start to feel the world’s a dangerous place if you deal with enough dangerous people. So the only contributing factor to vicarious trauma is our exposure to trauma; well, that’s sort of a policeman’s job. So, a lot of what we do now is psychoeducational training courses, management of healthy minds in the workplace, and a variety of other programs which are designed to keep wellbeing on the agenda. They’re very busy people, they’ve got a lot to do, they deal with a lot of different people, there’s a history – quite a conservative history – of, you know, what they call the “wet debrief”: getting pissed, getting drunk, that was the way of dealing with it with comes with a risk. And then we’ve moved on from that, which is really good, because we know that drinking as an avoidance strategy is fantastic until the problem continues. It also affects your relationships outside of the workplace. And so, we’re saying you can’t get pissed all the time, it’s not a good strategy, again taking the pin out of the pin cushion: what are we going to do instead? So, let’s teach them how to better manage those things early, more proactively, so they’re not going down this path of becoming, you know, negative and cynical. Because we know, basically, burn out is created by cynicism. We know that one of the biggest contributing factors for keeping people in the workplace is that they feel they’re moving forward, they feel that what they’re doing is adding to the bigger picture. So we want them to recognise that what they’re doing is very, very important, but also be aware that cynicism is going to eat away at that. So if the risk factors are exposure to trauma and they’re always there and you can’t stop them, well then you can increase your protective factors. If you can’t reduce your exposure, you can how you do it and the variety of the work and the amount of time you spend at work and what you’re doing outside of work. Because that’s the bit you can control. So we look at what they can control as opposed to what they can’t control.
Amy: Do you enjoy that work?
William: I do actually. It’s different, and I really enjoy being on the inside of seeing the police from a different side, and seeing what difficult work they have to do. And it made me – for anyone who says “it’s easy, you can just walk around and be a gun and order people around” – no. No, no, no. It’s very difficult work. And you know, I’m very inspired by some of the ones who’ve been in 20 years and will keep their head above water and still think it’s an important job and still work very hard. And aren’t cynical, and aren’t burnt out, and aren’t – you know – unhappy. So, we hope to – our bit is to contribute to that. And we’re doing that, we’re getting better at that. But again, it’s keeping it on the agenda, getting the language out there, getting it in the common vernacular: “it’s OK to be stressed, it’s OK to feel it, these are my triggers emotionally, cognitive, behaviourally and physiologically”. So then, sort of like with the offender stuff, if I can get in early it’s not going to affect me. I’m going to be able to minimise and protect against potential trauma. So it’s the early stuff on the spectrum of saying this is what it looks like, this is what I should do to manage it, rather than waiting until there’s a massive meltdown and you’re throwing your peer out the window and saying, “oh, you need to see your psychologist”. It’s a little late by then.
Amy: Do they receive you well?
William: I think they like my straight talking.
Amy: Yeah. I like it.
William: Do they always like it? No, sometimes they don’t. I think some people would prefer to have it a little bit more sugar to help the medicine go down. It’s up to me to read the audience. So when I do this stuff in group, when I do this training group, I be respectful of it. Sometimes my bluntness can be seen as being lacking responsive or laissez fair or being uncaring, which is far from the truth; if I was uncaring I simply wouldn’t work in the job. I’ve got better things – I’ve got other things to do in my life. I had a very successful private practice; government money is not brilliant. So I do it because I’m passionate, and the second I’m not passionate about it I move on to the next thing. I mean, I think that’s what’s kept me in the field as long as it has. And I hope it to keep me in the field until the rest of my life. I always say, these hands do absolutely nothing. I can’t knock a nail in with an instruction manual, so really this is all I’m good at.
Amy: So you talk about being passionate, and that really obviously comes through how you talk. If someone was considering working in forensic psychology, you know, why would they want to? Where does this passion come from, and what are the rewards?
William: The rewards are you get to understand one of the most difficult areas of human behaviour. The rewards are you get to really, really hone your skills at interacting. If you can deal with people with a forensic background, in a complex environment which constantly, you know, has scrutiny…you know, the legal ramifications, people threatening you…if you can do that and still do a great treatment program, you can do that anywhere as far as I’m concerned. So I think it really hones your skills, because there’s no room for chaff. There’s no room for people to waste time. The clients, the offenders, certainly don’t have the waste of time. You know the system doesn’t have any chance to waste your time. So it’s you who has to come up to the plate. So I think it’s also a very supportive environment, certainly when I was there, and I’m sure still now. It’s very difficult to work without that incredible support from each other, so you get that real connection to people and you learn to be – under those, you know, with positive supervision – you learn to be really honest about “I struggle at the moment and this why I’m struggling”. You know, being able to say to your supervisor, “actually, I’ve now made a negative association, you know, my libido’s gone down because I’ve been working with these clients too much”. You know, how are you going to deal with that, what are you going to do with that? So, you know, I’ve now made a negative association with my sex life, and because all we talk about is painful and harmful behaviour. So, can you be honest with that? Can you be honest to your supervisor? Can you talk about those things? Because they’re important. That’s part of vicarious trauma: your world view is changing. So I think with good supervision – and there usually is in this stuff, because it’s so serious – you can learn a lot about your own defence mechanisms, psychological defence mechanisms. You can put yourself on display, I was trying to say, but more, you put yourself out there and say, “hey, if I’m struggling please tell me”. So you open yourself up, and you get some great feedback. My thing has always been, I’d prefer to be more genuine, and people connect back to me and say, “actually, you’re being sarcastic or you’re being rude or you’re being blunt or you’re being this,” and then I can gauge it well and so you become a better interactor. Very important. So I think you get that much more in the forensic field than I’ve seen in the other fields. I’m sure people from clinical would say, “no, it’s better in our field”. I don’t know, but there’s always going to be that fight. But I certainly feel that those are the things that really hone your skills, and if you can deal with it and cope with it – and I think there is no shame in not; I think if you go…I remember a corrections officer ringing me up, saying…and I said, “oh, I want to talk about Mr Smith or whoever it was’, and she said, “oh look, I’m quitting the job”, and I said “why?”, and she goes, “my mother was attacked a couple of weeks ago and I can’t do it anymore”, and I went, “good on you”. If you did that, you would place yourself at risk of hating them, hating yourself, resenting the system. But if you can do it, then I think there’s a lot to gain. But you have to know yourself well enough that if you’re hurting, you either deal with it or take a break. But to push on through, to be the martyr…no one wins. The client doesn’t win, the system doesn’t win, you don’t win, and you can burn yourself out. I took a couple of years off, went and studied, went and worked in a university in England, and I came back refreshed. Whereas when I left corrections, I think it was time to go.
Amy: Is that pretty common? That people start in this field and then leave, or have to take regular breaks, or…?
William: I don’t know if it’s common. I think it depends on many factors. You know, if you go off and have kids then you’re working less time, so maybe that helps? I think it’s common that people go, “I think I’ve done a much” I think there was a fairly decent turnover at the sex offender programs; again I’m talking about historically, we all sort of left within a couple of years. We all sort of did 2000 to about 2006, most of the people I’d worked with were gone by about 2008. So I think there’s a timeline on it. But there’s also you feel like, I’ve done, you know, 40 programs…am I gaining anything? I really honed my skill. It’s great that I can do it, but am I learning? Am I learning, am I developing? Maybe not, maybe I need to go do something else. So I think the people who do that survive longer, because of variety. I don’t know if that’s necessarily to do with the content of the discussion, but I think that’s just to do with the variety of the field. I think there’s a risk you become complacent or laissez faire about it. Is there a higher turnover? Certainly from the government, I felt much more stress about bad management and politics and pushes from the government rather than…XXXXXXX The offenders? Well, you can’t buy a cat and complain it meows. I know what they do. There’s no point me getting upset about that. But, you know, I’d get frustrated at the meanderings of a government and the politics and that stuff’s difficult to deal with. But again, I work for the government so that’s part of it. And look, here I am working for a government again, so. It can’t antagonise me that much. Again, being aware of a system.
Amy: You said before, clinicals, forensics…do they cross over? Do you have to have trained specifically in forensic psychology to work in the area, do you think?
William: I’d like to say yes. I think you should have some formal education in it, yeah. I would say it’s certainly helped me. I could’ve carried on without it, but I’m glad I didn’t. I think I learnt a lot more. And I think what happens is, you go back and you look at the research, and you get out of the office and you sit down and you go, it hopefully reinforces what you’re doing is right. So I think education’s always a really important thing, but I think the study certainly sharpened up my skills, no doubt about it. Can you do it? Well of course you can. But like anything, you can do it in the clinical thing, but having that training is going to help you.
Amy: Yeah. And you would obviously recommend that for people.
William: Look, I think…what I would suggest is, trying the field, talk to people who have, shadow a few shifts, talk to people…certainly when I did training at the ACU last year, and I ran them through some group treatment – this is what it looks like, I got them to do some roleplays and stuff and they were starting to say, “I’m not sure this is for me”, or “yeah, no, this sounds fascinating” – it was sort of, dip your foot in first. Dip your toe in, don’t think, you know, I have to go and work in prisons to understand. No, you can work with community corrections, no, you can work with lower level offenders first and get a sense of it. You don’t have to throw yourself into that stuff, because it is the trickier stuff. And we fell into it because there was no other services; it was us or no one. So I’m glad I did because it was a trial by fire, but some people fell along the way who really wished they’d never worked there. So there is definite risks. It’s not for everyone. Be honest with yourself. It’s not a failure if you can’t do it. I can’t work with female offenders – female sex offenders. I’m not ashamed of that, I just – it’s not my skill set, and I don’t feel comfortable with it. If I don’t feel comfortable, that shows all over the place.
Amy: Yeah. Of Course.
William: So I know what I want to do, and I know what I don’t want to do. But, you know, talk to people who are in the field. I often get phone calls at the police psychology, and they think that we do forensic psychology – whereas we do more sort of org clinical, if anything – and I always talk to them about, well, if you want a forensic go and speak to the sex offender programs, go to XXXXX violence program, go and speak to a corrections officer about the service there. I’ll try and get some referrals from forensic people, get supervision, dip your toe in the water there. It doesn’t have to be the go and work for a big service and do treatment programs straight off the bat.
Amy: Is it a difficult profession to break into, or is there plenty of work generally in forensic?
William: It wasn’t me, but then there wasn’t anyone who wanted to do it.
Amy: I admit, I often see jobs advertised in forensics, and it makes me wonder. And often sex offender programs.
William: Look, there is a turnover of people, but also they have a lot more funding. So I think it’s difficult to know; I didn’t find it difficult to get into, because nobody wanted to. It’s more popular now, but, you know, people again do 3 or 4 years and they’ve had enough anyway and so it turns over. I don’t think necessarily everyone…I wouldn’t like the idea to be thinking that everyone gets out of it because you’re working with sex offenders and you get burnt. I think that’s way too reductive. It’s much more complex than that. So…I think it’s worth looking into, and I think there are the jobs out there, but do your background homework, speak to some people, get some feedback about how you present. Talk to your supervisor about your strategies, your style, because those sort of things – your defence mechanism, your vulnerabilities, your triggers – will be pushed in those groups, will be pushed by offenders, because that’s what they love doing. They love getting people offside, because they know it works. It stops them, in their mind, being attacked. So they’re doing it maladaptively, but they’re doing it for a purpose; not just to upset you, it’s to stop you from asking difficult questions. So the more you learn about yourself, the better you’re going to be able to do that. Be honest with yourself, and if it’s not for you, fine. If it’s something you want to train in, go and do some training in it. Find out about it, do some placements. Again, if people came to our police or sex offender programs and said “I want to do some voluntary stuff”, they want to sit in, we would go, “absolutely”. There’s obviously limitations on what you can look at and how you can sit in, but you know, we were always very keen for that sort of stuff.
Amy: Mmm. I have to say, a lot of psychologists that I talk to, they’re always fascinated, you know, by forensics, that kind of work. And I think people sometimes go, “Is it just my fascination because it’s just so complex and it’s been presented so much in interesting criminal shows on television? Or is it actually something I want to do?” Do you come across that?
William: You get the jokes of, oh, you know, I saw CSI, is it like that?
William: But I truly hope and believe that nobody believes that. Maybe they do. There’s no glamour in it. There’s no glamour is psychology, really – there isn’t. Maybe you present at a conference every so often, and if that’s what you think glamour is, fair enough. But, you know…we’re a strange breed – a wonderful breed – but we’re a strange breed. And I think…well, what’s my point…I think…oh look, I’ll go back to what I was saying before: I think you just need to know yourself.
William: You just need to know yourself, and you need to be honest with yourself, and get that feedback. Yeah, that would be my…
Amy: OK. We’re getting near the end. I’ve kept you…
William: No no, that’s good.
Amy: But I just want to ask you: what really excites you at the moment in your world? I know you’ve got some very important professional roles.
William: Look, because I’m working with the police – I mean, I still enjoy it, I do enjoy that – I always enjoy having forensic clients if they’re ever referred to me. I’m the President of ANZATSA, which you obviously mentioned before, and look, I do that for free and I do that because I love the field so much and I get to meet some very interesting presenters. We organise conferences, you get to network with people, you get to talk about treatment modalities, you get to talk about a field, and in an exciting, positive way. And I think that’s what still excites me. If we get a lot of people in who want to say the whole sort of, “but we’re not thinking about the victims enough”, it doesn’t learn anything. Becoming emotional about the fact of victims suffering doesn’t move the field forward. So what I want is robust arguments, robust discussion and debate around “are we doing the right thing?” And I’m an absolute skeptic, and that means that I need a high level of evidence. We should always go back and find out what’s important; we should always go back and find out what the most successful, efficacious manner is. That’s the most important thing, that’s what excites me. So the field always excites me, the ever-developing field. And never getting caught on your laurels; I think those are the things that do it.
Amy: OK. Do you have any other advice you’d like to share with our listeners?
Amy: Sometimes I ask, is there something you wish you would have like to have known earlier.
William: I think, don’t become too insular. If you work in these sort of fields it’s very easy to form a group of small people and that you’re always mates with them and you work with them and you talk about the horror stories with you, and you bitch about the workplace and I think that was the biggest mistake, at times, we did. We became too “us against the world”. However, that got us through. One of my friends, Jason, he always had this great strategy which he’d say, when you go off to finish work, you sit down, and he puts his watch down and he says, “you’ve got half an hour to bitch about the job – after that half an hour, anyone who mentions work buys the next round”. And he’d put the watch down and 35 minutes later someone would go, “oh, you know, management this…”, and we’d all laugh and they’d buy a drink and, you know, good old Pavlovian conditioning mate, that’d be the end of it. People would stop, and then we’d talk about more exciting things and different things in our life, and we’d connect with people – not about the misery which is what we’re struggling in – but about what makes us great people and great friends and great psychologists, and how much we love the field. We’d start remembering it, flipping it on its head and saying, but we love this field. We choose to be here. Come on, let’s put this in perspective. That was a great strategy, and I still use it to this day.
Amy: That’s a great strategy, and I think that that would be relevant to probably all people that work anywhere.
William: I think that’s probably true.
Amy: So finally, what’s your best self-care tip?
William: Know your triggers. If you’re expecting your clients to go through treatment and talk about the most horrible things they’ve done in their life, and you won’t go and speak to a psychologist yourself, you’re mad. And my psychologist who I’ve been with for years, says to me “why would you put them through it but you can’t put yourself through it?” Absolutely. Know yourself, know your defences, know how you interact with the world, know your presentation. And be honest with yourself. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person if you react badly every so often. What it does is it makes you a better psychologist, that you recognise it earlier and manage it, and you feel more successful. So know yourself, know your defences, and speak to people. Be honest and open and transparent about those things and then it’s easy.
Amy: Thank you. They’re really important – really important – messages, particularly for early careerers I think, yeah.
William: You will feel like you fail. And the amount of people that have said to me, “I feel like a failure, and someone’s going to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘you don’t know what you’re doing, get out’”- we all feel that at some point. That is perfectly normal. But if you’re doing good supervision, if you’re doing your case notes right, you’re following rules, you’re checking in, if you’re looking at yourself outside of work…all of that stuff is fine. Whatever happens, you know you’ve done the right thing. You’ve kept your integrity, and that’s really what we’ve got in such a nebulous field: it’s our integrity . You can be absolutely sure of that.
Amy: So, one last question- and it’s a quick one: Who would you like me to try and interview next, and why?
William: Look, I thought about this when you gave me the questions. And I think the person that I closely spend time with is my boss, which is Dr Alex West. She’s the Senior Psychologist at Police Psychology, and I think I’ve really gone on heavy on the forensic here. And she has much more balanced stuff about the police, and I think, you know, I think people who want to get into the police psychology – and a lot of people go, “what do they do, what do they do?”, like they do with the sex offender programs – I think she could talk to that much more. And she’s had a fascinating career as well, so.
Amy: Awesome; thank you. Dr Alex West – I’ve noted that down. William, this has been an awesome conversation, thank you. I’ve learnt a lot, and you’re just as intriguing in person as you were on the bike riding home.
William: Safety first.
Amy: Alright, thanks again. I’m sure everyone will have learnt heaps from this conversation, so, yeah. Awesome.
William: Thanks for your time.
Amy: Wow. William is a wealth of information, and one of the most curious, interested people I’ve spoken to. Some of his experiences really blew me away; like being threatened with law suits by multiple prisoners. I can’t imagine the resilience required to deal with those situations. I also found his comments about the influence of moral panic, versus what good research says in relation to funding psychological programs, really interesting. I hope you learnt as much from that interview as I did . Subscribe to the podcast at weallwearitdifferently.com, or on iTunes. And remember, if you’re in the mood give us a rating and a review on iTunes. It really helps us get up in the ratings and helps other early career psychologists, such as yourself, find us. Remember, for this episodes show notes and links, go to weallwearitdifferently.com/williamwainwright, and leave me a comment; it would be great to get a conversation started. Plus, I love hearing what people found most interesting or helpful, and if you’ve got any suggestions, feel free to share. Thanks again, William, for your time and fabulous energy. Until next time, wear it differently.
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William Wainwright is a Forensic Psychologist with over twelve years experience working in both Australia and the United Kingdom in a variety of fields involving the assessment and treatment of forensic clients and their victims. He currently works with the wellbeing team for Victoria police.
I think most of us are attracted to the field of psychology because we want to help people right? But what about helping those people that many think don’t deserve help? Or even worse think are beyond help? Listen to this episode to hear what drives William to work with one of our fields most challenging and complex populations.
William completed his Masters of Psychology in Sussex England in 1999, and a Masters of Criminology (Forensic) at Melbourne University in 2004.
William worked for six years as a psychologist then Senior Psychologist and Supervisor with ‘Corrections Victoria Sex Offenders Program‘ focussing primarily on assessing and treating sexual and violent offenders within the prison system.
He has worked as a Consultant Forensic Psychologist in a number of areas including:
- the Forensic Intensive Program and Treatment, London UK, treating violent offenders with personality disorders
- the Melbourne Adolescent Positive Program Sexuality (MAPPS) where he facilitated cognitive behavioural treatment based groups aimed at reducing sexual offending behaviours in 14-18 year old males
- the PPC Group providing critical incident debriefing, wellbeing assessment and training
More recently he spent four years at the Disability Forensic Assessment and Treatment Centre working with intellectually disabled sexual and violent offenders.
William has multiple research papers published in Forensic Psychology and is currently the President of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abuse (ANZATSA).
William's Self-Care Tip
Know your triggers!
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