Practicum for psychology students


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Whereas every other health science student (medical, nursing, dental, physiotherapy, technicians) mandatorily start their practical training in their second year, psychology students do not get one single minute of clinical practice during under and postgraduate studies up to Masters Degree level. This paper discusses how psychology students could get the practice they need at no cost for them or the University.

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Practicum for psychology students

  1. 1. 175.719.- Applied Criminal Psychology EARLY PRACTICE FOR PSYCHOLOGY STUDENTS FOR BEST PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE Student: V.M. Westerberg Date: 1 October 2012
  2. 2. 175.719 - APPLIED CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY WESTERBERG, V.M. 2 INTRODUCTION This work aims to raise awareness of the benefits of early practical training of psychology students in the context of Corrections. Just like medical, nursing or physiotherapy students must get involved in practical work, as unpaid trainees first, in participating hospitals and clinics as part of their Bachelor’s Degree (Careers NZ, 2012; Carmichael & McCall, 2008), so should psychology students, in the only context that, like a hospital, provides an unfortunately endless source of not patients but clients: the correctional facilities. Society demands competent professionals to meet their needs. Medical students begin their practical work in their third year, whereas nursing and physiotherapy students do so in their second year (Careers NZ, 2012). Psychology students have to wait to do a PhD to interact with a client on their own, and, even then, do so under supervision initially (Massey University, 2012). This not only gives rise to a comparative grievance between medical and psychology students, it is also a waste of time and a misuse of readily available resources. Effective offender therapy means better chances of successful reintegration and reduced recidivism (Department of Corrections [DOC], 2012), which is beneficial not only for the offenders but the society as a whole, where ex - offenders go from being a threat to society that consume tax-payers money, to being integrated and productive community members. Reducing re-offending rates leaves fewer victims and considerably enhances the well-being of communities, something that cannot be tackled uniquely through re-incarcerations (DOC, 2012). This paper will depict not only the many difficulties offender management programmes face because of contradictions between Corrections objectives and practice due to lack of resources, mostly human, it will also show why the involvement of the willing, readily available, qualified helping hands and minds of psychology students is beneficial, desirable and much needed. First, offender intervention problems will be pointed out, followed by a discussion about psychology students’ need for early practical training and how it could help solve Corrections chronic lack of human resources, to conclude with the overall benefits that early psychology students’ practical work would have.
  3. 3. 175.719 - APPLIED CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY WESTERBERG, V.M. 3 DISCUSSION Reintegration of offenders into society must be planned individually, a very costly intervention that, because of resource constraints, focuses on the highest risk offenders. The NZ DOC is well aware of this. They have adopted Andrews and Bonta’s Psychology of Criminal Conduct (Andrews & Bonta, 2010) principles of risk, need and responsivity for offender rehabilitation. To ensure better possibilities for rehabilitation success, case management protocols were introduced by the DOC in 2011. Each prisoner is allocated a case manager who takes care of the offender’s plan from the start of their custodial sentence to the end. Similarly, individuals doing community-based sentences require therapy, guidance and surveillance. Integration in society is a process that takes place in successive stages and involves multi-disciplinary teams. Having a criminal record produces social rejection regardless of the offence committed (DOC, 2012; Blackburn, 1993; Andrews & Bonta, 2010). Some crimes like sex offences and murder are particularly repulsive for society. However, given that sentences have a due process, a beginning, and an end, the prejudiced and discriminative attitude of society should be changed so that offenders have a chance of integration in society. Professionals with a degree in Psychology are involved in the process but can only do so in the last few years of a long, theoretical, training. Another issue hampering offender integration is the amount of bureaucratic procedures and multi-professional evaluations needed for future ex-convicts to have access to parole or probation, and then, in very selected cases, to reintegration programmes. The evaluations include in-prison progress reports, community parole management plan, psychologists’ reports of risk assessment and in-prison therapy progress, self-reports, support-groups reports, victims reports, Police reports, and sometimes community reports (Department of Corrections [DOC], 2012). A positive reply, if it arrives, can do so months after release, when the ex-convict has been exposed to his old criminogenic environment and associates, his old substance abuse habits, and his old ways of dealing with life which may end up with him in prison again before having had a chance of reintegration.
  4. 4. 175.719 - APPLIED CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY WESTERBERG, V.M. 4 Yet another difficulty is that despite the existence of governmental, NGOs, foundations, and official reintegration programme assistance, these are scanty and permanently insufficiently funded and staffed (DOC, 2012; Salvation Army, 2012; Philantropy NZ, 2012; Caritas NZ, 2012) meaning that only a few selected, highly dangerous offenders, will be eligible for entry. Even then, support will never be holistic, covering the biopsychosocial and professional needs of the offenders, with lack of human and financial means being the main drags. Because of limited resources, some contradictions can be found between Correction’s objectives and their actual interventions. Let us compare this quote: “Treating high risk offenders also makes the best use of scarce resources - there is little value in spending money on offenders who are unlikely to reoffend anyway” (DOC, 2012, n.p.), with this one: “Most striking, however, are the very high rates of re-[offending and] re-imprisonment amongst dishonesty offenders - those convicted of theft, car conversion and burglary. These are crimes with very high base-rates (they form the bulk of all recorded crime), which means that those who tend to engage in such crimes do so with high frequency. Family offences also notably have high rates of re-[offending and] re-imprisonment.” (DOC, 2012, n.p.). So, what the DOC (2012) are saying is that, in keeping with Andrew’s and Bonta’s Psychology of Criminal Conduct key principles of risk, needs and responsivity (Andrews & Bonta, 2010; DOC, 2012), interventions have to focus on high-risk offenders because of shortage of human and financial resources and because, all other offenders are unlikely to reoffend anyway? That is not what the DOC (2012) state in the second quote and that is certainly not what Andrews and Bonta (2010) say, as the latter authors make a difference between high-risk of reoffending with violence and high-risk of reoffending in general. This difference is not present in the statement by the DOC (2012). Andrews and Bonta (2010) claim that the rationale for focusing on violent high-risk offenders is that their reoffending causes the most damage and concern in society. The point trying to be made here is that resource allocation focuses on violence and not on overall re-offending. Whereas“Andrews and Bonta (2010) fail to take into account the burden of the high costs in terms of police and judicial resources use around capturing, defending, convicting, and lodging recidivist offenders, and the impact that recurrent criminal activity has on the lives of individuals in the community in terms of
  5. 5. 175.719 - APPLIED CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY WESTERBERG, V.M. 5 insurances and security, not to mention the lack of trust of victims and their families in a judicial system”(Tetlock & Mitchell, 1993). The issue of overall recidivism is, however, a priority for the Department of Corrections (DOC, 2012) and this is where psychology students could help make a difference. Student-based psychological interventions on low to medium-risk recidivist offenders could reduce re-imprisonment rates and increase the availability of more scarce resources, like funds and clinical personnel, for key interventions. Finally, in-prison professional skills training is limited to a few activities, mainly gardening or carving (DOC, 2012). It is unlikely that many offenders will find those limited activities rewarding, engaging, and useful in their search for a job, in keeping it, and in doing so for a considerable amount of time. Allowing psychology students to intervene in educational programmes could widen the academic and professional perspectives of offenders upon release. Looking now at differences in training between Health “Sciences” students, the discussion will start with that of medical students and conclude with that of psychology students. In NZ, Medicine can only be studied at two Universities: Auckland and Otago (Ministry of Education [MOE], 2012; Careers NZ, 2012). The first three years are foundational, with laboratory practice. By the third year, students begin to follow doctors doing their rounds. Students are present during the interview and physical examination of patients and are often asked questions by the clinician. Years 4 and 5 are clinical. Year 6 students are called Trainee Interns and their responsibilities and involvement with patients is almost that of a Junior House Officer. Students who are NZ citizens get a stipend grant from the government of a bit over 26,700NZD (MOE, 2012; Careers NZ, 2012). Year 1 is foundational for nurses, midwives, physiotherapists, and radiology technicians; year 2 is the practical and specialisation year, and year 3, and last, builds on previous knowledge and practice. With regard to psychology years 1 to 3 – undergraduate level- are foundational, meaning only theory is taught (Careers NZ, 2012; Massey University, 2012). Year 4 can be an Honours or a Masters level postgraduate course, where students will be engaged in learning more theory, writing more assignments and attending more block courses, but will not be involved in practical clinical experience (Massey University, 2012). Those students who wish to
  6. 6. 175.719 - APPLIED CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY WESTERBERG, V.M. 6 pursue a career as Clinical Psychologist may fill in an application form for the selection into the Clinical Training Program, the first year of which involves following a clinician in a similar manner as a third year medical student (Massey University, 2012). Undergraduate practical training of medical and nursing students is not under debate, it is not even questioned, as medical training practices in the form of master-disciple knowledge transfer date back to ancient Greece (Porter, 2001). This form of learning is explained by Bandura’s social learning theory concepts of modelling (imitation through observation) and self-efficacy (confidence in one’s ability to succeed in different situations) and in Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory concepts of scaffolding (“more knowledgeable others” help ensure deeper learning) and “zone of proximal development” (decreasing differences between disciple and master’s knowledge)(Lerner, Jacobs, & Wertlieb, 2005). It appears contradictory that psychology graduate and undergraduate training does not readily abide by their own learning theories and that medical training does and at a much earlier stage. An extensive review of the literature has shown that earlier psychology student fieldwork experience is in growing demand. Hatcher and Lassiter (2007) and Tarquin and Truscott (2006) found that graduate and undergraduate practical experiences were correlated with higher confidence and competence as a professional psychologist and that early practicum competencies should be encouraged and clearly defined. Weis (2004) describes how a 10-week undergraduate practicum was perceived by students as very successful at integrating theoretical knowledge in psychology and research methods with real, clinical situations and that service-oriented possibilities should be further evaluated. The benefits of early practical involvement of psychology students has been debated for many years now as noted by the studies done by Aronson, Akamatsu, and Page (1982), Ottinger and Roberts (1980), Prerost (1980), and Balch and McWilliams (1975). The latter authors refer to the implications of practical training in successful, early community intervention programmes and how early familiarity with realistic goal settings, with government and social agencies, and with data generation, collection, evaluation, presentation, and submission are beneficial for service providers and receivers. These observations are particularly relevant for the issue at hand in this paper.
  7. 7. 175.719 - APPLIED CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY WESTERBERG, V.M. 7 O'Net, i.e.: the Occupational Information Network, is the world's largest free database of occupational information and descriptors (O’Net, 2012). It is developed, maintained, and updated by the US Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Massey University uses O’Net in their I/O Psychology programme (Rundle, 2012). Of the key KSAOs (knowledge, skills, abilities, others) for clinical psychologists, the graduate and undergraduate psychology programme covers most of the knowledge area and only two points of the skills, abilities and others section: the writing skills and reading comprehension. Essential skills like “active listening, emotional perceptiveness, oral expression, service orientation, judgement and decision- making, problem sensitivity, problem solving skills, deductive-inductive reasoning, decision-making, and complex problem-solving skills” (O’Net, 2012, n.p.) just to mention a few, are neglected and denied to psychology students up to advanced graduate level. Providing psychology students with practical training would be very profitably used in the setting of Corrections. The benefits for Forensic Psychologists from the assistance of students would make their work much more productive and cost-effective. Students would develop practical skills and abilities, at the same time that they get valuable work experience. The government would save millions as students’ contribution doing mandatory training would be free of charge. More offenders of varying risk levels, specifically those with the highest risk of low-violence recidivism, would get better, longer-lasting, dedicated attention and services, standing a better chance of their reintegration being successful, which would, in turn, reduce re-imprisonment rates and help ensure society protection. An example of how the KSAOs of psychology students can be used in Correctional and probation services follows. The Department of Corrections uses 4 key programmes: Motivational, rehabilitation, reintegration, and education-employment (DOC, 2012). The education-employment programme provides a good starting point for the practical training of psychology students through assistance with literacy and numeracy. Psychology students’ involvement in this programme would help raise students awareness of the limitations and difficulties many offenders have, how they solve problems, how they reason, and how they cope with their limitations. Students would have to work not only on developing effective communication and teaching skills, but on effectively adapting their range of vocabulary and speech clarity to that of their client.
  8. 8. 175.719 - APPLIED CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY WESTERBERG, V.M. 8 Offenders would benefit from the stability of their educational programme derived from the large supply of instructors. Educational skills enhance self-esteem and the chances of getting a satisfactory job, which is known to be positively correlated with lower reoffending rates (DOC, 2012). After an instruction seminar, like that provided during the 2012 Applied Criminal Psychology block course in Auckland (School of Psychology, 2012), students could first attend, then assist, and finally run under supervision the 5 sessions that integrate the Short Motivational Programme, a combination of CBT and Motivational Interviewing. The students could use the tape recorded sessions for self-assessment of performance of which they should keep notes for use in the course assignments. At this stage, students run the risk of learning what the job of a Forensic Psychologist in this setting involves and wonder whether they can do the job satisfactorily and for a long period of time. The sooner the students know whether they can cope, the better. Offenders in prison or on probation would, again, benefit from a steady supply of highly motivated therapists. Short and Medium Intensity Rehabilitation Programmes are both run in community and prison settings, and the latter are long, intensive, and resource consuming (DOC, 2012). Observing how the professional clinician runs a session, how s/he infuses very abstract concepts such as consequential thinking in offenders, and how s/he deals with cultural differences as s/he does so is invaluable for the trainee psychologist. At this point, it may be necessary to assess whether offenders are making true progress. Forensic Psychologists would benefit from the availability of assistants, who can set up the interview room, put the test components on display, and pick them up afterwards. With student assistance, more offenders could be evaluated and do so more effectively. Reintegration programmes aim to assist offenders and their families for a successful return home and to the community. This involves training in life, budgeting, self-care and parenting skills among others (DOC, 2012). Students’ involvement in the reintegration process would make them see offenders in their environment and have a better understanding of the overall situation and of the intervening forces that may have derived into the criminal behaviour. Seeing the offender as a son, a father, or a brother humanises the construct of offender, gives it a truly human face, a soul, a meaning, and maybe the possibility of hope through reintegration. Students need to
  9. 9. 175.719 - APPLIED CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY WESTERBERG, V.M. 9 learn how to battle and handle conflicting feelings and still keep a cold and clear head to do “the right thing” when the time comes. This is achieved in the field, through learning and through experience. Cultural difference awareness is particularly relevant at this stage of intervention. The Maori are a collectivist society (Landy & Conte, 2010), with a different set of rules, values, and norms. In this setting, both the offender and the therapist run the risk of seeing each other as “they” vs. “we”. For example, a Maori offender can be expected to accept the advice from a Maori therapist more readily than from one of another ethnicity. The cultural distance widens when gender and age (or cohort) differences are added to the equation. Having a wide range of possible therapists makes it possible that, sometimes, in specific instances and circumstances, a student could be assigned to a particular case to see if a better outcome is possible for that particular offender. If an intervention has a possibility to work, it should be given the chance to do so. Finally, a consideration of ethical issues is in order at this point. Just like medical students sign a confidentiality report where they agree to keep patient confidentiality and to abide by the University, the Hospital, the Human Rights Act, and/or by the NZ Medical Association Codes of Ethics (New Zealand Medical Association, 2011), psychology students would be obliged to proceed likewise and sign a confidentiality report to abide by the University, the Correctional facility, and/or the NZ Psychological Society Codes of Ethics. It is customary for psychological confidentiality reports to state that in case of conflict between Codes of Ethics, the one with the highest standards will be observed (Evans, Rucklidge, & O’Driscoll, 2007). CONCLUSION Graduate and undergraduate psychology training emphasises a holistic approach to client interventions, but certainly not to students’ training itself. Whereas medical and nursing students begin their practical work in hospitals at undergraduate level, psychologists have wait until they have gone far into their postgraduate level studies to have the privilege of practical, in the field, experience. Future doctors and nurses are trained in hospitals. Future clinical (and, hence, forensic) psychologists could train in correctional facilities, where client availability is guaranteed.
  10. 10. 175.719 - APPLIED CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY WESTERBERG, V.M. 10 The majority of the correctional population are low-violence risk recidivists who are not eligible for entry in anti-recidivism therapeutic interventions because of scarcity of human and financial resources. Applying psychology students to the task of offender interventions has got multiple advantages. Advantages for students are that their training would parallel that of other health sciences’ in that early practical experience would be part of their curriculum, providing the invaluable field experience required to be a successful psychologist in the future. Advantages for the government and associated agencies involved in probation services are that suddenly a large amount of “volunteer” workers would be at their disposal so that they can use their funds in other critical issues. Advantages for forensic psychologists are that, after a brief training period, they would have assistants who could deal with minor interventions, help with clerical issues (distributing tests, picking them up) and generally ease their workload. For those clinicians who also have academic responsibilities, having students use their practical experience to write their assignments would considerably reduce the risk of plagiarism. Advantages for society, including the victims in this category, are that less recidivism is associated with more safety and with a more favourable perception of governmental, corrections and police interventions. Pax-payers’ money could be relocated to other pressing needs like providing better social services like housing insulation, food at school, and / or improved health services. Early practice for best practice means that allowing psychology students to have early practical experience is likely to make them more competent professionals. Early practical training for psychology students also means having the same career path as other health science students, like medical or nursing students. Corrections provides the perfect setting for psychology students’ practical work, just like a hospital does for medical students. Early practice is not only reasonable, practicable, ethical, and cost- effective, it also provides a win-win situation for all those involved: the government and associated public agencies, offenders, victims, students, clinicians, and society.
  11. 11. 175.719 - APPLIED CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY WESTERBERG, V.M. 11 REFERENCES Andrews, D.A. & Bonta, J. (2010). The psychology of criminal conduct. (5th ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing. Aronson, D. W., Akamatsu, T. J., & Page, H. A. (1982). An initial evaluation of a clinical psychology practicum training program. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 13(5), 610-619. Retrieved from Balch, P., & McWilliams, S. A. (1975). Community-based program evaluation through a graduate practicum in community psychology. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 6(3), 331-336. Retrieved from Blackburn, R. (1993). The psychology of criminal conduct: Theory, research and practice. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. Careers NZ (2012). Retrieved from 05560351540093849723%3A7fgyfsdz7tc&sa=Search&cof=FORID%3A11 Caritas New Zealand (2012). What we do. Retrieved from Carmichael, A. & McCall, M. (2008). Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand: Medical training review panel clinical training sub-committee. Sydney: Author. Retrieved from Training-Review.pdf Department of Corrections (2012). Facts and statistics. Retrieved from
  12. 12. 175.719 - APPLIED CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY WESTERBERG, V.M. 12 Evans, I. M., Rucklidge, J., & O’Driscoll, M. (Eds)(2007). Professional Practice of Psychology in Aotearoa New Zealand. Wellington: The New Zealand Psychological Society. Hatcher, R. L., & Lassiter, K. D. (2007). Initial training in professional psychology: The practicum competencies outline. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 1(1), 49-63. Retrieved from Landy, F.J., & Conte, J.M. (2010). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell Publishing. Lerner, R.M., Jacobs, F., & Wertlieb, D. (Eds)(2005). Applied developmental science: An advanced textbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Massey University (2012). Qualifications Structure. Retrieved from rOfRegs=2013&progid=93010&majorCode=&prog_name=Postgraduate%20Diplom a%20in%20Clinical%20Psychology%20%28PGDipClinPsych%29%20- %202013&show_intro_tab=true&show_planning_tab=false& study_type=under_grad&path= mme-course-paper/programme.cfm Ministry of Education (2012). Educational institutions profile. Retrieved from tutionsProfileCodebook.aspx New Zealand Medical Association (2011). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from
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  14. 14. 175.719 - APPLIED CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY WESTERBERG, V.M. 14 Tetlock, P.E., & Mitchell, G. (1993). Liberal and conservative approaches to justice: Conflicting psychological portraits. Retrieved from 992-1993/1993%20Liberal%20and%20Conservative%20Approaches%20 to%20Justice.pdf Weis, R. (2004). Using an undergraduate human-service practicum to promote unified psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 31(1), 43-46. Retrieved from