Forensic and Forensic Clinical Doctorate trainee research

Student name: Stacie Simms

Course: Forensic Psychology Practice Doctorate (ForenPsyD)

Study year: 3rd year

Research summary:

The purpose of this research is to explore frontline staff (i.e. Health Care Assistants and Nurses) views around one of the most significant functions of a comprehensive Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) programme (i.e. structuring the environment) on a privately run, inpatient, secure unit for female offenders with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The need for this research has been identified by the Research Team at a secure unit for offenders in the UK.

DBT requires a team of practitioners who together deliver a five-function comprehensive treatment providing an entire service to the client group (Swales & Heard, 2008).

Within inpatient settings the most important function is the structuring the environment function, due to the risk of ineffective behaviours being reinforced (e.g. attending to and reinforcement of maladaptive behaviour such a self-harm (Swenson et al. 2007). This research will focus on the views of those frontline staff who are responsible for structuring the environment, to ascertain whether this function is being met as effectively as possible.

The aims of the study are to investigate the following using a qualitative approach:

  • What are frontline staff’s experiences of working within their role on a DBT ward?
  • What is the understanding of front line staff regarding DBT and structuring of the environment?
  • What do frontline staff feel to be factors which obstruct the effective structuring of the environment (if any)?

Approximately 15-20 semi-structured interviews will be conducted with frontline staff (i.e. Nurses and Health Care Assistants). Thematic analysis will be used to analyse interview transcripts.

The research will contribute to the current research literature. It is hoped that the findings of the project will assist in the development of current practice on inpatient wards delivering a full DBT programme.

Student name: Poonam Garg

Course: Forensic Psychology Practice Doctorate (ForenPsyD)

Study year: 3rd year

Research summary:

Socio-cultural and structural factors specific to South Asians make women from these communities more vulnerable to experiencing honour and domestic related abuse/violence. Those same factors mean that there are many barriers preventing South Asian women from seeking support. Whilst research has suggested that acculturation is an important factor in promoting support seeking behaviour among South Asian women, research exploring this is in its infancy. The current project will work with the Domestic Abuse Shouldn’t Happen (DASH) charity. DASH records information provided by survivors who have requested support and also records at what stage the victims are in taking action against the abuse/perpetrator (called the Stages of Change). We will analyse this data to answer the following research questions:

  • Does acculturation influence support seeking behaviour? Are more acculturated survivors more likely to seek support after the first instance of abuse?
  • Does acculturation impact what stage the survivors are on in the Stages of Change when they first seek support and then 6 months after they have sought support?
  • Do more acculturated survivors process through the Stages of Change quicker?

Answering the research questions above will provide valuable insight into support seeking behaviour of South Asian women. The results from this research project will help to determine whether support provision needs to be nuanced for individuals.  Further to this, it will also advance theoretical understanding of support seeking behaviours by providing more information on the role of acculturation.

Student name: Leiya Lemkey

Course: Forensic Psychology Practice Doctorate (ForenPsyD)

Study year: 3rd year

Research summary:

The purpose of this project is to gain a better understanding of the perceptions and views of Headteachers and teachers who work directly with students who may be vulnerable to becoming radicalised or have expressed extreme views. This research will aim to:

1) better understand how Headteachers and teachers identify risk factors;

2) explore their thoughts of the effectiveness of the Prevent training; 

3) explore their views regarding ways in which radicalisation can be addressed within the education system.

The rationale for this research is to identify teachers’ experiences of working with possible vulnerable youth, as well as aiming to identify gaps within educational training from Prevent. Such information may be able to inform future practice regarding training for teachers. Ultimately, this research aims to develop a better understanding of early identification of youth at risk of becoming engaged in extremist or radical behaviour with a view to addressing their potential extremist thought processes and behaviours.

Up to 15 semi-structured interviews will be conducted with Headteachers and teachers in secondary schools in the West Midlands. The interviews are expected to take one hour. Interviews will be audio recorded with the participants’ consent. Participants will be made aware that their responses will be anonymised and that they can withdraw up to 2 weeks following the interview by contacting the researcher by e-mail or phone.

The transcripts of interviews will be analysed using Thematic Analysis. Thematic Analysis is used as a qualitative data analysis approach for identifying, analysing, and reporting patterns (themes) within data (Braun & Clarke, 2006). This method allows for meaningful elements or codes to be combined to generate themes and explanatory models (Guest, MacQueen, & Namey, 2012)

Student name: Catharine Powis

Course: Forensic Psychology Practice Doctorate (ForenPsyD)

Study year: 4th year

Research summary:

Due to on-going advances in our understanding of terrorism, intelligence gathering, and a focus on counter-terrorism strategy, many potential terrorist attacks have been prevented. Despite these advances, significant issues remain in respect to accurately assessing the risk of an individual becoming involved in terrorist activities, but also in the ability to distinguish between those considered to be high and low risk.  Consequently, prioritising investigations and allocating resources to operations is extremely challenging.

The face of terrorism is always changing. New organisations emerge, holding different core beliefs, evolving recruitment strategies (increasingly complicated by the use of the internet and social media) and variable end targets; with time, new vulnerability factors are likely to be identified and others adapted. It may, however, be possible to analyse mass casualty terrorist events and reported characteristics of the known perpetrator(s) to identify common themes.

The current research aims to examine mass casualty terrorist events in Western Europe, dating back over two decades, to identify whether it is possible to discriminate between these events and the perpetrators based on critical behavioural and personal characteristics. Content gathered from open-source data will be analysed, with situational, behavioural and individual characteristics being identified and coded using a framework that has been developed based on the current theory. Further features will be identified through the content analysis of the terrorist events, including specific behaviours, harm caused and political affiliations, where known. This approach is similar to that used in the profiling of other types of offenders, such as sex offenders (e.g. Canter & Heritage, 1990) and those involved in plane hijackings (e.g. Wilson, 2000). This approach involves coding each event into a series of present or absent features that can be analysed using multidimensional scaling. Multidimensional scaling produces a visual representation of both clusters of variables and perpetrator(s), based on similarities. The similarities are represented geometrically such that those perpetrator(s) or events that are most similar are closer together.

The research will contribute to the current terrorism literature by analysing mass terrorist events within Western Europe.  It offers a novel way of exploring relationships between these events, in terms of the identified environmental factors and individual factors. It is hoped that by exploring and identifying consistencies between mass terrorist events, this research could have practical applications for the developing area of risk assessment and risk management strategies in this crucial field.

Student name: Vicki Parker

Course: Forensic Psychology Practice Doctorate (ForenPsyD)

Study year: 2nd year

Research summary:

Arson research is very limited and is mainly restricted to identifying typologies of arsonists through those incarcerated in prisons or mental health hospitals. A conviction is achieved for only 7% of deliberate fires attended by the Fire Service in England. This suggests that there are a great number of arsonists who are not apprehended and therefore those that are studied in both prisons and mental health hospitals are, potentially, a poor representation of the true nature and typology of arsonists. Additionally, typologies often incorporate motivation of the arsonist as a part or whole of an understanding or explanation of the typology. This relies on convicted arsonists being able to identify and be open about their intentions or that the researcher can accurately infer motivation. This research aims to identify a description of arsonist crime scene behaviour that is representative of all deliberately set fires. There is an additional aim to fit arson events onto typologies already identified, however if this is not possible, it is hoped to be able to develop typologies based upon arson crime scene behaviours for all deliberate fires attended to, whether or not they result in a conviction.

The West Midlands Fire Service is England’s second largest Fire Service and data has been obtained for all deliberate fires responded to for the year 2014–2015. This data includes date and time of a fire, whether an accelerant was used, what was likely to have started the fire as well as what was set fire to, amongst other data. Multidimensional Scalogram Analysis will be conducted on the data to identify trends and patterns of deliberate fire setting crime scene behaviours. This will be compared to current understanding of arsonist behaviour and typologies.

It is hoped that this research will support our understanding of typical and unusual arson crime scenes, identify geographical ‘hotspots’ and geographical areas for the Fire Service to target for deployment of resources. It is also hoped that these findings may support the Police responding to an arson offence to highlight fruitful lines of investigation. Finally it is hoped that this research will further our understanding of the different typologies of arsonists and through this support intervention and prevention work.

Student name: Joanne Ratcliffe

Course: Forensic Clinical Psychology Doctorate (ForenClinPsyD)

Study year: 3rd year

Research summary:

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a common psychiatric diagnosis among females within secure mental health services, characterised by significant instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image and mood, impulsive behaviour and a strong tendency towards suicidal thinking and self-harm. Staff can often find it difficult working with this client group and experience great emotional toil. The quality of therapeutic relationships between service users and staff is recognised as being of particular importance, with research showing therapeutic relationships to be strongly associated with service user satisfaction and perceived social climate. It is also recognised that nursing staff play a vital role in the implementation of therapeutic treatment practices. Despite the recognition of the importance of therapeutic relationships between staff and service users and a need to explore in more detail the needs of female service users, little research has specifically investigated what is valued and felt to be important characteristics of staff working with women in secure services. Research of this kind has focused more so on the learning disabilities population.

A multi-perspective qualitative design has been chosen to address this gap and explore the views of service users and managers of nursing staff working with females in secure services, as previous research has suggested that the views of these two groups may differ. It is hoped that a qualitative approach using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) will enable the views and experiences of individuals in these services to be explored. The findings from this research have the potential to inform best practice in recruitment, staff training, support and supervision.

Student name: Lucia Dias Cajada

Course: Forensic Psychology Practice Doctorate (ForenPsyD)

Study year: 3rd year

Research summary:

Inadequate coping strategies, in dealing with occupational stress, have been linked to poor outcomes such as burnout. Research in police forces tends to overlook protective factors that sustain this type of work and has focused more on uniformed officers. This study aimed to explore the factors related to resilience and capabilities/ skills that enable a police officer to be effective undercover. This research used a mixed-methods design, applying both quantitative and qualitative methodologies.

Participants were recruited from a Portuguese Police Force. Probability-based survey using a list-based sampling frame was used to recruit participants via their police command structure. 93 officers working in criminal investigation, with and without undercover/plainclothes experience, responded to a battery of psychometric assessments. In addition, 25 police officers with prior undercover/plainclothes experience were selected to be interviewed using non-probability purposive sampling.

This is a work in progress, therefore, results are not yet available. The results will be presented on the relationships between resilience, personality traits, cognitive flexibility and deception, and the implications of this will be discussed.

Having an appropriate selection of undercover operatives is crucial to determine these agent’s psychological health and safety. This study could support police decision-making in selecting procedures of officers for undercover roles, with a view to decreasing turnover rates and risk in the police forces and increasing wellbeing, safety and retention.

Student name: Ian Burke

Course: Forensic Clinical Psychology Doctorate (ForenClinPsyD)

Study year: 4th year

Research summary:

Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA), first established in Canada in the early 1990’s, is a restorative justice based community re-entry programme for high-risk sex offenders. The CoSA model aims to substantially reduce the risk of future sexual offences being committed against community members by assisting and supporting released men in their task of integrating into the community and leading offence free and productive lives. A “Circle” is made up of a group of between four and six trained volunteers from the local community assisted by an experienced Circle coordinator who provide a social network around the offender who is referred to as the Core Member (CM). The Circle provides practical support to the CM with such things as employment and housing as well as ensuring that the CM is accountable and takes responsibility for their own risk management. A typical circle lasts for about 12 months, although longer durations are also possible where a need arises.

To date, much of the research on CoSA has focussed on the effectiveness of the model in reducing reoffending rates and results are promising, although fall short of fully proving it to be effective. Fewer studies have looked at the mechanisms underpinning the success of CoSA and no study has attempted to qualitatively explore the nature of the relationship that exists between volunteers and CMs from the perspective of the volunteer.

The aim of this study is therefore to explore the nature of the relationship that exists between volunteers and CMs and how volunteers experience and make sense of this relationship. It is suggested that the results of the study will further enhance our understanding of the CoSA model and inform future training of volunteers as well as contributing to ongoing development of the intervention model.

Student name: Catharine Booth

Course: Forensic Psychology Practice Doctorate (CPD)

Study year: 2nd year

Research summary:

The literature is unanimous that critical incident negotiation is stressful (McMains & Mullins, 2015; Strentz, 2012). Being at the forefront of the critical incident management team, the critical incident negotiator is particularly open to experiencing high levels of stress (Bohl, 1992) making it worthy of attention by researchers.

A systematic review of the literature has been conducted which sought primary studies investigating the experience of stress, coping, and support in relation to negotiation related incidents for critical incident negotiators. Primary studies investigating the general coping style of critical incident negotiators were also sought. The review identified that there are few empirical studies exploring the general coping styles of critical incident negotiators, and their experiences of incident-related stress, coping, and support. Furthermore, to date, research has been limited to police negotiator samples.

The current study aims to address the gap in knowledge by exploring the experiences of prison officer negotiators in Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. The researcher has not found any published literature pertaining to this role performed by prison officers. This study is the first of its kind with prison officer negotiators in the UK.

The aims of the research are to:

1. Explore the operational experiences of prison officer negotiators.

2. Identify the sources of stress and explore the experience of stress for prison officer negotiators.

3. Explore the coping strategies adopted by prison officer negotiators to cope with incident-related stress.

4. To identify the support mechanisms available to prison officer negotiators and explore their views in relation to them.

The research is using qualitative methodology to gather a rich understanding of the experiences of prison officer negotiators. Semi-structured interviews with 15 active negotiators will be conducted and the data analysed using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). The implications for practice will be to provide evidence-based recommendations for training and support for maintaining the psychological wellbeing of this vital group of staff.

Student name: Nicola Schaum

Course: Forensic Psychology Practice Doctorate (ForenPsyD)

Study year: 2nd year

Research summary:

Project 1 - Systematic literature review

To consider if active military personnel/ military veterans who suffer from PTSD are more likely to perpetrate domestic violence compared to those who do not suffer from PTSD. Five electronic databases were identified as having been used for previous reviews in the subject area of domestic violence and were consequently searched for relevant literature: Web of Science Core collection (1900-2017); Proquest PILOTS (1871-2017); Ovid EMBASE (1974 – 2017); Ovid MEDLINE (R) (1946-2017); Ovid; PsycINFO (1806 – 1966; 1967 - 2017); Journal of family violence using the key words “military”; “combat”; and “veteran”. To reduce publication bias, unpublished studies (e.g., thesis) were included in the database searches and no language restrictions were imposed on the searches.

Different tools were used to assess the quality of individual articles based on the study design of the articles. For example, the AXIS tool was used to assess the methodological quality of cross sectional studies. Only studies that achieved a score of 60% in the quality assessment were included in the review. The effective public health practice project (EPHPP) quality assessment tool was used to assess methodological quality of all other quantitative studies (e.g. longitudinal, case control etc.). Only studies that achieved a moderate or strong classification during quality assessment using this tool were included in the review for data extraction. Both quality assessment tools address common methodological issues in research such as selection biases, study design, measurement biases, blinding, confounding variables, and analysis and study outcomes for each of the articles.

Data was extracted from articles regarding a) participant’s demographics including age, ethnicity, marital status, war era, military status upon discharge and b) prevalence of PTSD amongst individuals that have perpetrated domestic violence compared to those that have not.

There are issues with generalisability of findings as the majority of the studies were based on clinical samples of help-seeking veterans. Further research is needed with active military personnel and female military personnel. UK based researched is also lacking, and qualitative research in the area of IPV perpetration amongst military samples is generally sparse. Assessment of IPV has been restricted by retrospective self-report, which likely limits our understanding of the true breadth and prevalence of IPV amongst military populations who suffer from PTSD.

Project 2 – Qualitative research project

This research project aims to interview military veterans to explore their experience of living with PTSD and having perpetrated DVA. The main research question therefore is: “What are the lived experiences of military veterans who have a diagnosis of PTSD and who have perpetrated DVA?”. Within this research question, the following topics will be explored through a semi-structured interview:

1. Experiences of intimate and familial relationships of veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD

2. Perceptions of military service and how (if at all) this is associated with DVA

3. Perceptions of whether mental health symptoms are associated with DVA

4. Views of military veterans on the support received for addressing their PTSD and DVA

Data will be collected through semi-structured interviews. The questions used in the interview will be open-ended using an interview schedule, which has been reviewed by experts in the field of qualitative research methodology as well as veteran mental health. The interview schedule has also been piloted with a veteran of 22 years’ military service. The interviews will be recorded, transcribed and the content analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA; an analyses technique which aims to explore an individual’s perceptions of their experiences in depth).

To our knowledge, there is no published study that explores the lived experience of veterans suffering from PTSD who have engaged in domestic violence and abuse. It is hoped that a qualitative approach will allow the participants to express their experiences and underlying opinions, giving them a voice. It is also hoped that a person-centred approach will shed light on military veterans’ interpretations of their violence perpetration, to inform treatment needs, highlighting areas for intervention and prevention of domestic violence amongst military veterans.

It is further hoped that the proposed research findings may help provide practitioners with insight regarding the experiences of participants, and in doing so, could help inform services offered to service users and those that support the service user. Finally, it is anticipated that the research findings will inform specific avenues for further research by potentially providing more targeted research questions.