The Imprisoned Brain: Psychotherapy with Inmates in Jail

The Imprisoned Brain: Psychotherapy with Inmates in Jail

by Sudhanva Rajagopal

Sudhanva Rajagopal, a clinical psychology graduate student, ponders our animal nature as he relates the poignant complexity of working with inmates in jail.
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    There’s a strange smile I get from one of the correctional officers at the county jail where I do psychotherapy with inmates. The correctional officer — let’s call him Officer Smith — presides over the maximum security wing where one of my clients is housed. Officer Smith is not a talker. None of the small-town, yessir/nossir politeness or the jocular workaday chit-chat of some of the other COs. Just that smile — every time he buzzes my client out of his cell, shackles him up, escorts him to the multipurpose room where we do therapy, right up until he locks us in and steps away.
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    Sudhanva  RajagopalSudhanva Rajagopal is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, CA. His clinical and research interests include trauma, political psychology, and the development of culturally responsive assessment and treatment protocols. Sudhanva is also a freelance writer, musician, and filmmaker. As a flamenco musician, he has performed throughout Europe, Asia, and the US, including a 2015 appearance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also has a masters degree in film producing from the University of Southern California. His 2006 documentary film, Panihari: The Water Women of India detailed social issues faced by women of the Thar Desert in northern India. The film was an official selection of the 2006 UN International Film Festival in Rome, Italy.
    Beautiful article! Faith in it's finest form has such transformational properties.
    SMK
    I work in Canada's Federal Correctional system and I say "Right on, Sudhanva!". If I do not treat the offenders I work with like human beings, how will they learn to act like human beings? "Rapport" is attachment that works both ways, and is built on trust - something few offenders have, but need to develop if they are to succeed upon release. Those of use that work with them may be the first person to offer human to human contact on that most basic of levels and this is what makes change possible.
    Diane Nicholson
    Wonderful article, wonderful work! Thank you for sharing. Karen.
    Karen Mccarthy
    Beautiful article--I felt my gut churning and responding to the truth of it. Thank-you for the best moment of my day.
    Ranjan Patel, Psy.D., MFT
    As a former female Chief Psychologist at a male federal prison with a population of 1500 predominantly minority offenders, I agree wholeheartedly with the author's statement that one of the most curative functions of psychotherapy is that of the development of even rudimentary-level skill of human attachment on the part of the inmate. And this can only be accomplished by working in the"here-and-now" with the therapist. The difficulties faced by psychologists who work out of this framework is that "basic human attachment" is mislabeled as "getting too close to an inmate". In some cases, even regarding inmates as human beings is mislabeled by non-professional-level staff members as "inappropriate". They project their own feelings of vulnerability onto the psychologist or the inmate and then attempt to "stomp them out". However, this process has to be engaged in repeatedly because, like all projected aspects of the self, the problem is never resolved. That is, unless those staff members wake up and seek therapy for themselves.
    Lisa Morshead
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