Many people who are serving prison sentences suffer with mental health conditions. 49% of women and 23% of male prisoners in a Ministry of Justice study were assessed as suffering from anxiety and depression. Furthermore, 10% of men and 30% of women have had a previous psychiatric admission before they entered prison. As such, psychological work inside prisons is a vital part of Thinkactions’s service. Here we explore how your relationships with fellow prisoners can be difficult and what therapy can do to help you get better at dealing with social situations.
Trevor is a 21 year old male serving a 3 year sentence for burglary. Since being sent to prison he noticed he was becoming increasingly anxious, worrying something bad might happen. This led to Trevor withdrawing from those around him and rarely leaving his cell. He constantly experienced thoughts such as ‘What if something happens?’ or ‘Am I going to get into a problem?’. When anxious, Trevor would stutter, sweat excessively, feel on edge and had difficulties sleeping. As a way of coping with his anxiety Trevor shut himself away from the rest of prison and was avoiding education, the gym, association and making phone calls to his family and friends on the outside. During the initial assessment, Trevor and his Thinkaction worker set goals for Trevor to engage more in activities and to feel comfortable in other prisoners’ company.
After the first treatment session there was an improvement in Trevor’s mood. He explained that just talking about his anxiety helped a great deal. He also explained he has started to visit education. The therapist spent the session talking about the vicious cycle of anxiety, relating it to the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy model. Trevor found this useful and he began to understand the reasons behind why he was feeling anxious.
During the second treatment session Trevor said that he was continuing to push himself to socialise more with other prisoners and had started attending association. Trevor and his therapist also discussed the idea of exposure therapy and how avoidance can make anxiety worse.
By the third session, Trevor explained each day is getting better, because he was being more active and being familiar with the prison surroundings. Talking through his anxieties had a real effect on how he thought about the spaces outside of his cell. Trevor completed an English class in education and will start a maths class very soon. Thinkaction’s therapist introduced relaxation techniques to manage his anxiety such as controlled breathing, positive self-talk, progressive muscle relaxation and shifting his focus of attention. Trevor found these new techniques extremely helpful and continues to use them.
During the fourth session the Thinkaction therapist and Trevor decided to end treatment. Trevor had met his goal to engage more in activities and to feel comfortable in other prisoners’ company. He had set new goals now to contact his father and get a job inside the prison but he now felt confident enough to achieve these goals without the help of the therapist.