A Tutor's View

DD310 Counselling and Forensic Psychology: A Tutor’s View

We continue our series in which Associate Lecturers introduce Psychology and Counselling modules that they tutor. 

Hello, my name is Jill Harker and I’ve been tutoring on a variety of psychology modules for about twelve years now, having completed both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees with the Open University many moons ago!    I’m based in the South West of England and teach on a wide range of level 1 to level 3 modules, which cover both psychological and counselling topics.  

What do you like about DD310?

 We’re just entering the third presentation of DD310, and whilst I think in many ways it is a challenging module, we’ve also had a lot of very positive feedback from past students, some of whom found the material both relevant and meaningful within their own lives.   But that’s why many people study psychology, it can be a very personal journey, as well as an academic one.

 From the outset, I felt that DD310 was going to excite and engage students. It’s not a ‘forensic’ module in the sense that you  study the underlying causes of criminal behaviour. Instead it introduces the notion of ‘mad or bad’ – where do we place responsibility in terms of what motivates a person to commit a crime? is it down to mental incapacity or inherent personality traits and how should we think about that?  We look closely at how prisoners can be helped within a forensic setting and also at some external influences, such as the media, and how criminality is portrayed within society.    

I find the module very interesting to teach. It approaches the topics sensitively yet in a way that encourages debate – we’ve had many stimulating discussions at the day school events!    It also introduces topics that are not always covered in mainstream psychological study, and the way in which it brings together ideas from both counselling and forensic enquiry is both innovative and thought provoking.

What do students find interesting about DD310?

Feedback from students has reflected my own thoughts about the module. Many people find that it raises issues with regards to their own beliefs and ideals, as well as shedding light more objectively on an area of study that they may not have encountered before. It opens the mind to other potential causes of criminal behaviour and also questions what we think we know about behavioural motivation.  I think students have particularly enjoyed challenging their own thoughts with regard to this, as well as learning more about the difficulties inherent in counselling prisoners in a forensic setting.

What’s the particular benefit of DD310 for a student working towards a psychology qualification?

I must admit to having been slightly sceptical initially about how the module team were going to combine counselling and forensics. These two areas seemed disparate and unconnected in terms of psychological study, but I was surprised and pleased to see how well this has been done.  For anyone wanting to get a broader understanding of the subtleties in defining ‘mad’ versus ‘bad’ and how this is implicated in the way that we approach and treat mental health within prisons, this is an important and worthwhile module to include in a degree focusing on either psychology or criminology.  

What do some students find challenging?

Of course, DD310 has its challenges, not least the fact that it’s a Level 3 module with increased expectations of both academic understanding and more nuanced study skills.  In addition, the range of assignment tasks is very eclectic, from basic essays to designing powerpoints and writing reports, and many students find this quite demanding, given the variety of skills that they are required to draw on across the series of TMAs.    

The module also presents new ideas that need to be assimilated at an advanced level, and as I have mentioned, students may find their own ideals being questioned.  This is not a bad thing though. We encourage debate and hope that people WILL challenge their own thinking –  this is, after all, why we study!    Students may also find some of the topics personally significant, and whilst this is not a reason not to study the module, it’s important to consider the subject matter before registering and if there is potential for this then to ensure that a good support network is in place.

What’s your advice for students who are starting DD310?

My top tip for students before beginning the module is to spend some time getting familiar with the chapter topics, and perhaps ear-marking any that might be challenging or difficult.   I would also recommend that people attempt to research the notion of ‘mad or bad’ in a more general way – this could be done through internet searches, television programmes or wider reading.   There are often newspaper stories or articles that address the challenges inherent in the prison system and these should make interesting reading for would-be DD310 students.   

There is no doubt that DD310 IS a thought provoking module, perplexing at times, even perhaps frustrating when some of the ideas it puts forward may not resonate at a personal level, but it’s always engaging and stimulating!!!

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