I run an outpatient clinic that treats mainly criminal justice clients. Every week somebody from Probation or Parole calls to complain that our counselors didn’t inform her of something important, usually that violated some condition of the probation. When I ask the counselor, I get feeble excuses that the client provided. How do I get everybody to act like they’re all on the same team?”

It’s a challenge, all right. I’m guessing your counselors see the POs as punitive, while the Court folks regard the counselors as, well, big suckers. Not an easy conflict to resolve.

There’s some truth in both. Therapists do tend to be warm empathetic types who want to give the client the benefit of the doubt — they see it as important to the therapeutic alliance. The Court’s representatives are understandably concerned with compliance with the judge’s orders. The offender/client may pick up on this and see it as an opportunity to split or manipulate.

Probably the smart thing is to engineer some type of joint training that provides an opportunity for them to interact. Doesn’t have to be a teambuilding exercise — just something that allows the two groups to get to know one another and humanize their respective positions. The topic could be specific to working with criminal justice clients. Should have small group exercises  as well as large — possibly with the help of facilitators.

One important point: because so many offenders are in treatment solely because the Court ordered it, the Court becomes the customer, with the client’s role shifting to ‘consumer’. As a result, POs may see themselves as entitled to frequent and thorough reports that may include info the therapist would normally be reluctant to share. If the clinicians view the PO as an outsider with the potential to interfere with treatment, there will inevitably be painful conflict.

Likewise, the Court benefits from learning more about the restrictions that therapeutic ethics place on the therapist. I recall orientation day at one new facility (combined corrections and rehab) where the Warden blithely informed his counseling staff that ‘there is no confidentiality in prison’. The counselors promptly had a group heart attack. It was quickly resolved but illustrates exactly how wide the gap between the two approaches can be.

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