Violent women: treatment approaches and psychodynamic considerations

Date11 June 2018
Published date11 June 2018
AuthorAnnette McKeown,Ellen Harvey
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology
Violent women: treatment approaches
and psychodynamic considerations
Annette McKeown and Ellen Harvey
Purpose Some psychodynamic approaches conceptualise female violence as a communication of
experiences too difficult to think about. As practitioners, understanding what may be too painfulto be thought
about is incredibly important in assessment and treatment of forensic populations. Incorporating
psychodynamic concepts such as splitting, transference, projection and counter-transference into
formulation can be extremely helpful in understanding and formulating womens risk of violence.
The purpose of this paper is to introduce how psychodynamic concepts can be incorporated into
understanding, assessment, formulation and treatment with this complex client group. This paper will also
outline treatment approaches with this population.
Design/methodology/approach This paper will review existing psychodynamic literature and apply
this knowledge to working with violent female offenders. Translating theory into reflective practice will
be presented.
Findings This paper presents the value of incorporating psychodynamic considerations into existing
strategies of understanding and working with violent female offenders. Ways forwards and research
directions are proposed.
Research limitations/implications This paper is focussed primarily on psychodynamic approaches to
understanding this population
Practical implications Psychodynamic concepts can add an additional dimension to formulation,
supervision and treatment approaches with this population. Examining the meaning of violence perpetrated
by women as well as enactments can improve practitioners depth of understanding. Empirical research
examining the benefits of psychoanalytic supervision would be extremely useful to explore the impact on
formulation, treatment approaches, treatment effectiveness, staff well-being and staff retention.
Originality/value There is a lack of literature considering the application of psychodynamic constructs to
help formulation of complex female offenders in the Offender Personality Disorder Pathway for women.
Keywords Violence, Psychodynamic, Treatment
Paper type Conceptual paper
The concept of violent women has been around since the early stages of Greek mythology with
mythological characters of Hera and Procne presenting particularly poignant representations of
womens capacity to commit severe violence. In the case of both Hera and Procne, each myth
involved the woman murdering children as revenge for marital infidelity. The theme of a mothers
violence towards her own, o r partners children, may be considered as a female s
communication of painful experiences (e.g. Yakeley and Meloy, 2012). In the latter
mythological examples, hurt, betrayal and infidelity present painful themes, which are likely to
be difficult for each woman to consider and process. For clinical practitioners, understanding and
formulating womens risk of violence, particularly against children, vulnerable victims and intimate
partners can also present as challenging to think about and consider. Examining womens
risk of violence is vital, however, to ensure comprehensive risk assessment, formulation, risk
management and development of effective strategies of working with this population.
Violent female offenders represent approximately one third of the female prison population in the
UK (Office for National Statistics, 2014). The violence of women also appears particularly likely to
Received 10 August 2017
Revised 28 October 2017
Accepted 29 October 2017
Dr McKeown is currently
based at the Kolvin Service,
Northumberland Tyne
and Wear NHS Foundation
Trust, Durham, UK.
Annette McKeown is Principal
Forensic Psychologist at the
Primrose Service,Tees Esk and
Wear Valleys NHS Foundation
Trust, Durham, UK.
Ellen Harvey is based at
Primrose Service, Tees Esk and
Wear Valleys NHS Foundation
Trust, Durham, UK.
VOL. 4 NO. 2 2018, pp.124-135, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2056-3841 DOI 10.1108/JCRPP-08-2017-0025

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