Rising violence and a disintegrating criminal justice system signal the need for a new discipline aimed at treating offenders rather than at just judging and then punishing them, psychiatrists say today.
The proposed new specialty - forensic psychotherapy - will be discussed at the Royal College of Psychiatrists winter meeting in Stratford-upon-Avon. The college is proposing that forensic psychotherapy should be a new profession, with four years of training required to reach consultancy level.
Christopher Cordess, consultant forensic psychiatrist and psychoanalyst at Ealing Hospital in London, said: "As our criminal justice system creaks and cracks and the population of people held in institutions increases there's a recognition by just about everyone involved that we have got to do something and we have got to talk to offenders. It's best that we do it in a way that is supervised and professional rather than haphazard."
Offenders have multiple problems, such as illiteracy or histories of abuse, he said. Forensic psychotherapy could "address their multiple problems and thereby reduce their need to behave in an antisocial way".
Forensic psychotherapy is a marriage of forensic psychiatry, which involves psychiatrists' assessments of offenders, and psychotherapy, which explores childhood social and emotional conditions believed to be the fundamental causes of human actions.
Estela Welldon, honorary senior lecturer in forensic psychotherapy at the Portman Clinic, which runs a new diploma in the subject validated by University College London, said forensic psychiatry was not tackling the problems because it was confined to judging criminals for the courts and punishing them: "The way they see the patient is one-dimensional, not looking at the different layers."
Dr Welldon said that forensic psychotherapy was not "soft", as it aims to change behaviour. "Very few offenders are treated at the moment," she said.