Case study

Forensic psychologist — Ellena

Discover how Ellena supports young offenders struggling with mental and emotional health difficulties in her role as a forensic psychologist

How did you get your job as a forensic psychologist?

After completing a degree in psychology, I worked for four years in two assistant psychologist posts. I then completed my Forensic Psychology Practice Doctorate at the University of Birmingham, graduating in 2016. During my final-year placement, the job advert for my current post working as a forensic psychologist for a youth offending service (YOS) came up.

Although the advert was for a clinical psychologist, and stated that newly-qualified psychologists wouldn't be considered, I contacted them to find out more. Once I'd explained my professional experience, it became clear that I had the knowledge and skills for the job. I sent in my application, attended an interview and was offered the job.

What sort of activities are you involved in?

My role involves providing specialist mental and emotional health support to young people who come into contact with the criminal justice system. I work with the different systems in place around a young person and provide consultation to help professionals better understand the young people they're dealing with.

My weeks are varied. One day I might be in court explaining my assessment of a young person, and the next I'm facilitating group sessions for young people on the periphery of gang involvement. I also complete one-to-one therapeutic interventions around offending behaviour and mental health difficulties.

A lot of my time is also spent supporting colleagues due to the emotionally draining aspects of the work and helping them understand young people's offending behaviour using psychological theories of offending.

What do you enjoy most about being a forensic psychologist?

The best part of my job is getting to know the young people on my caseload and supporting them to change their lives and stop offending. Helping them to manage the impact of the trauma they have experienced, while working with them to identify their strengths and enhance their sense of self, is something which I find very rewarding.

What are the challenges?

The challenges in this setting are plentiful. Working with such complex young people, most of whom have experienced a significant degree of trauma in their childhoods, can be emotionally draining. As well as this, these young people are exposed to danger on a daily basis, which has an impact upon me and my colleagues. It's these complexities that bring teams together, and I have been lucky to work in a very welcoming and supportive YOS.

How is your degree relevant?

My degree is relevant in every way possible. The sound understanding of child development that I gained from my undergraduate degree helps me to understand the psychological functioning of the young people I work with. My doctorate helped me to understand all of the core elements of psychology within a forensic framework and then apply that to the individuals I met through my placements, and now my role at the YOS.

How has your role developed?

I have been able to set up the service in the YOS and really mould the role to respond to what young people need. As a result, I have recently been offered a new role at a higher grade overseeing multiple youth offending services.

What's your advice to others wanting to become forensic psychologists?

  • Make enquiries about jobs before you apply. Psychologists love people who make connections and use their initiative.
  • Be curious, but non-judgemental, of people who access services.
  • Don't give up.