Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behaviour, and comes in many forms (eg clinical, sport, educational). Fully qualified psychologists in New Zealand can be registered under one (or more) of five scopes: general, clinical, educational, counselling or as a neuropsychologist.

Psychologists, including Corrections psychologists, often complete at least six years of study at university, some of which is spent completing a research degree (Masters or Doctorate/PhD) as well as 1,500 hours of supervised practice as part of an internship/practicum.

"The theme for this year’s Psychology Week in May was ‘Kia Atawhai – Showing Kindness’, and we wanted to use the week to acknowledge our psychology work force who have been continuing to adapt to challenging work conditions over the last two years," says Senior Adviser Psychology Programmes Nick Farrelly.

"In a nutshell, this has involved most psychologists continuing to provide critical services while working from home, when they’d much rather be doing the mahi kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face)."

With the support of the Chief Psychologist/General Manager Psychology and Programmes Jessica Borg and Regional Ops Directors, teams were able to reconnect ā-tinana (in person) in an informal setting, with a shared meal. This was also an opportunity to recognise long-service in the psychology field with Whanonga Pono awards.

Psychologists from Ara Poutama Aotearoa also featured in an online panel discussion during the week, which was run by the Institute of Criminal Justice and Forensic Psychology. The topic for discussion was ‘Showing kindness in the forensic/correctional field’. Senior Advisor Psychology Programmes Diane Farrell spoke about kindness within Ara Poutama Aotearoa and how it is embedded throughout our strategy, Hōkai Rangi. Her kōrero was complemented by perspectives from students, private psychologists and academics (Associate Professor Julia Ioane and Associate Professor Gwenda Willis), and this was attended by students, psychologists, members of the public as well as other academics, and members of our own Kaupapa Māori Practice Team.

We employ more than 200 psychologists who work directly with the people we manage to assess their risk of re-offending. They communicate this information to the New Zealand Parole Board and to the Courts, to guide their decisions. Psychologists also deliver interventions, either in group programmes or one-on-one, aimed at reducing the likelihood of re-offending. In 2020/21, 633 people in prison and 460 people in the community received one-on-one treatment from a Corrections psychologist.

We also have psychologists working in Intervention and Support Units (ISUs) as part of a multi-disciplinary teams, which may include social workers and occupational therapists. Finally, we have psychologists who are also involved in the development of our rehabilitation programmes, delivering training to therapy staff, providing advice and guidance to the field, managing staff, and conducting and contributing to research.

“In contrast to what you might see on TV, psychologists do more than provide a couch for people to describe their childhoods on,” says Nick. “It’s essential to discuss the past to understand an individual’s present, but most time and effort goes into learning new ways of thinking and behaving, as well as planning how these strategies and tools can be applied in the future.”

While part of the psychologist’s role is to assess levels of risk, and communicate this to the New Zealand Parole Board and to the Courts, it is also the role of the psychologist to identify individual strengths that will not only assist in reducing the likelihood of harm in the future, but also improve the wellbeing of the individual and their whānau.