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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Death Row Counseling

Today's assessment comes from Jenness. Here's what she sent me:

One of my heroine is on death row and meets with a psychologist shortly after her execution date is set. I have no idea what kind of things she will be asked, and need help from the doctor's perspective. Would you have any thoughts on that?

Of course I have thoughts. :) I only hope that they will be helpful for you.

Likely the psychologist would be processing with her about what she had done to get on death row and her feelings about it: remorse, guilt, outrage (if innocent), etc. I imagine dealing with the fears of dying, or anxiety or whatever else she might feel, would also be discussed. There might be some discussion about what method of execution she'll undergo...some psychoeducational stuff to prepare her (like if by injection, exactly what would happen, how she might feel, etc).

The only thing I don't see the psychologist ASKING, but would probably go into it if the client brought it up, is her background, personal problems or something like that. I mean, at this stage, she's in jail, about to die, and there probably wouldn't be much motivation to delve into all that. But I suppose it's a probability.

I've never counseled someone on death row, so these are definitely suppositions. However, I've counseling individuals who knew they faced death via a terminal illness. While it's a bit different in terms of the "how" and "why" of death, it's not at all different in terms of the waiting. Those I've counseled fixate on how mortal they are. They ask questions of "Why me?" and I imagine those on death row would probably still ask this question (even though the justice system knows exactly "why them").

I think the counselor's role in this type of situation is a much more passive one. I'm not advocating not having a treatment plan, but just listening to the inmate would be the primary goal. Listening to them talk about whoever or whatever they want. They might resent the psychologist trying to take a more active role (then again, they might not). Either way, it's imperative for the therapist to take a person-centered approach to the sessions using unconditional positive regard and empathy for the client.

Q4U: What do you think might be on your mind were you facing execution?

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to

Wordle: signature


Stephanie Faris said...

It would be hard to get into the mindset of someone on death row. I'm not sure I can even imagine what someone would be going through in that situation.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

WOw, this is a hard one to think about. I think I'd be blubbering with every word I wrote on a story like that. But I agree, I doubt a counselor would force a discussion on their past, but if they sought one, then I'm sure the counselor would comply.

Man, I hope this character is innocent and the therapist ends up getting a stay of execution until they can prove his/her innocence. We don't have the death penalty in Canada, and I'm so glad for it. I just couldn't play God.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Have you ever read Jerry B. Jenkins' "Riven"? It's about prison ministry in a supermax, and one of the main characters is on death row. It might be good fictional research just to get in the mindset.

Jill Kemerer said...

I try not to dwell too much on what I'd think about if I were on death row. Too depressing. I can get morbit quick. But I like how you give realistic details about how a therapist would act. As always, very helpful.

PatriciaW said...

I was going to recommend reading RIVEN, but I see Kristen has already done that. Excellent book with real insights into a spiritual counselor, a pastor, faced with counseling a death row inmate. Fiction yes, but I'm betting Jerry Jenkins did research before he wrote this.

I don't want to even think about being in a situation that would get me anywhere near death row.

Tara McClendon said...

I think that some people in this situation might wonder what's next. Is there a God? What do they need to do to be saved? Can God really forgive them? Or is it the end? Not a fun place to be.

Terri Tiffany said...

Lots and lots of prayer!
I saw some pictures of you at the conference, Did you love it?

Unknown said...

Interesting situation. A story about a psychologist who dealt regularly with inmates on death row might make for any interesting premise in itself - or even a series!

Jessica Nelson said...

Very interesting. Wow. I don't know what would be going through my head. Don't the inmates meet with a religious person too? I really want to read Riven. I heard it was very good.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

i'm going to have to pick up this book, y'all! thanks for the suggestion!

Stephanie said...

Hi Jeannie-
I too an a therapist and writer. I am working on my first book, a memoir about my own journey of love and loss. Your blog is so helpful in staying on target with the various things we often forget in our busy lives. I'll be stopping by regularly!
Thanks for the info!

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.