Exploring how effective working relationships are constructed in talk in a groupwork programme to address sexual offending

E. Mullins

University of Edinburgh, emullins@exceed.ac.uk / evemullins@gmail.com       


The main delivery of intervention with offenders for behavioural change is through working relationships with professionals.  Current approaches such as the Risk-Needs-Responsivity model and the Good Lives Model emphasise the impact of effective working relationships in reducing recidivism and maintaining offenders’ engagement with treatment. Previous research has used both quantitative methods to demonstrate links between practitioner skills, for example expressing empathy, respect and warmth, and offender behaviour post treatment, and qualitative research interviews to retrospectively explore individuals’ views of what makes working relationships effective.  It is yet to be established how working relationships are interactionally built and maintained through talk.


This paper introduces an ongoing PhD study focussing on practitioners’ practice skills in groupwork sessions with male sexual offenders in Scotland. The focus of the current paper therefore is descriptive, i.e. appraising previous research and outlining how the present study intends to meet current gaps in knowledge and practice, with preliminary findings.


Utilising naturalistic qualitative methods of discourse and conversational analysis, the talk-in-interaction between criminal justice practitioners and offenders will be explored within video-recorded groupwork sessions.  These sessions occur in a community setting within the context of the recently implemented ‘Moving Forward Making Changes’ programme in Scotland, a programme derived from the Good Lives Model.


This study offers the potential of accessing interactions in situ, and is therefore high in ecological validity. How clients and practitioners construct effective working relationships, and the interpersonal skills associated with longevity of such relationships are of theoretical and practical value when considering the harm and costs associated with sexual offending.


Eve Mullins is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. This PhD is a collaborative project with a Scottish Local Authority and the Scottish Risk Management Authority. Her research is examining the practice skills social workers use in working with sexual offenders, and how these link to theories of desistance. Eve qualified as a social worker in 2010 and since then has been working in the field of Criminal Justice Social Work (Corrections), in a variety of roles. Her research interests include Social Work profession, corrections, conversation analysis, social constructionism, offending behaviour, desistance and effective practice skills.

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