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Sally Lopresti


United Kingdom

More about Sally

"I was aware that Nottingham Trent University were developing a DPsych programme that had practitioners in mind. I have a longstanding relationship with Dr Karen Slade (the course leader) and I knew she had a good understanding of the demands of completing a professional doctorate while working full-time in a challenging role and environment. I was confident that I would receive the type of support I needed from the doctorate team. I think that timing is also important when you embark on something like this and fortunately, the timing of the first cohort intake (2015) was just right for me.

I completed my BSc (Hons) at the University of York in 1998. In 2002, I joined HM Prison Service’s High Security Directorate and was fortunate to have my MSc in Forensic Psychology funded by my employer. I completed it part-time while working as a forensic psychologist in training, graduating in early 2006. In 2008, I entered private practice where I completed the Qualification in Forensic Psychology allowing me to practice as a Chartered and Registered Forensic Psychologist. I returned to the Prison Service in 2015 as a Senior Forensic Psychologist, around the same time as I commenced the DPsych.

I had collaborated in some research with Dr Karen Slade and delivered a couple of lectures at NTU in the two years prior to starting my DPsych. I had always been struck by the friendliness of the place and was impressed with the facilities. The research undertaken by the Sexual Offences, Crime and Misconduct Research Unit (SOCAMRU) was also a real draw for me. The researchers within SOCAMRU are undertaking important and impactful research in collaboration with HM Prison and Probation Service and other stakeholders, specifically in the area of sexual offending. This links closely to my current role working at a prison that houses mainly men convicted of sexual offences. I knew that the researchers at NTU had a very clear understanding of the role and demands of forensic psychology within a secure forensic setting. As a practitioner, it can sometimes feel as though academics are a bit detached from front line work, but that has never been the case with the team at NTU.

For me, it was very important to have the flexibility to study a topic that really interested me. That had been advice repeatedly given to me by a number of people who had already completed doctorates. (If you don't find your topic interesting, it will feel like a really long process!) From the start, it was clear that the DPsych team wanted me to have the freedom to pursue my own research interests, and would provide me with the support I needed to do so. There is no requirement for me to attend NTU frequently, which is particularly relevant given my full-time job and the distance from NTU to home. Supervision can be undertaken by phone or Skype, although I prefer to meet in person when I can. Therefore, the distance learning aspect of the course fits in with the rest of my life really well.

I have also enjoyed and benefitted from the taught workshops that NTU provides to its DPsych students. These usually run over two days and are scheduled for Fridays and Saturdays, which provides a perfect balance between work-time and home time. The workshops have always been tailored thoughtfully and have included, for example, research methods (qualitative, quantitative and mixed), and completing a systematic review (a portfolio requirement). For me, the overall flexibility of the approach, grounded in the course leader's appreciation of the challenges faced when you're working as well as studying, was the biggest selling point.

The library staff have been absolutely amazing. Nothing is too much trouble. Many of the periodicals associated with my topic aren't held by NTU and so I have put in many inter-library loan requests. The staff have been extremely accommodating of my situation (i.e. not being on site often) and have often posted books and papers out to my home address. Our course librarian has also been very responsive to requests for help and I benefitted from an individual meeting with her to discuss my systematic review search criteria as part of my piloting process. I've also attended a couple of library workshops to improve my understanding of literature searching, reviewing, and keeping up to date. It's all been really helpful.

My job role is varied. I'm a Senior Psychologist, based within a male prison that specialises in the assessment and treatment of people convicted of sexual offences. I supervise and line manage Forensic Psychologists in training, I consult on risk management issues linked to safer custody and resettlement, I provide psychological support to the rehab culture agenda at two prisons, I'm involved in embedding trauma-informed practice into our setting, and I'm the regional lead psychologist for the care and management of transgender service users.

I enjoy my job but it can be overwhelming and exhausting and so the biggest challenge for me is having the energy to switch off from it, protect time for my doctorate, and remain motivated to spend weekends and annual leave studying. My DPsych supervisors are appreciative and understanding of these challenges and support me in setting realistic targets for my studies and maintaining my resilience. I should also definitely give a nod to my husband and family because they see a lot less of me at the moment, yet are incredibly supportive of what I'm doing.

My research (clinical considerations for working with transgender service users) has already impacted on my job role. Shortly after commencing the doctorate I was asked to take on the new role of regional lead psychologist for the care and management of transgender service users. This involves contributing clinical knowledge to very complex decision-making relating to the prisons transgender service users are located at, on a case by case basis. I have also been involved in policy development and review at a national level, and staff training. I have presented at conferences and been contacted to provide clinical consultancy on risk assessment and treatment pathways in specific cases. People in my field of work are starting to associate my name with this particular area of practice, and that feels really rewarding.

Already (and I haven't even analysed my data yet!), my growing knowledge of research and policy in this area, as well as my much greater appreciation of the lived experiences of transgender people - in a forensic setting and otherwise - is impacting greatly on what I can bring to my professional practice. I don’t have to wait until the research is published for that to happen. Similarly, my very clear understanding of the difficulties presented by trying to support transgender and non-binary service users within a gender binary prison system impacts upon my current research and motivates me to continue as a practitioner researcher after my doctorate is complete."

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