“All crimes are committed by – and happen to – people. Forensic psychology is about them.”

Kerry Daynes

Those who follow my social media (the links are to the right!) will know that I’ve started a Forensic Psychology course with Centre of Excellence. I’m only onto Module Two and have been so fascinated that I started looking for books on the subject on Amazon and I came across Kerry Dayne’s book, The Dark Side of The Mind. I immediately bought it and searched for her on Twitter and I was over the moon to see that her direct message inbox was open. When she replied? I was even happier! A little bit shocked too – I mean it’s a little surreal to have someone who’s name is on a book you’re holding message you on social media!

So, here’s the result of our conversation – my favourite parts of her book, a Q&A with Kerry Daynes, and a competition to win a signed copy of her book!

To win a signed copy of Kerry’s book, all you have to do is go to my Twitter (here) and share the pinned tweet! (Each person will be given a number in order of when they shared it and an app will randomly choose one number!) 

1.     Have you always wanted to work in Psychology? What did you want to be when you were really little? 

I think I wanted to be a singer when I was very young, which was a non-starter as I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.  When I was sixteen, a school careers counsellor suggested I study psychology, as I was interested in working in advertisingAt university I combined my psychology with law modules, because the law classes had the best-looking boys, and the rest is history! 

2.     If you could give one piece of advice for someone about to start University, what would it be? 

Work hard and play hard. 

3.     Who is the first client that you remember working with? 

I suppose the first person I worked that you might describe as a client, was a gentleman with learning disabilities who had made a false confession to police. I was doing voluntary work as an Appropriate during my final year of university to get some relevant work experience Adult (supporting vulnerable people during police custody and interviews). Luckily for him, the situation resolved quite quickly, and we were both able to leave the station in the early hours of the morning without his being charged with wasting police time.  

The next job after that was in HMP Wakefield conducting research with sex offenders and this is where things started to get ‘interesting’. 

4.     Which client has stood out the most and why? 

This is one of the questions I am asked the most and find it impossible to answerI have played my small role in literally hundreds of people’s stories over a twenty-five-year career and a great many stand out in my memory, for any number of reasons. People sometimes ask me ‘who is the worst person you have worked with?’ I assume they mean who has committed the most appalling crimes - it is a very negative, titillating and hierarchical way to look at people and not at all what I am about.    

For my book, I chose to write about cases that were either career firsts for me (e.g. the first homicide case I worked on as an expert witness, a woman who had killed her abusive husband, or the first time I helped with a police inquiry, a cool burglar-turned-killer) or that had struck a chord with me, personally or professionally.    

5.       If you could give five tips on coping with hearing upsetting case stories, what would they be? 

a.       Your emotions work four times faster than your thoughts, make pausing -taking that little bit of time to take a deep breath, relax your body and collect yourself – a daily habit. 

b.       Try to find some purpose, value/learning or meaning within it. Focus on whatever positive aspects of it that you can take forward. 

c.       Find your perspectiveIt is easy to think, when you hear a distressing story, that ALL the world is a bad place etc. I find it useful to step back and think about all the opposite experiences people have and be grateful for those. Also, I remind myself that people are so much larger and more complex than something they have done/what happened to them.    

d.       Take a break from it, you can make time to think about it later. I love to walk my dogs and find it particularly helpful when I need to cut-off from a hard job for a while.  

e.       This kind of job/reading/tv programme/conversation etc. isn’t for everybody and that’s ok. If you find yourself particularly reactive, do yourself a favour and limit your exposure to (or even completely avoid) upsetting material. I often take holidays from news and social media and the last thing I watch on tv are crime dramas etc!  

6.     Which mental health diagnosis do you see the most in your clients and why do you think that is? 

It depends on the setting. In hospitals I see a lot of ‘schizophrenia’ and ‘borderline/emotionally unstable personality disorder’ diagnoses; in the community I see huge amounts of ‘anxiety disorder’ and ‘depressive disorder’ diagnosesYou really shouldn’t read anything into this, they are simply the most over-used labels. 

Diagnoses are just that, short-hand labels. Some people find them helpful and others find them extremely oppressive. My personal view is that people deserve to be summed up in more than just one word, and that is why I favour psychological formulations over diagnoses. A psychological formulation is a description of what has happened to someone, how they have made sense of it and how they are affected. What I see every day are people who are distressed and struggling as a result of trauma, relationship problems, discrimination, poverty, loneliness and stress etc. This is far more relevant than what medical tag they come with. 

7.     Have you ever questioned your own judgement on a client and their case? How did you cope with that? 

All the time! I think that if you aren’t questioning your own judgement then you aren’t thinking hard enough. A good psychologist knows that, no matter how clever they are (or think they are) they are just as prone to bias and thinking errors as the next person.     

8.     Do you ever wish you’d chosen a different career? What has helped keep you motivated to continue to pursue Psychology? 

I tell everyone that I wished I’d become a vet! I was extremely driven in my early twenties; forensic psychology is a fascinating subject matter and the variety of people that you meet with jaw-dropping stories keeps you interestedBy the time my over-worked brain found time to become accustomed to it all and start to burn out, I’d already got two degrees and spent five years doing all the training I needed to become a Chartered psychologist, so there was no turning back! In all honesty though, of course there have been times when I have felt like giving it all up, but my love of psychology as a subject and my innate interest in the welfare of other people always sucks me back in.     

9.     How did you find the writing and publishing process? Fun or scary? 

The Dark Side Of The Mind was written on a very, very tight deadline so I found the process incredibly stressful. Even I was surprised by how personal to me some of the chapters turned out, so it was also a therapeutic, cathartic experienceThe response to the book since it has been published has been incredible; that is definitely the fun part. I was apprehensive about how it would be received, particularly as I make no bones about the fact that I disapprove of much that goes on in the criminal justice and mental health systems. I’ve received hundreds of messages of support, from other psychologists and Mental Health Nurses etc, but also from service users, victims of crime and even ex-offenders. I‘m blown away that it has been so widely read and it seems to resonate in some way with all of those groups.   

10.  What are your plans for the future? Is a second book on the cards? 

All I can say on the subject of a second book at the moment is ‘watch this space’- I hope to be making an announcement very soon.  I’d also love to try my hand at crime fiction, based on real-life psychology of course.  Other than that, the Covid-19 crisis has put projects on hold but there are some new crime documentaries in the pipeline that I will be a part of

To win a signed copy of Kerry’s book, all you have to do is go to my Twitter (here) and share the pinned tweet! (Each person will be given a number in order of when they shared it and an app will randomly choose one number!) 

Let me start my ‘review’ by saying that I’ve read this book three times now; the first was to see what I thought, the second was because I was struggling with my own mental health, and the third was to pick quotes for this piece! I won’t lie; I think I’ve only ever written a handful of book reviews, so I am by no means an expert in writing them… So, rather than review the technical aspects of Kerry’s writing (because I think I’d be incapable and inefficient in doing so!), I’ll be talking about different pieces of the book that I can relate to.

A bit of context: The Dark Side of The Mind is largely made up of stories of Kerry’s work with different clients and is peppered with facts and extra information relevant to each case. In the book, Kerry tells of how she chose which stories to use: “I’ve included these particular stories for many reasons – some are heart-breaking, others are enraging, some are just plain weird. What connects them is my personal sense of having been affected by them…”

The importance and meaning of these stories and the fact that they make up the majority of the book, mean that I won’t be expanding on any of the quotes I’ve taken. I won’t be explaining what context they were used or which stories they related to because I don’t want to give away the entire book and stop people from buying it! And I can relate to so much of this book and the things Kerry has said that I would literally end up telling you the contents of the book…

“… civilized society has such fixed ideas about who criminals are – we carry around out internalized profiles of the law-breakers, existing in negative relief to us, the good ones. And one of the many consequences when we psychologically divorce ourselves from them in this way, dehumanize them even, consider them monsters, is that we become blind to those who are moving among us.”

For so many reasons, I’m sadly unable to disclose who my abuser was because apparently even though he refuses to accept responsibility for what he has done to me, he deserves anonymity. What I can say though is that his career put him in a position of power and trust over my life and the lives of others, and he was always very well respected in his place of employment. This meant that I had the conviction that no one would believe him capable of doing what he had. It was infuriating that no one could see the side of him that I experienced. Fortunately, when I reported the abuse to the Police his colleagues all gave statements to the effect that having seen mine and his ‘relationship’ a lot of it now made sense to think that the abuse was going on behind closed doors. Basically, they hadn’t seen it at the time but in hindsight, they could believe it was true. This quote from Kerry, really rings true as to a reason why a lot of people missed the signs of what was happening to me – what he was doing to me. It shouldn’t take hindsight.

“It’s not a decision that comes easily, to end your life.”

I’ve always found this a tricky issue to talk about because I don’t ever want it to sound as though I’m ‘praising’ those who attempt suicide by saying that I think it’s a very strong and brave decision to make. I feel that I can say this because I know first-hand just how difficult it is to make the ‘decision’ to end your life. I say ‘decision’ because sometimes, it felt to me, as though it were the only option – the only way out. I mean, if there was a glimmer of hope and the prospect that something else could help me then surely, I would have opted for the alternative?! This is something that sparks the accusations that suicide is the ‘easy way out’ – I honestly think that those who say this, have clearly never experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings. If they had – or if they supported someone who had – then they’d know it’s probably one of the hardest emotions to go through; it’s overwhelmingly powerful.

“Telling our personal stories, naming and acknowledging our experiences, is fundamentally how human beings make sense of our world.”

I feel that this really sums up my blog/writing because – for me – my blog is all about trying to tell others about my journey in the hope that doing so, will help me to make sense of it and appreciate why everything has happened/is happening. Having the ability to tell people what I’ve been through on such a popular (we’re almost at three quarters of a million readers!) platform, is a hugely rewarding opportunity and something that I don’t take lightly. I also appreciate being taught the names of what I’ve gone through; ‘rape’, ‘abuse’ and ‘grooming’ are sometimes very difficult words for me to say but mostly, they’re helpful. Naming my experiences has helped me to see that I am not alone in them. Of course, sometimes this is upsetting to think that even just one other person has experienced something similar (because I believe they will never be the same) to me and has felt the way I’ve felt. I try to look at it in a positive light though and see that not only does this fact mean I’m not alone, it also means that people have come through the ‘other side’ of these things.

“This little trio had more compassion in that moment than any of the staff…”

I feel that sometimes, other service users, patients, clients – whichever label you prefer to use – are more compassionate, empathetic, and kind than mental health staff! This might sound a bit accusatory but until you’ve been an inpatient or have attended therapy groups, you might not understand or experience this. For me, being an inpatient on a ward that specialised in Personality Disorders meant that I could relate – in some way and to some degree – to all of the other inpatients there. Even though I acknowledge that we each had different triggers, exhibited our ‘symptoms’ in different ways, and had different outlooks and attitudes, we all shared the same diagnosis. There were people who self-harmed, people who’d attempted suicide, others who’d been abused, some who had difficulty controlling their anger… It definitely made for a volatile and never boring environment/atmosphere, but it also meant that we could identify with one another on a level that most of the staff could not.

“Walking into a room full of people who you know have just been talking about you is a daunting prospect for anyone… in this instance the patients have to defer to a team of professionals debating the inner workings of their mind and determining what is right for them… They tried so hard to maintain a veneer of sanity in the ward round.”

Ward rounds in a psychiatric hospital are different for each ward, each hospital, each organisation… This description, however, is pretty universally true and something that the majority will have in common. In the specialist psychiatric hospital I was in for two and a half years, I tried to have ward rounds changed so that the inpatient would go into the ward round at the very beginning and then any private discussions that weren’t appropriate for them to hear, could be done afterwards. I thought that it’d demolish that fear and anxiety of going in when the professionals have already been talking about you for God knows how long! The other challenge with ward rounds was – as Kerry says – that for every aspect of your life, you have to defer to the staff. It isn’t just the act that has caused your admission to hospital that’s out of control, the entire hospital admission is out of your control too! Professionals will say that this is about gaining trust from them, but it really feels as though you have to ‘deserve’ the right to have a say in your own life.

“If you’re considered mad, all your behaviour is construed as madness”

This made me think of a couple of occasions where I’ve been through something really upsetting in my life and have begun struggling – whether that means losing my appetite, sleeping a lot, crying – and professionals have seen it as a step backwards or a relapse. I’ve had to try everything to get across to them that actually, my response is perfectly valid and understandable considering what’s happened and so long as I’m not self-harming or feeling suicidal, it’s a totally safe and healthy response. It’s not always seen this way though, once you have a mental health diagnosis all your behaviours can be seen as ‘symptoms.’

“Sometimes you just have to sit with a person, validate what they are feeling and not be afraid of their pain and grief.”

This little quote really made me wish that I had Kerry as my Psychologist when my mental health first got poorly because this is exactly what I needed, and it took years for services to realize. Validation is so important in mental health; it sort of links to the previous quote in that the previous talks about professionals doing the opposite. Not feeling validated can be demeaning and patronizing; it can seem as though people aren’t taking your experiences seriously or just absolutely don’t even believe you’re having them!

“… being given a psychiatric diagnosis is helpful for some people – it acknowledges the real difficulties that people experience and can allow them to obtain the help and support they need.”

I found being given my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) mostly helpful because it gave me the chance to access the more appropriate services. Mainstream psychiatric services are usually not really adequate to provide help and support for someone with a Personality Disorder (and some other diagnosis like Eating Disorders) because the staff aren’t specially trained in managing the very difficult ‘symptoms.’ During my years in and out of services, I was told that I have a secondary diagnosis of Transient Psychosis and I’ve definitely found that I get a different response from healthcare professionals (both medical and psychiatric) depending on which diagnosis I mention first. If I talk about BPD then I’m usually dismissed, but if I tell them about the Psychosis then I’m more often shown more kindness and validation. It shouldn’t be this way. All psychiatric disorders should be treated equally and without stigma and prejudice.

“When life in the outside world is an unkind and uncertain prospect, the psychiatric set up offers care and sanctuary.”

I wanted to include this quote, even though it’s not particularly relevant to me; I think it sheds light on the possibility of psychiatric service users becoming institutionalized. When I was an inpatient for two and a half years, there was another inpatient there who’d been admitted about a year or two before me and whenever she came close to being discharged, she would self-harm. I know I can’t really say for certain that she had become comfortable with, and reliant on, psychiatric services but that’s what it looked like. And I don’t blame her; even though I would never say I had been institutionalized, it was incredibly strange and scary when I was discharged after two and a half years. To go from having people around me 24/7 to having just my pets as my regular company, was a difficult thing to get used to.

“You shine the light, and hobble with them to the end of the tunnel, but you can’t make them step out.”

This speaks to the whole attitude that you have to want to get better, otherwise it doesn’t matter how much advice and support is thrown your way. When I woke up from life support after a suicide attempt and was told I had to go to a psychiatric hospital, I only agreed because I’d seen how upset my Mum had been in thinking that I was going to die. I’d get told all the time that I had to want recovery for myself, but I always had the thought process that it shouldn’t matter why you’re engaging in therapy, listening to advice, and accepting support. The important thing should be that you’re doing it. For me, it was a case of ‘I’ll co-operate for the sake of my Mum until I’m ready to want to do it for myself.

“There’s an unhelpful tendency, even among those caring for them, to see this disproportionately female group as manipulative and attention-seeking. The term ‘drama queen’ was probably coined – unfairly – about someone with BPD.”

I sometimes wonder if my mental health would have gotten as poorly as it did if professionals have been as good with their response as they – mostly – are these days! Before I went into hospital in 2012, I was labelled an attention-seeker numerous times and it wasn’t until I ended up on life support in intensive care that they actually sat up and realized I was genuinely struggling! As I progressed through recovery, I could begin to understand the misguided assumption that I was attention seeking because a large reason why I would self-harm or attempt suicide was as a result of the hallucinations and of course, no one could see or hear just how troubling and triggering they were. To the professionals, I was hurting myself for reasons they could never comprehend.

“What’s certain is that whatever a person with this label is doing, they aren’t having a good time, or trying to provoke people merely for the hell of it. Yet the term ‘personality disorder’ is innately accusatory, the diagnostic equivalent of a wagging finger. These people have been bruised; describing them as disordered makes it sound like their character; their innermost core, is somehow wilfully and irretrievably flawed.”

I just thought that this quote summed up the reasoning (though much more eloquently than I could describe it!) behind my blog’s name! When I first spoke to Kerry she said that she loved I’m NOT Disordered’s name and I was so chuffed because I’d like to think that it says a lot about the message I want it my blog posts to convey. I want people to realize that the Personality Disorder diagnosis should not mean that is who that person is. Or that it is all that they are as though the mental health diagnosis is the most monumental thing about a person.

“As a child, she had learned to cope with the abject horror of her childhood abuse by cutting off from and ‘floating’ outside herself.”

I’m sceptical that dissociating from the abuse really helped me in the grand scheme of things. I mean, in that moment, while the abuse was taking place, it was the only way I could survive it but later, it became a hinderance. When I reported the abuse, I couldn’t give some of the details that might have helped to prosecute him because I’d dissociated and could only remember parts of the abuse from the view of being on the ceiling watching it happen to someone else. It also didn’t help because it taught my body that it was a good coping mechanism, but as I got older it became more debilitating and led to me finding myself in some very scary and dangerous situations.

“She needed to know that what had happened to her was wrong and someone was genuinely sorry that it was allowed to happen.”

It took me years to fully realize that what had happened to me was wrong because we hadn’t had much sex education at School, there weren’t all the stories in the media about abuse as there are these days, and my abuser repeatedly reassured me that he loved me and that nothing was wrong with what he was doing. Deep down, though, it didn’t feel right; I mean surely, someone wasn’t allowed to hurt you so badly?! To finally be told by Police and other professionals that what had happened shouldn’t have and that they were sorry it had taken place, was beyond validating. It was a relief.

To win a signed copy of Kerry’s book, all you have to do is go to my Twitter (here) and share the pinned tweet! (Each person will be given a number in order of when they shared it and an app will randomly choose one number!)

To read the context of these quotes and more fantastic words; you can buy The Dark Side Of The Mind on Amazon here

And follow Kerry on Twitter here

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