Exploring enabling environments in approved premises
: A Q methodology

  • John Cordwell

Student thesis: PsychD


There is a need to better understand the social and interpersonal processes in environments supporting individuals released into the community from prison. An Enabling Environment forms part of the national Offender Personality Disorder Pathway and are being implemented with all approved premises in the UK. Current research into understanding psychologically informed practice in either approved premises or in Enabling Environments is in its infancy. This research project explores the experiences of staff working in three approved premises over 18-months as they are engaged in implementing an Enabling Environment. Q Methodology was used to; (1) understand how experts define an Enabling Environment; (2) understand how participants experience their environment before any initiative began; and (3) explore how participants experienced their environment with more practical and social-environmental exposure to this therapeutic culture.

The experts define three core components to an Enabling Environment, namely an interpersonal culture based upon social and relational foundations; a systemic framework of how this can be implemented meaningfully; and a practical model to use to actualise these that is consistent with the objectives of the environment and the wider social system. Analysis of the staff participants revealed predominant viewpoints around the need for a predictable and containing environment that offered safety from physical threat. There were also clearer perspectives at the beginning and end of the study associated with acceptance, inclusion, being curious about others, and in meaningfully relating to each other consistent with Enabling Environment principles. Notably, through the research resource limitations and serious incidents detrimentally impacted how the staff related to their environment. This resulted in staff either acquiescing to residents needs or taking a problem-focussed autocratic approach. This was however repaired at the end of the study with an emerging balance of how dilemmas between risk and offering therapeutic relationships are managed. It is suggested that approved premises achieve an effective service when they can provide residents who have complex needs with a place where they can feel safe, included, where there are boundaries and expectations, and where they are supported in transitioning back into the community after a period in custody.

The findings were discussed in relation to existing literature, salient factors relevant to Enabling Environments in approved premises, and the potential support and supervision that staff may need in delivering and maintaining such environments. Limitations to the study include the fact that Q methodology means there is a more limited ability to generalise the findings beyond the approved premises in the study, the possibility of potential methodological and researcher biases through the development of the Concourse, the small number of participants meaning that the data from the three approved premises was analysed collectively and the fact that research took place at three approved premises that at the time were undergoing structural and organisational change. Recommendations for further research is acknowledged and suggested.
Date of Award10 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SponsorsOxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
SupervisorCecilia Essau (Director of Studies), Robert Edelmann (Co-Supervisor) & Diane Bray (Co-Supervisor)


  • Enabling Environment
  • Therapeutic Environment
  • Therapeutic Culture
  • Approved Premise

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