Using the Gift Within to Help Stressed Prisoners

Dr. Mark Burgin BM BCh (oxon) MRCGP explains The Gift Within psychological technique can make it possible to do therapeutic work with an overwhelmed prisoner.


The Gift Within is a technique that builds a person’s self confidence by looking at the person’s best aspects rather than criticising their mistakes.

Prisoners often get stuck with thoughts about their crime, by going over and over what happened they sink into self-loathing and blame.

This is challenging to those who want to help because the person becomes too hurt to engage with therapeutic work and can show self-destructive behaviours.

These prisoners are difficult for prisons to manage as they are at risk of self-harm and are more likely to suffer assaults from other prisoners.


Balance in personality

It has been recognised that many systems show dualism where apparently opposite things share a common thread as in Ying-Yang.

All features in personality have both a good and a bad aspect, e.g. the person who hurts their partner often has strong feelings for them.

Starting with the negative aspects that the prisoner offers, the therapist can find a linked positive aspect that can allow discussion about how to avoid recidivism.

Relationships in prison are often more challenging than those outside so that the prisoner will often have recent experiences that show a pattern for the therapist to explore.


Positive strokes

Prisoners who are struggling can be unaware of how their behaviour can impact those they are living with whether family or fellow prisoners.

Discussing how people make each other good helps the prisoner become aware of how rarely they give positive strokes and how important they are to themselves.

Learning to how to give others positive strokes improves their self-confidence and makes it likely that other prisoners and officers will treat them better.

Once a prisoner becomes confident with how to give positive strokes the therapist can start work on reducing the number negative strokes that they give.


Personal impact

Prisoners who feel broken and hurt signal to all those around them how they feel by the ways that they move, look at people, clothes and talk to others.

Explaining that people are judged within a few seconds of meeting them on their personal impact can gain the interest of the prisoner and open a conversation.

Using the objective way that a prisoner looks can be more powerful than relying on inconsistent subjective explanations from a prisoner who wants to find the right answer.

Explaining that the signals they are sending are defence reactions gives the prisoner the chance to ask what the signals are protecting without feeling attacked.



The Gift Within allows the therapist to help the prisoner accept themselves as flawed and offer solutions to their immediate problems.

To avoid using challenge the therapist must focus on rapport, giving positive strokes and their own non-verbal communication and expect progress to be slow.

Although these techniques themselves will reduce the prisoner’s stress and improve their behaviour they are intended to be prepare them for a course of talking therapy.

Prisons need cost effective methods for managing stress in prisoners and The Gift Within combines a way of reaching the overwhelmed and reducing offending and need for supervision.


Doctor Mark Burgin, BM BCh (oxon) MRCGP is on the General Practitioner Specialist Register.

Dr. Burgin can be contacted for on and 0845 331 3304 website