According to the British Psychological Society (n.d.) the Power Threat Meaning Framework applies to everyone. This framework was initially created as an alternative to more traditional psychiatric nomenclatures. This model is trauma-informed and it is utilised by high profile hospitals such as Rampton Hospital (Willmot and Siddall, 2022).
The framework consists in asking four initial questions, which answers can then be re-used to answer the two final questions. Willmot and Siddall (2022, pp. 32-33) state that the framework can also be ‘applied to understanding the needs of people who offend or behave in challenging ways’. The framework makes some assumptions about trauma:
- Mental illness and behavioural problems can be understood by analysing the role of power abuse.
- Abuses of power can impact negatively on people and can restrict them to the point where individuals might not be able to meet their most basic needs.
- Much of what we know as psychopathology can also be understood as learned responses people have developed to adapt or survive to adverse circumstances.
The framework looks into the negative operation of power in a holistic way based on a person’s narrative. It is recognised that power can be biological/embodied, coercive, economic, social, cultural, and interpersonal. It also recognises that much of this reality is configured to privilege ‘white, male, heterosexual, wealthy, educated, and mentally healthy people’ (Willmot and Siddall, 2022, pp. 32-33).
Threat within the scope of this framework refers to the risks related to abuses of power which can prevent a person from meeting their core needs. There are several types of threats such as physical, economic, health, social, emotional, quality of life, disability, or deprivation threats. These threatening events or potentials can lead to relational dysfunctions, disrupted attachments, abandonment fears; feelings of betrayal, shame, guilt, insecurity, and entrapment.
The framework is also person-centred, and recognises that every individual is unique. This leads to the assumption that people interpret events and give meaning to these events in unique ways. For instance, male and women due to societal stereotypes might have different expectations for behaviour. Different cultures give different meaning to different events, for instance, some cultures would engage in honour-abuse of girls who have been sexually assaulted. Therefore, the social, environmental, and political contexts all influence meaning.
The framework posits that much of what we know as psychopathology are responses people develop to perceived threats in order to cope and/or survive (Willmot and Siddall, 2022). Ultimately, people at times develop specific habits, behaviours, or personality patterns as a result of their unmet needs. Hence, this framework seeks to ask some questions which answers can elucidate the unique perspective of the individual, potential power abuse triggers, as well as unique needs that must be met. These are the questions:
- What has happened to you? (i.e. How is power operating in your life?)
- How did it affect you? (i.e. What kind of threats did this pose?)
- What sense did you make of it? (i.e. What is the meaning of these situations and experiences to you?)
- What did you have to do to survive? (i.e. What kind of threat responses are you using?)
- What are your strengths? (i.e. What access to power resources do you have?)
- What is your story? (i.e. Pulling of these reflections together)
These questions allow for the understanding of how a person has experienced abuses of power, the threats that resulted from such dynamics, the unique meaning a person gave to these events, and the specific threat responses that were developed as a result, as well as the strengths. Having this information in place, proactive support plans can be formulated ensuring that all interventions are trauma-informed, and person-centred.
British Psychological Society (n.d.) ‘Power Threat Meaning Framework’ [Online]. Available at https://www.bps.org.uk/power-threat-meaning-framework (accessed 29 April 2022).
Willmot, P. and Siddall, Y. (2022) ‘Trauma, Violence, and Gender’, in Willmot, P. and Jones, L. (eds) Trauma-Informed Forensic Practice, London, Routledge, pp. 32-48 [Online]. Available at https://www.routledge.com/Trauma-Informed-Forensic-Practice/Willmot-Jones/p/book/9780367626914 (accessed 29 April 2022).