An interview with: Ivan Burchess, Clinical Psychologist and Independent Expert Witness at Carter Brown

We recently sat down with Clinical Psychologist and Independent Expert Witness for Carter Brown, Ivan Burchess, to find out more about his passion for the role and what it entails.

What is your role at Carter Brown and how long have you been part of the Carter Brown team of independent experts? 

I’m a Clinical Psychologist and have been working with Carter Brown for around 10 years. I carry out psychological assessments on behalf of Carter Brown for Court.  I also do some therapeutic and intervention work for Carter Brown when I sometimes get asked to follow up on the interventions that I recommend in Court reports or other experts have recommended. I do work with children, adults and often whole families

I deal with a range of issues. I am particularly interested in working with people with developmental disabilities, like learning disabilities, autism and ADHD.  I do quite a lot of work assessing people’s capacity to make decisions over a variety of issues. I have also developed a particular interest in parental alienation

Most of the work that I do is for the family courts, but I do some criminal work and, from time to time, I’ve done some personal injury work. 

The other role I have which is developing role is the role of a mentor. I have supported two or three psychologists that have been recently recruited or started expert work and provided them with some support. I have found this interesting and enjoyable. 

What made you choose Carter Brown? 

I worked in the NHS for around 30 years. When I started to work independently, I wanted to have a broad portfolio of work, as I had when working with the NHS. I got invited to do a variety of work with different organisations but had a particular interest in doing some medical legal work. I knew that Carter Brown was involved in this, so I contacted them.

When I contacted Carter Brown, I was invited to an induction session. I went to the offices in Mansfield and met a few people from the organisation. I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the individuals I met and the welcome I received.

Could you provide us with a broader definition of the types of assessments/categories of assessments that you complete? What is your main driver in your line of work? 

Why do I do it? The bottom line is, I want to make a difference. I’ve always wanted to make a difference. I have always wanted to improve the quality of people’s lives. 

As a Clinical Psychologist there many ways you can do that. I’ve been very fortunate in my career and worked directly with individuals and families, helping them to understand their difficulties and supporting them in addressing these.  I have also through training and supervision enabled others to work psychologically and as well as working systemically in developing, managing and leading psychologically informed services.

I worked in the NHS for a long time and as my career progressed at times was frustrating because you can be some distance from the interface of working with directly individuals and families. So I find the assessments I do for Court very rewarding. You have specific set of questions to address and a limited amount of time to complete your assessment. You don’t have the flexibility you have when working as clinician and I like the focus and discipline required.

What you’re doing actually matters, it counts. You’re giving advice and opinions to Court that’s going to make a difference to children’s lives or families lives. I can’t think of anything more important: whether a child stays with their family or doesn’t stay with their family. It is a serious responsibility. I’ve been doing it for some time, and there are times when I wake in the middle of the night and worry that I have come to the right conclusions – but despite this I think it’s a privilege to do this sort of work.

The intellectual challenge is rewarding. I’ve learnt so much. Every case has its own uniqueness, and inevitably in completing the assessment I have needed to research particular issues and increased by knowledge.

You did mention that you are more passionate about some specific types of assessments, like learning disabilities. Is there a reason you feel like you can help them more in that specific area, or is there a driver that attracts you to that?

I’ve always been enthused by trying to address oppression. When I started my career 40 years ago, people with learning disabilities really were oppressed in so many ways and I wanted to do something about that.  

I have spent much of my career challenging false assumptions about people with learning disability, such as they shouldn’t have intimate relationships and are unable to live ordinary lives.

I believe that we have the expertise and technology to give people a better understanding of their difficulties and to live healthy lives.

What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent expert?  

There are a number of things that I find challenging. One of those is the risk of being isolated. In the past I’ve worked with lots of colleagues, big departments, offices shared with other people, but now I work independently I have one colleague that works with me but that’s it. Every time you take on a case, invariably it’s new, it’s unique, it’s with a solicitor you haven’t worked with before or a local authority that you might not have worked with before, so you don’t have any familiarity or established relationships. That isolation or feeling of being alone can be a challenge.

Giving evidence in Court is invariably anxiety provoking, but I have to date been treated well at Court and when being cross examined. 

Could you give us a few examples of positive outcomes from cases you’ve been involved in (within Carter Brown)? 

What I have found most pleasing is playing a key role in reuniting children with their parents, and when necessary help ensure children are kept safe when their parents are unable to do so.  

There have been a few cases recently, when I have been asked to assess particularly complex children and a formulation is needed by those trying to support the young person.  Helping to provide clarity as to what the difficulties and priorities are and the factors that have contributed and are maintaining these and explain these is particularly rewarding.

Do you have any advice that you would share with other independent expert colleagues that want to join the Carter Brown service? 

Firstly, make sure you’ve got access to the right resources. These include key texts and psychometric assessments.  I have acquired over the last 10 years a number of resources which I regularly refer to or use.   Access to a list of key resources would be invaluable.

Building relationships with your case handler, referral team and Quality Assurance is important.  Understanding their respective roles and what help they can provide is important.

I would recommend considering employing an assistant psychologist.  I have found this support to be really helpful and a great time saver.   The assistants working with me paly important roles in planning assessments, setting up appointments, liaising with others, and checking reports. 

Another piece of advice for new experts would be to attend the training provided by Carter Brown. I have found this to be of a good standard and an opportunity to meet other experts and the team at Carter Brown.

Obviously access to supervision is crucial.

What makes people choose this role?

This sort of work, you can make huge difference to people’s lives with in relatively short periods of time.  You asked specific questions and your response to these and opinion is seriously considered.

Do you have any other comments about working with the Carter Brown team? 

The Quality Assurance process at Carter Brown is absolutely fantastic. The quality of their reviews of assessments is first class, their feedback is clear and responding to it will always strengthen the report, they turn reports round quickly and are always constructive. I have always had positive experiences when working with the QA team.

Interested in joining our team of Independent Experts? Find out more here. 

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