Police Psychology into the 21st Century

By Martin I. Kurke; Ellen M. Scrivner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
Professionally Administered Critical Incident Debriefing for Police Officers

Nancy Bohl The Counseling Team, San Bernardino, CA

In ordinary citizens, the occurrence of severe stress reactions, in the form of nightmares, flashbacks, sleep disturbances, and anxiety, after involvement in major disasters is well known ( Frederick, 1977; MacHovec, 1984; van der Kolk , 1984). That similar reactions could occur in police officers involved in shootings or other highly disturbing situations was not widely recognized until recently. What prevented any recognition of the degree to which police officers were at risk for the development of severe stress reactions was the fact that two assumptions were made. The first was that, because they are trained to deal with emergency situations and do so on a more frequent basis than ordinary citizens, police officers are not vulnerable to the development of the kinds of stress responses seen in civilians. The second assumption was that if stress symptoms occurred, they did so in a limited number of individuals, and no special attention needed to be paid. Police officers were tough and, as Reiser and Geiger ( 1984) put it, "time would heal" (p. 317).

During the 1980s, it became clear that these assumptions were not valid. A number of authors described the occurrence in police officers of the same kinds of symptoms seen in civilians (e.g., nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety) after those officers had been involved in crisis situations in which their lives or the lives of others had been threatened ( Ayoob, 1982; Blak, 1986; Carson, 1982; Loo, 1986; McMains, 1986; Nielsen, 1986; Reiser & Geiger, 1984; Stratton, 1984). Furthermore, it was recognized that, if left untreated, these symptoms could, and did, have long-lasting effects. Officers involved

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