Laurence Miller PhD*
Adjunct Professor, Department of Psychology, Florida Atlantic University, Florida, USA
Visit for more related articles at International Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience
Broadly defined, the field of police psychology is almost 100 years old, and includes behavioral science contributions to interview and interrogation, investigation and criminal profiling, hostage negotiation and undercover policing, police applicant assessment and fitness-for-duty evaluations, officer-involved shooting and line-ofduty death, police management and administration, as well as clinical services, such as critical incident debriefing and substance abuse counseling. However, the more specialized area of law enforcement psychotherapy has only begun to evolve over the past several decades, and useful information on this subject has typically been only available to clinicians piecemeal in the form of journal articles or book chapters. The field has been waiting for a single-volume source that combines scholarly research with practical experience and that can be utilized in a hit-the-ground-running manner by mental health professionals who work with law enforcement.
Well, here it is. Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know1 is the current standard by which law enforcement psychotherapy books will be judged. Kirschman, Kamena, and Fay are all practicing clinicians with decades of experience among them, and Fay is a retired law enforcement officer. The book is organized in a manner that makes it ideal both for practical use and as a teaching text at the college or graduate school level. And, in a field where the tone of writing often ranges from the stodgily academic to the sophomorically silly, the prose in this volume is crisp and clear, professional, yet accessible. The narrative is highlighted by illustrative case histories, charts, tables, and appendices for further research, and the text is supported by a thorough bibliography that will satisfy the sternest academician.
The book begins by describing the basic clinical skills, cultural competencies, and personal commitment that mental health professionals must possess or develop to work effectively with law enforcement personnel. It then outlines the types of stresses, challenges, and breakdowns that cops experience both on the job and in their personal lives. Chapters deal with the critical incident stress of patrol officers, which most clinicians are familiar with, but also with less well-known, but equally important topics, such as the psychobiological stresses of shift work, the special challenges faced by police dispatchers, and the issues surrounding psychotropic medication in law enforcement.
A variety of clinical assessment and treatment strategies are carefully described, illustrated by relevant case descriptions. It may be these authors’ own experience, but they seem to focus a lot on the relationship of current traumatic incidents to prior developmental traumas in the lives of the officers they treat. My own experience is that, while addressing such psychodynamics is sometimes relevant, most clinical psychotherapeutic work with cops under pressure is likely to be short and incomplete (“I’m fine now, doc, nice knowin’ ya”) and deeper explorations are likely to occur where officers selfrefer for problems that may only be peripherally related to their job. On the other hand, it is fascinating to observe how the floodgates of self-disclosure can fling open when some officers are given the chance, in an atmosphere of trust and safety, to get things off their chest that may have been bottled up since forever.
Further chapters deal with substance abuse, depression and suicide, and stress-related health problem in police officers. A special section of the book is devoted to working with police families and with the challenges faced by other first responders, such as firefighters and paramedics. A final chapter discusses the ins-and-outs of becoming a police psychologist, although this final chapter might have been consolidated with the first.
Not detracting from the overall excellence of this volume are a few quibbles which should not be taken as critiques per se, but more as suggestions for what will inevitably be a future second edition of this book. Although comprehensive in scope and scholarship, I would have liked to see a nod to some of the “old grand masters” of police psychotherapy, such as Ted Blau, Jim Reese, and Roger Solomon. A few references cited in the text were missing in the bibliography, which frustrates attempts at further follow-up research – editors, are you listening? The next volume of this book might more fully discuss clinical work with “bad cops,” i.e. those who are disgruntled, disgraced, dismissed, under internal investigation, or facing criminal charges; despite the pickle they’ve got themselves into, their years of service may entitle them to our help as well. Finally, although a certain “police personality” has become a standard model in this field, practicing clinicians know that, even within this select population, there is a wide diversity in character, temperament, and cognitive style that influences a cop’s working behavior, his or her response to professional and personal challenges, and the way he or she will respond to psychotherapy.
Sure, I know, easy for me to sit here and finger-flick this otherwise superb volume. So let me be clear: If you are a mental health clinician who is considering working with law enforcement personnel, start with this book. Your learning curve will never end with just one source, but these authors have poured all of the essential ingredients for getting started in this field into one readable package. Even experienced police psychologists will find useful refreshers, as well as new up-to-date insights, about the work they do. As noted above, this book makes a fine teaching volume for police psychology courses. And much of the information is also relevant for working with other “tough guy” patients, such as firefighters, paramedics, and military personnel. Counseling Cops is the right book at the right time for our growing field of police psychology and psychotherapy in the 21st Century.
Laurence Miller, PhD maintains an independent practice in clinical and forensic psychology in Boca Raton, Florida. He is a consulting psychologist with the West Palm Beach Police Department, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Highway Patrol, and several other local and regional law enforcement agencies. He is a court-appointed psychological examiner for the Palm Beach County Court and serves as an independent expert witness in civil and criminal cases. Dr. Miller is on the adjunct faculty at Florida Atlantic University, Palm Beach State College, and the Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Institute. In addition, he is a frequent lecturer, seminar presenter, and continuing education provider, as well as a commentator for local, national, and international media. He is the author of over 400 publications, including books, book chapters, professional journal articles, popular publications, web columns, and other print and on-line resources, including the Practical Police Psychology web column on the PoliceOne.com website.