Sunday, June 27, 2010

Police mental health is looking at trees this week.

This is my families' secret spot. I can't tell you where it is because I'd have to kill you.
Have a good week.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mindfulness on Patrol

“Sometimes while drifting idle on Walden Pond I cease to live and begin to be.” (Thoreau)

Mindfulness comes to us from the eastern meditation traditions. It involves paying nonjudgemental attention to ones immediate experience. It’s a form of meditation and is sometimes called “mindfulness meditation.” Historically, while the western world has been busy trying to figure out how to predict and control the environment, eastern meditation practitioners have been focused on the mind.

Our minds can - and frequently are - the source of a great deal of suffering. “Life is suffering” is the first of the Buddhist Four Noble Truths. When I was in my early 20’s I started figuring out the extend to which my own mind is filled with absolute shite. Lamenting the past, worrying about the future, “woulda coulda shoulda’s.” The sheer number of books on mindfulness tells me I’m not alone in wanting to better understand this phenomenon.

Since westerners love to put things under the microscope it was just a matter of time before mindfulness was analyzed by men in white coats. Researchers (most notably Jon Kabat-Zin) have found mindfulness meditation helps us with depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and a general sense of wellness. Now, if you’re one of those self-actualized cops you don’t need to bother with the rest of this post. For the rest of us, here’s how you practice mindfulness.

The seat of mindfulness is the mind. We direct our attention to information provided by our minds. We pay attention to our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations in the here-and-now. Importantly, we just notice them without judging them. That’s the hard part.

We leave one part of our consciousness always available to observe. Break off a piece of your mind and lift it about 20 feet over your body. This will become what Arthur Deikman calls your “observing self.” This little guy hovering over you simply observes your bodily sensations (feeling tight, bloated etc.) your thoughts and your feelings.

One of the gifts of mindfulness is that it is highly conducive to being fully grounded in the moment. Whatever you’re doing is ALL you’re doing. There’s a technical term for groundedness’ opposite. It’s called being all over the map. When we’re all over the map we’re victims of the shite that usually guides our lives.

That little observing bastard vanishes immediately during Code-3 runs and in progress calls. No worries though, when the smoke clears he’ll pop back up if you let him.

Mindfulness practice is free. Our return on investment is off the chart. If your goal is not only survive this career, but to live well through it I would highly recommend learning more about mindfulness.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Thought-Mood Connection for Police Officers

WARNING: I finally figured out what a “hyperlink” is.

The easiest way to destroy someone’s OODA loop is to take away either of the following universal human needs: prediction and control. A rather brilliant demonstration of this technique applied to policing can be found here.

Let’s talk about controlling your moods. Many of us get into problems in this area. Either we feel victimized by our own anxiety, depression or irritability, or we victimize others with our moods. Or both. As a therapist, the vast majority of clients I’ve treated over the years struggle with mood disorders. Pharmaceutical companies make bazillions of dollars each year selling us pills to help us with them.

“Cognitive therapy” is tailor made to help folks take charge of their moods. I’ve taken college courses on cognitive therapy, been to seminars on it, and read books and articles on it. Today, I’m gonna boil it down to the very basics, tie it up in a nice bow and give it to you. You can shit can it or use it. I hope you choose the latter.

Here we go.

Moods don’t come out of thin air. They are directly influenced by our THOUGHTS.

Thought - - - Mood - - - Behavior

If you have “happy” thoughts what kind of mood do you think you’ll be in? If you have many thoughts along the lines of, “I’m gettin’ screwed over ONCE AGAIN by [add “that guy” here],” you’re probably going to be in a foul mood. Not rocket science is it?

There are two things you need to know about thoughts as they relate to emotions. First, you can control your thoughts...and that’s important. Secondly, we frequently have thoughts that are inaccurate. That should appeal to our cop sensibilities (“Ha! You’re WRONG you dumb ass thought!”) Feelings are never “wrong,” but thoughts can be dead wrong. Cognitive therapists spend a lot of time helping people discover for themselves how their thinking gets bollixed.

Here are some common errors of thinking police officers are especially prone to. If you can (a) recognize when you’ve made an error in your thinking and (b) replace the inaccurate thought with a more realistic one you are doing cognitive therapy on YOURSELF. . .for freeeeeee.

I’ve adapted these from The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns.

All or nothing thinking: You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation falls

short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. You park in a bad spot for an in-

progress call and think, “I totally screwed up.”

Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event, such as getting your ass chewed

by your sergeant as a never ending pattern of defeat by using words such as

“always” or “never” when you think about it.

“Should” statements: Sometimes called “musterbating.” You tell yourself things

SHOULD be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After making any

one of the five thousand mistakes cops can make on any given day, you say

“I should have...” Then, you proceed to bash yourself up.

These are called “cognitive distortions” (‘cognitions’ are thoughts) and there are many more where those came from. To change your thinking (and thus, your mood) you need to start paying attention to what’s in your mind. That’s the hardest part for most people.

A key lever in living well is mindfulness. I’ll talk about mindfulness next week. For now, it just means adopting a curious attitude toward our thoughts, recognizing when we are distorting them, and then lovingly replacing the “distorted” thought with something more accurate. If your supervisor or work partner expresses frustration about something you did it does not mean they hate you. It just means they got frustrated.

Regarding the money you may save in therapy bills and medications by applying the above: just send me whatever amount you think is fair. If you don’t send any payment you’re a bad person and you should hate yourself.


This web site is not intended to be a psychotherapy service nor as a substitute for mental health or psychopharmaceutical treatment. If you need therapy or medication, don’t be a moron...get yourself in to the doctor.

Have a mindful week and thrive.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Crisis Intervention Teams

Remember when you were interviewed for your police job and they asked, “Why do you want to be a [name of your agency here] police officer?” Somewhere in your response you probably said something about wanting to help people. That’s what your supposed to say, right?

Police work is one of the helping professions. Unfortunately, we don’t usually see the fruit of our helping actions. Sometimes we do, but not often. In the Bhagavad-Gita we are told, "The man who is devoted and not attached to the fruit of his actions obtains tranquillity; whilst he who through desire has attachment for the fruit of action is bound down thereby." I’m that “bound down” guy. I’d like to see a little more fruit.

Patrol officers arrest the same people, frequently for the same time over and over again. I arrested one guy four times for possession of cocaine in one year. I cite people for having open containers of alcohol over and over again. Same person, same place, same cheap, high octane booze. Most officers rather quickly become somewhat jaded (duh!) and this jadedness starts to creep into what Skolnik calls “the working personality” of the police officer.

In the broadest sense, though, every time we treat people with respect we “help” them. And, yes, we do arrest burglars, car thieves and rapists. Clearly, we help the community with every good arrest. Unlike landscapers or dentists though, we usually don’t have the luxury of standing back at the end of the day and saying, “wow, look what a good job I did today.” Humans kind of need least most of us do.

Enter the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). Most of you probably haven’t heard of CIT, but it’s becoming quite popular, both in the U.S. and Canada. I just got back from the International CIT Conference in San Antonio Texas, and I came back with a crazy feeling that I can actually help people and see the fruit of that help.

What is CIT?
CIT consists of police officers taking the lead in fixing a big shit sandwich: the mental health system, specifically the criminalization of the mentally ill. Here’s what we know:

Nationally our jails of overflowing with mentally ill people, the vast majority of which have committed relatively minor offenses.
The fiscal impact this has on state and local governments is obscene.
The cost in moral currency is greater.
Through no fault of their own a lot of cops are killing mentally ill as a result of (a) the psychotic behavior of the individual and (b) the lack of training on the part of officers about how to manage psychotic behavior. A lot more cops are getting injured as result of this lack of training. Mental health consumers also get lumped up a lot.

CIT involves police departments partnering with community mental health and advocacy groups to ensure services for those experiencing a psychiatric crisis can get treatment.
CIT officers get 40 hours of specialized training in de-escalation techniques, signs and symptoms of mental illness, local resources, the stigma attached to mental illness and scenario training.
The end result is that CIT officers actually get that crazy guy HELP instead of arresting him.

Now, that would feel kind of good I would imagine.

At 2 AM you get a call involving a mentally disturbed subject walking in traffic. When you hear the dispatch you already know it’s Ol’ Joe. You get there, sure enough Ol’ Joe’s still out of his friggin mind. His pants are soiled, he’s talking about being followed by the CIA, you get the idea. Now, you have a choice: You could transport Joe to the local mental health clinic (or have him transported there), and wait two hours for him to be admitted, OR you could take him to jail on his $200.00 warrant for peeing in public. If you’re like me, Ol’ Joe’s going to jail. And, while that solves the problem - which is our raison d’etre - it doesn’t bare much of the “helper” fruit.

CIT officers have systems in place whereby there is “no wrong door.” That means the department works out an understanding with the psych. ward (or detox center), that they’re not going to make us wait. They open the door, take Joe, TREAT HIM, and then hook him up with other TREATMENT facilities for aftercare. That way Joe gets help and doesn’t go back to jail.

The conference was inspiring. I saw a whole bunch of cops there who really had their heads and hearts in the right place. They reminded me of myself about 15 years ago. Before I became a cop I worked for eight years in a large county jail as a mental health professional. I tried my hardest to help thousands of Joes. But they kept coming back to jail. I got pretty burnt out and cynical...and that was BEFORE I became a cop. The difference between me back then and these CIT cops now (young and old) was that they actually are helping people.

Those with mental illness can recover, and we can be apart of that. That’s pretty cool.

The last speaker at the conference was especially inspiring. Dr. Frederick Frese is an expert on mental illness. He used to be the Director of Psychology at Case Western Reserve and he recently completed a chapter in a scholarly book about mental illness. He was also a Captain in the US Marine Corpse and a fluent spanish speaker. I was impressed with the guy before he even hit the stage. Dr. Frese was hilarious and self-deprecating. He stormed around the podium, made some very good impressions mixed in with the latest research on major mental illness. Did I mention Dr. Frese has schizophrenia and that he spent the better part of ten years of his life on locked psychiatric wards. I walked out of there thinking about that bumper sticker, “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.”