Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lexipol, Gordon Graham and Critical Incident Stress: A Critique

Anybody subscribe to Lexipol’s “Tip of the Day?” I’m not sure exactly what Lexipol’s raison d’ etre is, but it’s pretty cool to see Gordon Graham pop out from the side of the screen and give us the straight talk on various police-related topics. 
Now, I saw Mr. Graham speak at a conference once. The topic was “risk management in law enforcement,” and he’s quite plainly an expert in that area. Unfortunately, he’s not quite as informed about critical incident stress and I worry that his mini lecture on the topic may make people with cumulative critical incident stress worse. 
Mr. Graham tells us there are 8 things we need to know to “cope with, withstand...prevail” over critical incident stress. Here’s my critique:

1. Superior training and skill development. 
This, he tells us, is by far the most important factor in our coping with, withstanding and prevailing over critical incident stress. By “training” the only thing he could be referring to is stress inoculation training, which, though rarely used in LE, has much promise. If this is what he meant, I wish he would have just said it. As it is, it suggests if one struggles with the emotional aftermath of critical incident exposure, it somehow reflects a failure to train well, which simply is not the case. 
    Posttraumatic stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal event, not a sign of inadequate training on the part of the LEO. Unless he refers to stress inoculation, I am baffled by the inclusion here of “skill development.” What “skills” does an officer need to develop so that he doesn’t have insomnia after witnessing the death of a child? 

2. A learning attitude toward the profession...a culture of knowledge
    This makes sense. As Dave Grossman writes in On Combat, “Forewarned is forearmed.” It behooves us a human beings who police, to know how critical incident stress may impact us, so that we can plan accordingly. 

3.  High intelligence and problem solving ability. 
Smart people don’t get posttraumatic stress disorder? Never heard that. What do we say to the young officer who witnesses a child die? If he were smarter he’d be fine? Higher ‘intelligence’ (which we measure through controversial and value-laden tests) has been correlated with lots of good stuff, but not resistance to critical incident stress. If  you’re having difficulty concentrating after exposure to a critical incident, it doesn’t mean you’re a dummy. 

4.  Good verbal and interpersonal skills. 
Really? I’m pretty sure there’s no science behind this claim. If there is, I’d like to check it out. I know it sounds like I’m bagging pretty hard here on Mr. Graham...I just wish he would have told us where he got these from. 

5.  Adequate emotional control. 
Okay, this is where we get into potentially damaging information. This is eerily similar to the long held cultural myth that posttraumatic stress only afflicts “weak” people. It’s cousin is the cultural myth that psychotherapy is for “crazy” people. I find this offensive. Can you imagine sitting in a room filled with cops as they debrief a horrible critical incident, and telling them if they simply control their emotions they’ll be better off? “Get ahold of yourself man!”

6.  A sense of optimism. 
This is related to one of the components (called ‘commitment’) of hardiness, which is a personality trait. This is accurate. 

7.  Seek help and support. 
     This is quite a true and valuable point, and one I make all the time to friends and co-workers. So many of the common maladies which befall our brothers and sisters in blue are treatable. But you can’t get better if you don’t ask for help. 

8.  Critical Incident Stress Debriefings.
  Another rock solid suggestion. 
At the end of his statements, Mr. Graham tells us he got a lot of his information from an article written by someone else. That’s fine, but when you say it, you own it. Some of Gordan Grahams’ information on critical incident stress is confusing. Some of it may be damaging. 
The law enforcement industry has begun a paradigm shift regarding the psychological toll a police career can have on the officer, and how to manage it. We cannot afford to go backward. . .we’ve come too far.

1 comment:

  1. Would love to talk with you offline about your thoughts on stress inoculation training..