TRAINING OFFICERS TO DEAL WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

istock_000005236471largeThe other day my girlfriend was looking at a video on Facebook. I wasn’t looking at the video, but what I heard was a lot of shouting and then finally multiple gunshots. It was obviously a violent video and I didn’t want to see it.

The next day I saw that she had shared the video on her page which to me meant that whatever the video was about, she felt either passionate about it or angered by it so I decided to watch it. What I saw was an unarmed man, surrounded by five overly aggressive, untrained police officers who end up shooting him.

You can find the video at the end of this post. Warning, some my find it graphic and hard to watch.

During my research for this post, Los Angeles police leaders insist that all of the officers involved in this altercation had some training on dealing with the mentally ill, with some having as little as 11 hours of training. They went as far as they say that the skills learned in the training were used during this encounter, which in some part may be true, but when I see officers taking violent punches at a person and being overly aggressive with little control or coordination, it’s hard for me to see that any crisis intervention techniques were appropriately used.

For over 4 years I worked in a psychiatric hospital where every day we had to deal with at least one hostile patient, some who had just been released from jail and brought directly to our facility. These patients in particular were aggressive and violent and often needed to be restrained for their safety and the safety of others. We often had to “take down” these patients with as little as three staff members actually going hands on. Patients very rarely got hurt. Matter of fact I can’t even think of one incident I was involved in where a patient got hurt. Staff rarely got hurt as well and when they did it was generally superficial scratches. No one ever died. Ever. No patient, no staff member.

Unlike in this video we weren’t armed with more than latex gloves and training in non-violent crisis intervention training. We practiced what is sometimes called “therapeutic hands on” actions, which means that when we did have to put our hands on a patient we did so in a way to quickly gain control of them without trying to hurt them, no matter how violent they are responding to us, unlike in the video where you will see at least one officer swinging away at the inmate as if he were in a mixed martial arts fight.

The officer who says the suspect was reaching for his gun and the officer who appears to have been the most involved with the suspect was the newest officer on the scene with the least amount of training in dealing with mentally ill people.

I’m not saying that all police officers are this way, but many officers when dealing with individuals are overly aggressive and don’t have the patience it takes to appropriately deal with mentally ill people. This is why we see so many unarmed individuals getting killed by police; over aggression and lack of patients. I know their job is dangerous and tough and often times they can’t wait to see what happens before putting themselves in danger.

However, when you have a job where it’s pretty much excepted if you kill someone it’s okay, it makes having to be patient and cautious a lot less likely. Working in the psychiatric hospital, if we killed a patient while trying to restrain him we would most likely get fired, loss our licenses and get sued by the family. Too many officers operate with impunity.

Where I live we are lucky to have Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officers who have went through specialized training to deal with mentally ill individuals. Whenever I had to call law enforcement for someone I believed was mental ill I always requested a CIT officers for that individuals safety. CIT officers are more likely to approach mentally ill individuals calmly and take them to the mental hospital instead of jail. They generally don’t over-react or act aggressively. Unfortunately, not all police and sheriff’s departments have CIT officers or good training programs.

What I am advocating here is for more training like the training done by the Clark County Sheriffs Department.

With the appropriate training on how to calm a person down, even when restraining them, the number of unarmed killings by law enforcement officers would go down drastically, mentally ill or not.

My New Intern Part 2

Well I’ve been working with my new intern for a couple of weeks now and I have to admit, although I had a bunch of apprehension about it, I kinda like having her around! 

Unlike some people I haven’t forced her to be my secretary by doing all the paper work like intakes and assessments, or had her make coffee runs for me although the idea sounds good 🙂 I’ve taken on more of a mentorship role, which feels appropriate. 

Things I Do Like So Far

I can assign her female clients I know would benefit from a close, therapeutic relationship with another female.

I also like the idea of assigning her some of the borderline personality type female clients who are difficult to deal with, yet I think would respond more to a female. 

It’s not like I am trying to give her all of the difficult female clients, especially since I have to supervise and guide her anyway, but I know for a fact that some clients respond better to same sex therapists and so I will assign those clients to her and she seems fine with the idea so far. 

I also like having a partner. I mentioned before that most therapists work alone and like it, and so do I, but I never thought I’d enjoy the company of another person basically 7 hours a day. I enjoy being able to bounce ideas off of each other, exchange knowledge, and share experiences.

For instance, I had a treatment plan guide I use, but never purchased the treatment plan homework companion book (honestly because I didn’t want to spend the money for it), but she has it and was able to give me an electronic copy of it! In exchange I was able to share some of my books with her. 

What I Don’t Like So Far

The things I don’t like are actually very few. 

Being in graduate school she is still very “fresh”, meaning almost everything she knows comes from books or what she has been told, and very little from experience.  

When we’ve worked with clients and discussed situations, everything she often says and suggests is very theoretical, but often not actually practical. 

She talks and sounds very academic.

Being still in school, much of the lexicon used in psychology is very fresh to her, which isn’t a bad thing. Often times she says words I haven’t used in awhile and in some cases totally forgot because when working with the general population those words get replaced with words that are clearer. 

This isn’t a complaint as much as it is annoying. I think most people fresh into the field think they know everything because they just took a class in Neuropsychology or something, and I am sure I was pretty much the same way and as annoying, but the truth of the matter is, all of the jargon of psychology and many of the things learned in books gets quickly replaced with more real world language and procedures.  

You can read all you want about psychological disorders like bipolar disorder, self-injury, and depression, but until you have someone in your office bouncing off the walls, with two dozen still bleeding self inflicted cuts and telling you they are going to kill themselves, it’s a whole different ball game.  

Sure textbooks have their place, they can be great guides and they definitely teach you the jargon of psychology. I still go to books to inform me on many things, but there is no education like real life experience, so listening to an intern who thinks she knows what to do with every client because she read about their problem in a text book, is a bit annoying. 

I look forward to helping her as she realizes more and more that textbooks and lectures haven’t 100% prepared her for everything she will face. We’ve already had several instances where she didn’t know what to say or do, and I kinda smiled to myself and was happy to guide her through the situation. 

Overall, I am happy with her and realize that the things that annoy me are things I also did when I was still wet behind the ears and thought I was the brightest new therapist to enter the field because I made an “A” in every class, until I was face to face with a wide eyed, screaming, crying, shaking, scary, paranoid schizophrenic who thought a killer was in the hospital looking for her.

No book can prepare you for situations like sitting across from a tourist from Australia, just released from the hospital although her face is as red as a tomato from the broken blood vessels because she tried to hang herself with her bikini after finding out her husband was having an online affair.

No book prepares you for what to do or say to try to instill hope in that moment, but then again, that’s why internships are so important, to expose people to the real world and prepare them for the unpredictable nature of human behavior. 

**Side Note: I now keep my Dictionary of Psychology Book at the office** 🙂