Christopher T. Cory, Director of Public Information, Pace University
212-346-1117, cell 917-608-8164, email@example.com
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Note: Henry gives testimony before New York City Council 9/11 hearing Thursday, April 15, 1:00 PM
POLICE, FIRE AND RESCUE DEPARTMENTS NEED NEW POLICIES
FOR HOLOCAUST-LIKE SYMPTOMS OF SURVIVING DEATH,
SAYS PACE UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR
Vincent E. Henry, former NYPD sergeant, bases advocacy on
new study of officers’ reactions to death trauma,
“Death Work: Police, Trauma and the Psychology of Survival” (Oxford)
New York, NY, April 14, 2004 — Although police officers have frequent contact with death, violence and other traumatic experiences, they are generally reluctant to seek the psychological counseling they may need for fear they will be stigmatized by their department and/or assigned to desk duties.
Many officers mistrust their departments’ intentions toward traumatized cops, the capabilities of department psychologists, and the confidentiality of the services that departments provide.
And the same often goes for other emotionally-wounded first responders like firefighters – and even for workers in “slaughterhouse” industries.
Vincent E. Henry, a retired New York City Police sergeant who earned his Ph.D. in psychology and now teaches criminal justice at Pace University, is out to make employers more compassionate.
For instance, based on research on these little-recognized issues just published in “Death Work: Police, Trauma and the Psychology of Survival” (Oxford University Press), he testifies April 15 at 1:00 PM in the City Hall Committee Room before the New York City Council’s Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services’ hearing on “Funding for Post-September 11 Mental Health Services.”
Holocaust and Hiroshima parallels. Henry’s book is largely based on doctoral research supervised by the eminent psychologist and psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton and completed in May 2001. Henry conducted extensive interviews of 50 cops (including rookies, homicide detectives, crime scene investigators, and officers who killed someone in the line of duty), detailing how death experiences shape their personal and professional lives.
Henry argues that police reactions to death trauma often have a hitherto-unrecognized similarity to patterns that Lifton identified in his classic works on the survivors of Hiroshima, the Holocaust and Vietnam veterans.
First responders, Henry found, exhibit five characteristic psychological themes including “psychic numbing,” “death guilt,” a “death imprint,” “suspicion of the counterfeit,” and a compelling “need to make meaning” of their experience.
Hospice workers, death row staff members. In an introduction to “Death Work,” Lifton says Henry’s findings apply to firefighters and rescue workers of all kinds, military personnel, doctors and health workers (especially in hospices), undertakers, prison staff on death row, and even those working in meatpacking or “slaughterhouse” industries.
Henry, a 21-year veteran of the NYPD, saw his findings played out again on 9/11 — both in himself and in the officers he supervised at Ground Zero in the weeks and months that followed. “Death Work” contains a chapter devoted to the 9/11 experience.
Henry now serves on the board of directors of the New York Disaster Counseling Coalition (NYDCC), whose 300 fully-licensed volunteer clinicians have provided hundreds of first responders and family members with free, confidential psychological services “for as long as it takes” and without a potentially stigmatizing paper trail.
Emotional breakdowns. Henry argues that many police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical service personnel — perhaps especially those who responded on 9/11 — are emotionally hurt by their traumatic experiences, and that their performance can be affected for the worse if they do not come to terms with the death that surrounds them.
He gives vivid examples of pent-up feelings that raise the odds that cops will
· Experience explosive anger, immobilizing fear or other powerful emotions;
· Resort to the use of excessive alcohol or medication;
· Avoid situations or assignments that could trigger upsets (One cop who lost his long-time working partner was reminded of the man several years later, experiencing a physical and emotional breakdown);
· Become increasingly cynical and unproductive (“Why should I go out of my way? I have my own problems to deal with”);
· Become increasingly depressed, withdrawn and isolated, raising the potential for suicidal thoughts or actions; and
· Develop full-blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and increase the number of psychological disability retirements and sick absences related to stress.
Trapped under trains. His other efforts to increase understanding of how death trauma affects officers’ lives include formulating model training protocols and giving presentations that
· Help prepare officers to deal with such horrifying and grotesque death events as still-living people trapped under trains who will die when the trains are moved to rescue them and restore service;
· Sensitize officers to the fact that their troubling experiences are actually entirely normal reactions to entirely unnatural events;
· Train officers to recognize — in themselves and in other officers — the behaviors and emotions related to the psychology of survival’s five themes;
· Help prepare officers for the possibility that they may one day take a life in the performance of their duties;
· Provide role plays and other training to help officers deliver death notifications to families more compassionately;
· Provide clinicians and therapists with insights into the realities of death-related police experience, police culture, and the unique dynamics of police families;
· Educate the public and the academic community to the compelling psychological issues officers face as a result of their encounters with death trauma.
He addresses the Psychoanalytic Institute of the Baruch College/CUNY Postgraduate Center for Mental Health on April 30, having addressed the city Police Academy’s annual “Women and Policing” conference March 31. He often is called on by media and police agencies across the nation for his expert opinion on issues related to police trauma and police management. He is creating a curriculum unit for the criminal justice courses he teaches at Pace (which graduates approximately 60 future officers a year), and is thinking about how to share it with those responsible for police-training elsewhere.
Henry argues that dealing with death in a sensible way is important for becoming a truly “good cop.” “It’s just that current police department policies and procedures should not automatically tilt toward relieving traumatized police of their responsibilities,” he says.
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