Effects of PTSD in policing APA

The Effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Policing
Author’s Note
This paper is being submitted on 27
May, 2017 for Julee Poole’s J246/CCJ2170
Practical Psychology for the Criminal Justice Professional course.
Policing requires exposure to traumatic, violent and horrific events, which result in a
heightened risk of acquiring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The aim of this study was to
determine how PTSD affected police officers, their families, and their friends. Previous literature
suggests that law enforcement officers are faced with inconsistent, periodic and unpredictable
extraordinary stress experiences in the line of duty. Due to their nature of work, they undergo
emotional and mental traumas. This paper analyzes the rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, the
effects of PTSD and related diagnoses on the personal and professional lives of officers, and the
sources of social support available to them in the aftermath of trauma-inducing events.
All law enforcement officers experience some form of stress during their career. The
stress may be a result of events or pressures experienced in the past and the demands of what is
expected in the future. PTSD is the most serious and most often untreated. Although it cannot
always be prevented, family members and administrators of departments can notice symptoms or
signs of PTSD; hence, attempt to seek some form of help for these individuals. The paper
concludes with a summary of the current research and the shortcomings in the literature, which
includes attention to subclinical PTSD, proper training, the lack of attention to institutional
screening for PTSD vulnerability, and the absence of evaluation research on what is relevant in
disaster preparedness for police officers. The paper helps in understanding the role of police-
specific traumatic events in the development of PTSD in a high-risk, highly stressed
occupational group.
Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder
It is a condition that develops in some people who have experienced shocking, scary or
dangerous events. The anxiety disorder results in disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of
the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world. Police officers are
vulnerable to experiencing PTSD due to their nature of work. All law enforcement officers
experience some form of stress during their career. The stress may be a result of events or
pressures experienced in the past and the demands of what is expected in the future. PTSD is the
most serious and most often untreated. Although it cannot always be prevented, family members
and administrators of departments can notice symptoms or signs of PTSD; hence, attempt to seek
some form of help for these individuals. Studies have shown that officers suffering from PTSD
are a potential risk to the public they are supposed to serve. In addition, there have been many
cases where police officers suffering from PSTD have committed suicide.
PTSD is undoubtedly the greatest mental plague on the operators of this field. “PTSD in
relation to dissociation in traumatized police officers” is an article written by Ingrid Carlier
where she discusses the mental state officers are left in due to PTSD. In trying to understand the
effects of PTSD in policing, it is essential to learn the causes of PTSD in order to mitigate them.
Previous research shows that police officers deal with the effects of PTSD differently, but the
majority of them resort to negative behaviors. For example, excessive drinking, domestic
violence, absenteeism in the work place, deviant behavior, and anti-social behavior. It is upon the
police agencies to help officers deal with the effects of PTSD without harming their families and
the general public.
Previous Studies
In 1997, Holly Robinson performed a survey among police officers of stressful
experiences they had encountered. The results from his research indicated that the most frequent
cause of PTSD is being in encounter of life threatening scenarios. Robinson argues that the most
common reason for PTSD among officers of the law is because of traumatic incidents, and the
most common traumatic incidents officers undergo are shootings (Robinson, 1997, 835-845).
Not all police officers suffer from PTSD even after experiencing traumatic events. Hence, in
2006, Gersons carried out a study using a sample of 37 police officers who had been in serious
shooting incidents to look for patterns of PTSD among them. The aim of the study was to
examine the patterns of PTSD among a sample of police officers who had experienced shooting
incidents to give insight into the frequency in which PTSD occurs in police officers” (Gersons,
2006, 247-257).
Gersons used a two-dimensional experiment model together with personal surveys for
each officer. The results showed that nearly half of the sample indicated having signs of PTSD
and only three of that group exhibited no signs at all even in years to come. In his discussion, the
author mentioned that from his research it was evident that PTSD had a very low rate of
disappearing with time(Gersons, 2006, 247-257). Although it was not covered in his research,
PTSD is likely not to disappear in future; hence, assuming its causes are due to exterior factors.
PTSD among law enforcement officers is caused by both internal and external factors as
explained by Lamberts, Carlier and Gersons. In a study carried out by the three authors, a sample
of 262 traumatized police officers was taken for analysis with the aim of gaining insight on the
number of officers that had PTSD, the causes of PTSD and its effects later on in life. the study
lasted for twelve months where the researchers used longitudinal study. The officers were each
interviewed and monitored over the following year where it was found that only seven percent of
the entire sample had PTSD whereas thirty-four percent indicated symptoms of PTSD. During
the first three months, the participants displayed introversion and emotional exhaustion, but that
changed after twelve months where they exhibited a lack of hobbies, brooding and a
dissatisfaction in their work” (Lamberts, 1997, 498-506). As mentioned earlier, police officers
deal with the effects of PTSD differently with most resorting to negative behavior. Hence,
dissatisfaction in their work will often lead the officer down a path of self-destruction habits.
To understand what destructive habits officers suffering from PTSD engaged in, Ben
Green compared the effects of PTSD in police officers to PTSD in civilians in the United
Kingdom. Police officers who had experienced traumatic events showed higher levels of
drinking and repressed memories unlike the civilians (Green, 2004, 101-105). Majority of the
researchers agree that although ethnicity influences the effects of PTSD whereas gender does
not, the largest factor in their level of stress is due to their working environment. Since PTSD is
untreatable, how do police officers deal with the stress that arises from their experiences at
work? Psychologists suggest that having people who are there for emotional support is the best
way to with the stress. In her article, Christine Stephans discussed the importance of social and
emotional support in the recovery of an officer with PTSD.
Emotional support is an integral part in treating and recovery process of police officers
suffering from PTSD. Officers who receive emotional support show lower levels of PTSD
symptoms as compared to those with lower levels of social support. To prove this hypothesis,
five hundred and twenty-seven police officers were given questionnaires to fill, which the
results approved the hypothesis that that indeed social support and emotional support have a
positive impact on the recovery of officers with PTSD(Stephans, 1997, 303-314). After
discovering the causes of PTSD, it is important to discuss the treatment. The most effective and
commonly used form of treatment of PTSD is exposure therapy. Prior studies have showed that
exposure therapy is effective in the cases of rape victims, combat veterans and other people with
PTSD, but it has never been used on police officers. Needless, in 1999, David Tolin carried out a
study to determine whether exposure therapy was effective in treating the effects of PTSD in
police officers. He used a time-series experiment design, which indicated that exposure therapy
relieved the symptoms of PTSD among the subjects. The study was not short term because the
positive effects of using exposure therapy were present six months after the treatment was
stopped. It is clear that there exists literature on the effects of PTSD in police officers, although
future studies are still necessary to address the gaps that exist in the current studies (Tolin, 1999,
Effects of PTSD in Policing
From the literature review, it is evident that PTSD not only affects the police officers, but
also affects their families as well as the members of the public. Due to PTSD, many officers have
ruined their families and in severe cases have taken their own lives. Although many articles
provide treatment methods of PTSD, none of those methods has been able to help a hundred
percent as they are effective for only a short period. In addition, the previous studies have failed
to explain why PTSD affects some police officers so intensely while other are completely
unscathed despite undergoing through the same traumatic experiences.
The pressure of law enforcement put officers at risk for high blood pressure, insomnia,
increased levels of destructive stress hormones, heart problems, PTSD and suicide. however,
none of those effects are as serious as suffering from PTSD and wanting to commit suicide. due
to the stress of police work, it affects the officer’s physical and mental health. Policing is a
psychologically stressful work environment, which is filled with danger, high demands,
ambiguity in work encounters, human misery and exposure to death.
Police officers develop PTSD after experiencing critical incidents, or exposure over a
period of time to stress that he/she was unable to alleviate. PTSD can be caused by two basic
factors; public envisions and nature of work environment. Take for instance the 9/11 terror attack
that killed thousands of people. Police officers were busy trying to save the lives of many
Americans, and as such they were required to shot terrorists or get shot in the process. Such an
experience can be traumatic to anyone, especially those that came in contact with it first-hand.
Although most of the officers were evaluated by the critical incident stress management team,
many of them still suffered from PTSD.
PTSD is not only caused by being involved in a traumatic event but also working day
after day with an unappreciative or hostile public or being exposed to the worst aspects of the
human condition. There are two types of PTSDs; mild and severe PTSD. although mild PTSD
can disrupt a life, severe PTSD is dangerous. This is because it involves a combination of
psychological and physiological changes in a person. Severe PTSD, which is mostly suffered by
police officers produces overwhelming guilt feelings, which can shake a person’s belief system.
Since most officers do not know how to cope with the effects of PTSD they acquire negative
behavior, as well as a negative attitude (Regehr et al., 2007, 675-683).
Officers suffering from PTSD are a threat to the general public who they are supposed to
be protecting. They are no longer pleased with their job and often contemplate on whether it is
really necessary. PTSD makes the officers so vigilant and become paranoid, and they are unable
to trust themselves or anyone else. There has been news of officers committing suicide and the
public is left to wonder what might have led them to take their own lives. The main reason is
PTSD, which leads to suicidal thoughts and one among five officers with PTSD end up
committing suicide. physiologically, PTSD produces anxiety, irritability, depression, insomnia,
and physical problems such as headaches and digestive problems.
The main problem with previous studies is that they fail to discuss the effects of PTSD to
the families of the officers. PTSD can cause the sufferer to become emotionally withdrawn and
distant from family members. In addition, officers become very needy and dependent, which can
result in them being outrageously demanding and impatient. In most instances, spouses have
reported that their partners have become violent and very irritable even at small things.
Sometimes they revert back to old habits like smoking or drinking, or become a newly hatched
adolescent and engage in reckless, sometimes life threatening, hobbies. Sometimes hobbies like
motorcycling can border on suicidal when officers test the limits of speed and good
sense”(Lamberts, 1997, 498-506).
Mitigating the Effects of PTSD in Police Officers
Psychiatrist Thomas Neylan, psychologist Shannon McCaslin-Rodrigo, and social worker
Gerard Choucroun worked with officers from the Grant Air Force Medical Center to develop the
Deployment Anxiety Reduction Training (DART) program, with the aim of stopping post-
traumatic stress disorder before it starts. If implemented in the future, the goal of DART is to
tame the initial stress reaction to combat trauma. Although psychologists argue that treating
PTSD will continue being a challenge in the future, there are approaches that can be used by law
enforcement to prevent and treat it in future. Recent advancements using methodologically sound
designs increase confidence that PTSD can be effectively ameliorated using manual-based
treatments including exposure, cognitive restructuring, or a combination of the two, as well as
using EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy) (Haisch &Meyers, 2004,
Among the officers themselves, talking about trauma and mental health is oftentimes
discouraged, leaving sufferers isolated or stigmatized. “At the same time, the justice system also
serves to cover up the problem, imposing minimum punishments for officers and giving victims
of police brutality no closure to initiate their own recoveries” (Muller, 2017). One strategy that
could help mitigate the effects of PTSD in police officers is through better mental health
awareness. Allowing police officers to speak freely and receive treatment for their job-related
stress would reduce PTSD. Teaching fellow officers to recognize the symptoms of PTSD
including social withdrawal, personality changes, and poor decision-making would allow them to
help their partners and coworkers before problems escalate.
Giving officers access to treatment and support early on can reduce future incidents of
police brutality and ensure that they get the help they need. Additionally, understanding that
police officers are often victims of violence is important for continued public trust in law
enforcement. The key is education and access to treatment. A study showed that there are certain
personality traits that shield police officers for the adverse effects of PTSD. From the study
carried out on police officers in the New Orleans area during and in the immediate aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina, the personal traits such as resilience, satisfaction with life and a grateful
disposition may help safeguard police officers from symptoms of post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD). Although exposure to traumatic events has been found to trigger PTSD, the
personal traits appear to provide a shield from PTSD for officers who are often exposed to
repeated trauma. Therefore, it is essential to educate police officers on the importance of these
personality traits.
Many of those that undergo through this kind of trauma are often judged and treated
differently by their families and the society. The society does not understand their behavior;
hence, they do not seek for them the right treatment. As mentioned, many of them end up
committing suicide. However, by noticing the early signs of PTSD in officers, the family
members and administrators can prevent them from getting the adverse effects. Therefore, it is
not only the officers that should be educated about PTSD but also the family members and the
society at large (Higgins, 1995). Through speaking out and getting treatment, especially
psychological treatment, is very helpful to the police officers because it prevents them from
engaging in destructive personal behavior and instead develop positive coping mechanisms like
attending therapy sessions. In addition, awareness continues to grow about the stress and trauma
that officers’ experience. Many organizations are offering both inpatient and outpatient treatment
trauma therapy and peer-support services for police officers as well as all first responders. They
also offer addiction treatment for first responders, and support for their family members.
Previous studies have showed that PTSD is a menace affecting the law enforcement.
Moreover, the researchers have mentioned that it is an untreatable disease, which can only be
suppressed to lower its effects on the police officer. However, future studies should address this
gap and discuss new treatment methods that are long-term and that affect the officers positively.
Likewise, PTSD should not be treated as a disorder affecting just the police officers as it affects
their families and the police agencies. In order to find the best treatment method, it is important
to understand the causes of PTSD. As discussed, PTSD is not only caused by exposure to
traumatic events, but also working in an environment where one is not appreciated and one is
exposed to the worst aspects of the human condition. Failure to recognize the existence of PTSD
in officers is what leads to acquire negative behaviors, such as excessive drinking, arrogance,
absenteeism at work and anti-social behavior. However, enrolling the officers for therapy and
social support will enable them deal with the effects of PTSD positively. Police agencies should
also create a forum where those suffering from PTSD are able to interact and support each other.
Hopefully in future, a long-term treatment for PTSD will be discovered and save the lives of
many officers, as well as their families.
Carlier, Ingrid. (1996). "PTSD in relation to dissociation in traumatized police officers." The
american journal of psychiatry 153(10):1325-1328.
Gersons, Berthold. (2006). "Patterns of PTSD among police officers following shooting
incidents: A two-dimensional model and treatment implications." Journal of traumatic
stress 2(3):247-257.
Green, Ben. (2004) "Post-traumatic stress disorder in UK police officers." Current medical
research and opinion 20(1):101-105.
Haisch, D., & Meyers, L. (2004). MMPI-2 assessed post-traumatic stress disorder related to job
stress, coping, and personality in police agencies. Stress And Health, 20(4), 223-229.
Higgins, J. (1995). Traumatic stress reactions in police (1st ed.).
Lamberts, Regina D. 1997 "Risk Factors for Posttraumatic Stress Symptomatology in Police
Officers: A Prospective Analysis." The journal of nervous and mental disease 185(8):498-
Muller, R. (2017). Officers with PTSD at Greater Risk for Police Brutality. Psychology Today.
Retrieved 19 May 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/talking-about-
Regehr, C., LeBlanc, V., Jelley, RB, Barath, I., &Daciuk, J. (2007). Previous trauma exposure
and PTSD symptoms as predictors of subjective and biological response to
stress. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry , 52 (10), 675-683.
Robinson, Holly M. (1997). "Duty-related stressors and ptsd symptoms in suburban police
officers." Psychological reports 81(3):835-845.
Stephans, Christine. (1997). "The impact of trauma and social support on Posttraumatic Stress
Disorder: A study of New Zealand police officers." Journal of criminal justice 25(4):303-
Tolin, David F. (1999). "Treatment of a police officer with PTSD using prolonged
exposure."Behavior therapy 30(3):527-538.

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