Sex Offender Cops Part 2:  Nasty Recurrent Intrusive Images

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.  ABPP


In Berkely, California there are researchers who are working on what happens to the brain in intrusive recurring images, in fact they are working hard on mapping what the brain does when it has the images.  They have gone as far as trying to replicate the images by stimulating those parts of the brain that light up when the image is shown.  They haven’t gotten quite that far yet as the stimulated images are mostly a blurry mess, but the basic shapes can be seen at times.

For the cop working crimes against children, and other sex crimes, the images are not blurry, in fact the recurrent images are like taking repeating concussive hits to brain.  It exhausts guys and girls in this work and makes like post-concussive syndrome affects on the brain.  They get punch-drunk with images that eat away their family life, their personal life, and of course, their ability to sleep.  Their world is a much more dangerous place for women and children.  And while they stay awake from the images, the lack of sleep doesn’t burn off the dopamine in their brains and it gets even harder to fight the involuntary slipping into images.  As psychologists, we work hard to try to suppress the nasty recurrent intrusive images, and we try to use a variety of techniques before the patient gets comatose with bad visions.

Most treatment for recurrent images require pairing exposure to the image with some other state to take away the negative effect of the image.  For example, some treatments make the person imagine the image, then pair it with deep relaxation so they can build up new pairings.  The key is these techniques depend on some sort of repeated exposure to the image.  This technique has worked with many types of traumas police face.  For example, working on the second Trade Center Bombing in New York, I had a group of people that would start by imagining being there, then relaxing.  Then, they would see pictures of the Trade Towers taken at the scene and would change their image to some pleasant image or learn to relax.  We would increase the stimulus, step-by-step until we got to the point where we would take a trip to the site of the Trade Center and I would have them show me where they were and relive the situation.  Each stimulus had a pairing with relaxation or a positive image that would change their state from anxiety to a better feeling.   On the Trade Center Bombing, it worked most of the time.  But I don’t find this technique as very powerful with the images of a person working on sex crimes.

EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization Re-Processing is another technique used for images.  Here the person is given bi-lateral stimulation of the brain through back and forth movement of the eyes, or even patting them on each side of their shoulders.  That is paired with introducing images and the theory is the brain stimulation weakens the images.  There is little research with cops and none that I am aware of with Internet crimes against children cops.  But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence with police, including some that I have experienced with my cops.  Some cops respond well to EMDR and it works.  But, I have yet to have it work with sex crimes workers.  Perhaps it is the persistence of the images, or the repetitiveness and similarity of the images, but whatever it is, I do not have luck using this technique.  It may also be the images have been so completely ingrained in the people I see as many have been on the job way too long.

The idea of stimulation combined with exposure leads me to another technique used by people.  I have one psychologist friend that states he works with traumatized people by adding physical stimulation to the talking therapy he does.  He says by exercising on a bike or a rowing machine, or even lifting weights while doing therapy, he creates a pairing that stimulates his cops while channeling their energy.  You see, the pairing is very important in trying to get rid of images.  My cops who work in internet crimes say they do better when they exercise as it makes the images are less intrusive.  It is when they stop exercising, they start getting eaten alive by the images.  This is definitely something to be explored.

With the internet crimes and sex offender detectives I am working with, I find putting them on normal exposure therapy is not that effective and it seems to vary depending on how long they have been doing the job and how intense the job has gotten.  Unfortunately, the departments up here have kept the cops on the job multiple years and didn’t transfer them right away when they requested it.  The images are hard-set, and they are exacerbated by the resentment of the time spent locked in the unit.  Some are forced to retire completely as they are having trouble functioning.  With these personnel, telling them to relax in the face of images or waving fingers in front of their face trying to get bi-lateral stimulation is too much exposure and that is what they need to avoid.

I work with these cops by getting them refocused on their future.  I may have them do a guided fantasy of a future time without policing or if they are staying in policing without sex crimes.  I may try hypnosis if they are susceptible to make it more out-of-the-body and a place they don’t have to go again.  I bring conversations to work after policing, or travel to places that are more interesting or relaxing.  I have talked everything from marketing, to building a business, to running a campaign for a political office, to building an app on a computer or cell phone, all with the intent to get them into a different mode of thought.  Most of these guys are obsessive, and nothing works better with an obsessive than getting them to change their obsession.  I find that slowly the images they had while working sex crimes weakens, and become just another memory of their past, and then I can put it in perspective to make them positive images about who they have arrested and the number of people who are off the street because of them.  I then slowly introduce them into exposure situations and see how they react.  I use heart rate data and sleep cycles to let you know how they are doing.  Before it was making them count the heart rate by hand before they went to bed or when they woke up, but with the current Fit Bit type applications out there, this is easy to access.

Disturbing involuntary images are the start of the attack on the cop working internet crimes against children.  It is only a start, and it is a long process.  It is important that they not try to rush the process to really make the images disappear eventually or at least be controlled.  Stay tuned for other symptoms to be dealt with in future articles.


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Historical Trauma and American Policing

by Dr. Philip J. Swift

Historical or multigenerational trauma is the communal emotional and psychological injury of a group caused by traumatic experiences or abuses that transcends generations. When an individual or group is emotionally or psychologically injured by an event(s), the injury can be passed to non-traumatized individuals and across generations through unconscious cues, affective messages, storytelling, ceremonies or rituals, lessons, genetic damage, and exposure to symptoms of historical trauma.   Symptoms of historical trauma include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, anger, guilt, substance abuse, loss of cultural and religious rituals, destruction of the family unit, and degrading economic/political/social capital. When these symptoms are addressed in a clinical setting, they are often treated without consideration for the complex and lengthy trauma history shared by the individual, their family, and their community. Read the rest of this entry »

Police Psychology:  It’s Not Just About Sex

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.  ABPP


A soldier may have a few days in combat but they are interspersed with time back at their base.  The regular cop has what I like to call “burst stress” where they see a traumatizing situation, but in between are less stressful situations, or as Officer Friday put “Hour and hours of boredom surrounded by moments of sheer terror.”  There is a way to get away from the stress and the seeing awful things.  But, the cop working with sex crimes/offenses has a daily dose of images, one more awful than the next, each one more and more bizarre.  I read the story last week about a man who was released from a British jail who was talking to a fourteen-year old on the computer and telling her the sexual things he wanted to do to her before he ate her alive.  He had pictures on his computer of a child with an apple in her mouth sitting on a serving plate.  Sick!!  Or how about the detective who went to arrest an accused pedophile and while in the house found martini glasses with half eaten human feces in them and digital images/movies of pre-school children being subjected to anal rape.  Apparent the cocktail was used while watching the movies of children.  Life is a daily assault on these cop’s sensibilities, a diurnal attack of nausea from seeing a young life destroyed.  It is disgusting to even talk about these things, much less see them daily.  But we expect a portion of our police population to endure this attack so they can put the perpetrators in jail.  The problem is the criminals are not the only ones put in jail, as there are many types of mental jails. Read the rest of this entry »

Police Psychology: Law Enforcement Longevity and Loss of Self

Michael Tavolacci, PhD

Peak Performance Biofeedback, Inc.

(The interpretation of statistics and the opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own, not reflective of the website or the editor’s.)


In 2011 65 police officers were shot and killed! (Violanti, 2012)

In 2011 147 police officers committed suicide! (Violanti, 2012)

Ironically, the sad reality is police officers commit suicide more frequently than the civilian population. Admittedly, there are a myriad of possible explanations for the statistics, access to firearms being among the most commonly cited factors. I would suggest there is an important change that takes place in an individual who, previously determined to be of sound mind, commits suicide, weapon access notwithstanding. Degradation of self-worth, loss of hope, and feelings of helplessness are commonly understood to be elements in suicide and must have been prompted by some new variable in the officer’s life. Once the decision has been reached the weapon is merely a tool to do the job as there are various ways to end one’s life.

The Cumulative Career Traumatic Stress (CCTS) detailed by Marshall speaks directly to the hopelessness that accompanies suicide. I envision the three concepts of the suicide dynamic as the legs of a stool. As Marshall suggests that the officer’s sense of hopelessness is derived from constant, never-ending, stress, I see the leg weakening, at risk of collapse. The leg that represents the helplessness of suicide emerges as officers come to feel they cannot free themselves from the urge to help mankind, in the face of insurmountable cynicism for the very same. The third and final leg of the stool, worthlessness, represents the diminished public support perceived by most officers as they are often vilified for their mistakes and seen as representative of an increasingly distrusted government. Read the rest of this entry »

Police Psychology: Merry Stressmas

Posted: December 20, 2017 in Police Stress

Police Psychology:  Merry Stressmas

by Gary S. Aumiller, PH.D.  ABPP


So I was riding on a train on Wednesday of last week, December 13, 2017, at 6 am in the morning going into New York City for a OASAS seminar.  OASAS is the certifying group that allows you to do evaluations on people who got a DWI  and recommend the type of treatment they need.  I sat down and noticed in the car I was riding on in the train every person, regardless of age, was looking at the phone.  I stood up to looked around and over the seats and every last person was looking at Facebook or YouTube or texting or for whatever reason was phone involved.  I had my phone packed away in my briefcase and wasn’t going to open it because I never really commuted into the city, so I wanted the experience of watching people on the phone.  Then I looked out the window and an absolutely gorgeous sunrise was starting.  It was one of those crisp cold clear winter days and the sunrise was there for all to see.  Dark shades of red and orange and it looked so absolutely beautiful contrasting some of the dark buildings of Queens New York.  It was a sunrise that perhaps you only get 15 of these gems in your whole life and it was there outside the window for all to admire.  At least if they’d lift their heads from the phone, which I was the only person on a crowded train that did.  I thanked God for giving me a stunning sunrise to watch all by myself, a show just for me apparently.  I hoped someone else saw it too, but in my car. Read the rest of this entry »