Archive for the ‘Mastering Change’ Category

Police Psychology:  New Year’s Resolutions

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.  ABPP


I asked my intern what her New Year’s Resolutions were and she said she wanted to go to the gym more often, graduate college and get a job. She also wanted to make her room less messy. I want to be able to still remember when I graduated college, or got my first real job, and I have given up long ago on the gym or the clean office. “I can’t stand all the disgusting youth at the gym. It’s all over the place.” Her resolutions don’t really help me decide mine. I must find someone else. I must ask my patients.

Less anxious, less angry, happier, less complaining, drink less, etc. My patients weren’t much help either. I actually need to drink more (red wine is good for the heart), get angry on more occasions, and care enough about things to give a damn about complaining. Where will the search for a resolution lead me next. Sure, I need to lose weight, clean up the office and ten thousand things around work, but what about real resolutions. (more…)

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Police Psychology | Police Divorce Part 2:  Hate to Admit

by Dr. Gary S. Aumiller

When I was in my late 20’s and just married, I asked a friend of ours (who was really old, a few years short of 40) what was it like to be divorced?  police, divorce, psychologyDoes it feel different?!  He had an early marriage that didn’t work, and frankly divorce wasn’t in my wheel of experiences then, so I was curious.  He said “it was really rough at first, but looking back now it was just a relationship gone bad, like you had in high school or college.”  I didn’t buy it.  I mean this was a marriage, the sanctity of vows, building a life together, dreams, together goals, and all that jazz.      

So you’ve started the process of getting a divorce.  You’ve stopped blaming the other party.  You’ve stopped envisioning him in a refrigerator box living on the streets or her in a mental hospital, now you have to do something, right?   Time to find some loose women and play the field, or find a real man that knows how to take care of a woman, or play on the other team for awhile and gain some new experiences with your own sex, or become more independent and find yourself by jumping out of a plane, or perhaps stay with that new love that got you out of your marriage and will lead you to eternal bliss.  Let me know how these work out for you.  I’ll be waiting for you to boomerang to the same spot you are in right now.  (more…)

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Police Psychology | Police Divorce Part 1: Shutting Down the Blame Game

by  Dr. Gary Aumiller, Ph.D.    ABPP

The real cause of police suicide is divorce or marital problems. Internal affairs investigations are a distant second. I would venture to say divorcewhen human error comes into play in car chases, and misjudgments by cops, there is often a divorce behind it. As the rest of the regular world, most officers going through a divorce can think of nothing else in that time. They find they have a hard time concentrating and they lose focus easily. Their emotions are on edge, and deep sleep is a sporadic visitor in their life. Not so bad if you are an accountant, but it can be a killer if you are a cop. Literally. And it doesn’t have to be that way. This series on Divorce is about how to calm down a divorce when you are facing one. The first thing we want to talk about is the Blame Game.

I was a consultant with the FBI and we decided to throw three conferences to find out what was really going on with police officers. They were going to invite the best people in the world for these conferences and give them a place to stay in the academy to discuss issues on the topics. The first was Domestic Violence in law enforcement officers, the second was Suicide and the third was Divorce. The first two came off wonderfully and gave the field the basis for policy and program development. The third was interrupted by an internal transfer and lockdown after 9/11. At that conference most psychologists would have stood up and presented internet quote of the police divorce rate being 60-70% (in the general population, somewhere around 45-50% deal with a divorce in a lifetime). A psychologist from Virginia named Mike Aamodt would have gotten up and presented a very logical technique to show that the divorce rate was the same as the general population or that there was no good research on it in policing (he actually did that research anyway using census data). I would have gotten up and presented an innovative treatment program which would have been ignored by mostly everyone for ten years.  There is one thing I can tell you for sure, a cop is much more likely to go through a divorce than shoot his weapon at an assailant in his career, but most academies train how to shoot repeatedly and going through divorce not at all. So let’s begin by learning how to treat a divorce in policing. (more…)

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Police Psychology | I’m Dreaming of a RIGHT Christmas


While I was building my police psychology practice when I was starting out, I used to work in a high school as a school psychologist. As part of my program I ran weekly groups for the kids where they could talk and get some advice for minor problems. Often the groups got into major problems and I could come in and help out. I ran about 30 groups a week so it was a pretty big program encompassing over half of the junior and senior classes.

The Letter to Santa

Every other group session I would give them an exercise, and on alternating Police Psychology, santa, thumbsweeks they would just talk. At Christmastime, I remember the exercise distinctly. It was a fill-in the blanks letter to Santa. It started off “Dear Santa:” and went through lines like “give me _____ to improve my looks, ________ to improve my personality or make my fantasy of __________ come true.” I would get out all the insecurities of adolescence and they would encourage each other and find out even the prettiest people or the best athletes were insecure about something. I would close every letter with a P.S. which said “Thank you Santa for bringing me ______ and ______ last year.” It was cute, fit the season and got out some good therapy stuff. But I didn’t expect the result I got.

Almost all of the kids could not fill in the last two blanks! Some could get one, but two was very rare. Much to my surprise, they would easily write down their fantasy (sometimes I wish they hadn’t), but would never be able to remember what they had gotten last year from their parents. It was explained that they were just to write what their parents had given them, and none could do it. This was an affluent school, and these kids got major gifts, but that was not one of their memories. So I started asking questions and many could tell me Christmas traditions in their family, such as singing carols or visiting a poor family with gifts, but none could remember what they had gotten, unless it was an activity gift like going to a ballgame with their dad or something.

Christmas Traditions

I don’t know why I was surprised. I can remember grandpa’s Christmas ravioli, we’d stay up late at night making them and we’d get to taste on raw if we were good. I remember the late night card games when we were kids where we always seemed to win at the end; and I remember the little homemade Christmas ornaments all the neighbors used to give each other — so simple and beautiful. But I only remember two gifts throughout the years. I got a drum set in first grade. I remember it because I played it non-stop for days – just banging my heart out. I loved those drums. Funny, when I went back to school after the break, I came home and my mother said burglars broke in the house and stole my drum set. Nothing else, just my drum set. I also remember a 007 briefcase that used to shoot little plastic bullets out the side of it. My brother hit me with one of the bullets in the eye. The Christmas burglars came back for that, even though we had moved. How’d the burglars know! Never did figure that out. Maybe that is why I became a police psychologist—to catch criminals.

My brother had a cool tradition at Christmas. Every year he would tape and interview his kids at holiday time asking them who were their friends, what they were learning and what they wanted for Christmas, etc. When they got a little older, each Christmas we’d watch the tape from 5 or so years before and the present tape. What a great little gift for all of us, including the kids, to see the kids growing up on tape each year. They’re now around 4+ and my niece’s kids watch it. This is a great tradition.

My clients have gotten their teenager a car. They feel it will get him away from the video games. He not a real hard worker, doesn’t try too hard in school, never had an after school job. He used to be into skating, but it was too much work, so now he is a video whiz, in fact skipped school a few times when new games are released. But he is an ace at video games. Ninety percent of what the parents talk about in therapy is the misery the kid is putting on their lives.  I will have to tell them of the Christmas burglars.

Police psychology: simple steps3 Simple Steps to a Tradition

  1. Enjoy the Season, Not the Day — Make the buying of the tree a big event. Keep Santa Claus alive even after the kids are grown. Get together with neighbors before Christmas/Hanukkah. Invite neighbor over to light a candle and have a glass of cider. Go caroling. Make special foods over a period of weeks. This is a glorious time of year. Enjoy every moment of it.
  1. Time Gifts — Kid and adults remember and react to gifts of time. Thinks about making purchases of ball games, concerts, shows, vacations, anything that will take a little pleasure away from an item that you bought. Christmas and Hanukkah are times of great anticipation; keep that alive by giving a gift of time in the future.
  1. Friend in Need – I didn’t make this one up, but Christmas/Hanukkah is a time to share your good fortune with others, even if that good fortune doesn’t have any money attached. Adopt a family, buy a random gift for a kid with parents struggling, cook something and bring it to others in need. I used to throw huge parties in my younger days and tell people instead of something for me, bring a toy that I can give to a child in need at Christmas. We are all in this world together, do you part to make someone happier.

Some gifts last!! It will be what you do at a holiday season that makes a difference, not what material things you give. We tend to forget that this time of year. We get caught up in the commercialism of the holidays and forget to start the traditions. Start a new tradition this Christmas or Hanukkah and see where it takes you. You will like the outcome. Have a great holiday season this year.

Blog Administrator: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.

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Police Psychology | You Change Your Underwear, Don’t You


Police Psychology Change 2

Just like life, police psychology is all about change.

Police psychology is about change (and police stress is often about dealing with change). It could be changing an officer’s life, changing the behavior of a perpetrator, or choosing the officer who will go into an academy and have to deal with a lot of change. Life is full of change. Whether it is the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly, the gradual change in weather and seasons, or the growth and development of your children—everything experiences change. Change is not necessarily a bad thing. Some habits you have would probably be better off if you changed them, some not. I’m sure you’ve heard your mom say, “stop biting your nails” too many times to count. While biting your nails may be a harmless habit that may not necessarily be deserving of change, reverting to anger every time something bad happens is definitely something that should be changed. So is procrastination, laziness, and eating unhealthy—all habits that may seem easier and more fun to engage in, but are negatively effecting your performance, productivity, and overall well being.

The Process of Change

Police Psychology Change 1

In police psychology, we need to understand when it is time for change.

So how does change occur in a person? What causes people to change? I always describe a three-step process to my clients, each step building successively off the one before it. In the first stage, we think about things we’ve done in the past. There is a famous saying that “hindsight is 20/20.” In psychology, we call this the hindsight bias. Both of these are just fancy ways of saying that we can look back on things we’ve done in the past and examine why it did or didn’t work for us, or what we should do differently in the future. For example, if you speak without thinking, chances are you’ve gotten into trouble at some point saying something you later regretted. “Did you gain some weight?” “You don’t look so good in that,” not the best to phrases to say to a spouse when you are about to go out. In this step of the process, you reminisce on the things you did or said wrong in the past and plan what you can do or say differently next time.

After step one becomes second nature, the trick is to take it a step further. The next step in the process is to stop yourself in the middle of doing something that you now know you will regret. It may be that you stop yourself at a point that the damage is still done, but the purpose is you need to get yourself in the habit of stopping yourself in the middle of the activity that you are trying to change. To illustrate, in step one, you may look back on half your day and realize you wasted the entire thing procrastinating all the work you needed to get done. In this stage (step 2) of the process, you stop yourself in the middle of your procrastination and begin to tackle even the smallest of things you need to get done. Voila, you have started to change the behavior.

 The Final Stage

Once you master this step, you move onto the final stage in the process of change: stopping yourself before you do the activity in the first place. Instead of saying “Do you really want to wear that?” you can say nothing at all, or say something like, “I really like when you wear your red dress. I’d love if you wore that tonight!” This is the stage when you prevent yourself from getting irrationally angry at something that goes wrong, and yelling at everyone in sight. Or when you prevent yourself from having obsessive thoughts about something in particular. This stage is where you have successfully changed the bad behavior. Don’t give yourself a victory ribbon until you make this stage as much a habit as you made the first two. Bear in mind that the most important point of these steps is that they are a progression, a succession, and they build upon each other. Past-Middle-Future, sort of makes sense, huh?. All change must be gradual—you can’t go from zero to one hundred in one day. Instead, master each small step until you have succeeded in changing your behavior completely.

Police psychology: simple stepsThree Steps to Help you Change

Follow me on this one. It is not complicated, but it can be very powerful.

  1.  So step one is the first week or two, I tell them to identify anger (procrastination, obsessive thoughts) when they occur. Be aware of the trouble it has gotten them into and the ways they need to overcome it. Dig deep, and bring out the things that are happening in their life. Frequently I have to make them do this in the therapy session. Although it may be difficult at first, from my experience in police psychology and dealing with police stress, I know how important this first step can be.
  2. Involves programming the brain. I tell my clients to say the words “anger-stop-think” or “procrastination-stop-think” or “obsession-stop-think” (insert whatever factor they are trying to change or get rid of, the word “stop” – then what they want to do instead). They should say these three words 500 times a day. They should do this every single day for two weeks straight. (The reason I tell them to do it for two weeks is because I doubt many of my clients will do it for that long, but I really want them to engage in this behavior for a solid week straight. So, if I tell them two weeks, chances are they will make it to the end of the first week, at least, before they stop.)  I encourage all my clients to get a golf counter to keep track of all the times they’ve said the three words (I give it to them). My male clients really relate to it. Invariably, the first thing I hear when I tell my clients to do this is: “That’s impossible. I can’t do that. How can you expect me to say that 500 times?” But it’s really not as hard as you may think. On the drive back from the therapy session, they can say it 200 times. While you exercise that evening you can say it. Say it in the bathroom, while you shower, while you clean up the house or cook dinner. You’ll see that it’s really a lot easier to do this than you may think. Hey, as a good Catholic boy growing up, how many Hail Marys and Our Fathers did I say ritualistically?  It got programmed in my head.  The purpose of this whole exercise is it slowly changes your mindset. Saying something 500 times a day for 7 days a week, for a total of 3,500 times, is bound to get the message to sink in and help change the way they think and act. Eventually, if they continue this practice, whenever you get angry, or whenever you begin to procrastinate, these words will pop into your head and you will stop and think about the behavior that you are about to do. Essentially, these three words help reprogram your brain, so that you are able to stop and think before you say or do something you will later regret.
  3. The third step I talk with them about a variety of cognitive techniques. I may talk about emotional opposites, I may talk about relativity, I may talk about entropy being natural, I may talk about self-esteem of other people, obsession is a big topic or even randomness in life. The time management matrix where you understand the difference between importance and urgency is also very relevant here. This is a technique that can spin in many different directions, but it is a good starting technique, and very useful in police psychology and dealing with police stress. You can even use it as a self-help technique. Now I need to go buy stock in golf counters.


Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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