Book Review: “Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation”

Posted: January 8, 2015 in Books
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Thomas Strenz

Book Review: An evaluation of Thomas Strenz’s hostage negotiation methodology in “Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation”

What hits you first is the organization of the material.  When I read Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation by Thomas Strenz (Taylor and Francis Publishers, Boca Raton, Fla. 2006), I didn’t expect to see what I saw.  I guess I expected another rehashing of hostage negotiation materials, but what I got was the structure of a thought process that really could be very useful to anyone in operational psychology.  In fact, it was organized more like a manual, than a book of descriptions of hostage situations and outcomes.  For that reason, this is a book you may want to look to adding to your library.

Thomas Strenz has taught hostage negotiations at the FBI academy, and work with the FBI gov.  He was introduced to the Society by Wayman Mullins (quite a name himself in this field) and just fascinated the group with his hostage negotiations mini-seminar.  Reading his book is a little like his seminar, except to see the material in a manual format makes it come more alive and gives the reader confidence that they know where to go for answers if ever they find themselves negotiating for the lives of others.  What Strenz did was simple, but sometimes simplicity alludes writers of material in this field.  He organized material to make it useful even at the scene of a hostage situation.  He also places a great value on the mental health professional in a hostage situation, as the mental health professional helps determine what you are dealing with and how to proceed.   Okay, this is not new, but remember this book is not written by a police psychologist, or anyone else in the mental health field; it is written by a negotiator.

The book is divided into five parts.  In the first part he talks about some basic issues in the hostage negotiation field and the formation of a negotiations team.  The subject in part two is the hostage taker.   What are the guidelines for dealing with each type of hostage taker and what kinds of things do you say to them.  In section three, the reader learns how to deal with the indicators of resolution.  When does a negotiator know surrender is imminent and when does the negotiator know it is about to go volatile.  In part four, Strenz deals with group dynamics, the when’s and how’s of deviation from hostage negotiation guidelines.  Part five deals with issues of the hostage like the Stockholm syndrome, what to say to a hostage and hostage stress.  In all, it is a pretty thorough book for under three hundred pages.

But, the real gem of the book, and the reason it can be seen as a manual to have at a hostage scene, is the second section.  Strenz goes into how to negotiate and what to say to different types of hostage takers.  He delves into what you say to an adolescent hostage taker, a suicidal hostage taker, an inadequate personality, a paranoid schiz, a bipolar hostage taker, an extremist, even a police assisted suicide who takes hostages.  This section is worth its weight in gold because he not only gives you the rationale, he gives you lists on where to go with a negotiation and what to say and not to say.  This is the brilliance of Strenz’s organization.

Okay, there are parts I am not crazy about.  Not many but one or two sections.  For example he recommends a critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) after a hostage situation for the team.  In reality, the CISD is more for informational purposes and a group session of pure cognitive therapy would be much more effective, especially with an established team.  But, that is a small piece and it reminds you that Strenz is not a psychologist and would be better to leave these things to a mental health professional.

So if you want a good read and a good reference in this area of operational work, order Thomas Strenz Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation.  You will not be disappointed.

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Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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