Guest Blogger | How To Survive a Professional Ambush

Posted: July 27, 2015 in Stories
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Guest Blogger | How To Survive a Professional Ambush

 by Marla Friedman, Psy.D.

Police Psychologist, Director of Investigative Services, Immediate Past Chair-Illinois Police Psychological Services/ILACP, Board of Directors-Badge of Life

I began my career in mental health in 1979. I had graduated with a shiny, fresh degree in psychology, though I had more hours in studio art and art history than in psychology. Unfortunately my interest in having a career in art was limited by my lack of talent. I also noticed that being dead was a big career builder in the art world. That was less appealing. So, ultimately I figured I could have a career in psychology, which I loved and keep art as a hobby.

I’ve always had this image that when I was born, the doctor pulled me out, smacked my butt and said, “it’s a girl, then thumped my head and said, “oh, and a psychologist.”

I was raised in a chaotic family and felt sure that there was a better way to do things. I learned later that normal families do not produce good clinicians and very crazy families do not either. I was raised in a medium crazy family. Good catch on that one!

My father, a very bright man, told me that the structure of a cell and the characteristics of the universe were very similar. He said, think about this, “ what if the whole world as we know it exists in a cell on the thumb of an ordinary man just walking down the street.” Never tell that to an obsessive, and existentially nervous seven year-old.

Still I realized early I had a lot of reading to do on many subjects. So I spent most of my time doing that. By 12, I was reading Freud and Jung, not to mention Nancy Drew and all the crime related literature I could find. I thought if I could read everything I would be well prepared for what was to come. Oh silly girl!

Okay, back to the future, I couldn’t wait to encounter all the cases I learned about in school. I literally loved the field from the get go especially the bizarre disorders. Hebephrenic schizophrenics and multiple personality disorders, unusual phobias, you name it I was game. Did I mention naive?

I was young and inexperienced both personally and professionally. I took the first job I was offered. I was thrilled. When filling out the application it asked for my hobbies, which I thought was odd at the time but I put in art and sign language, as I was an obedient student. I was immediately contacted by a 120-bed psychiatric hospital, which housed one of the few mental health programs for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired in the country. I considered that to literally be the best thing that could ever happen to me. I stayed there for seven years and was incredibly fortunate to work on every unit with hearing and deaf patients including, pediatric, pre-adolescent, adolescent, adult, substance abuse and even spent a year doing testing in the Personality Lab.

The best part, besides the exposure to every diagnostic category imaginable and a complete education in psychopharmacology was the collegial atmosphere of the staff. We were bonded, reliable in an emergency, supportive, cooperative and helpful. There was never any competition. We made sure everyone was safe. We still see each other today. So that was my experience with my mental health peers, and I could never imagine anything different.

In the 1980s (let’s leave my age out of this) was the first time I had any interaction with law enforcement. I was tasked with going to local PDs (usually at 3 in the morning) and finding placements for runaway adolescents. This opened my eyes to the possibilities available to immerse myself in police culture and then re-train in criminal justice, homicide investigation and the mental

health needs of law enforcement. I moved into private practice and included 1st responders in my practice. I knew at that time I wanted a long- term career as a psychologist, so I always limited the number of patients I saw in each category. I was thinking high variety, lower chance of burnout.

I was lucky throughout school, practicums, internship and jobs (except for the rare exception) to have incredibly talented and generous supervisors, mentors and peers. Most of them were at the top of their game. Since that time I have enjoyed a successful solo private practice. The headaches of being my own boss were outweighed by my ability to treat the most incredible people and still love my job.

So far it all sounds good, right? Well up to this point people who knew me would describe me as a bookworm, who preferred not to join groups or engage in public speaking unless I couldn’t avoid it. Still anxious and obsessive with a strong belief in doing the right thing, and the false belief that life is essentially fair. I marched forward.

I decided to start taking more risks, trying new things and was eventually voted Chair of an important committee within the law enforcement community. Two psychologists made it clear that they wanted the position regardless of the vote. That was the first time I was exposed to psychologists who were competitive, mean spirited and working for financial gain only. I was bullied, threatened and misrepresented by an early career psychologist who wanted a bite at the apple. Fortunately, most of these transmissions were done through E-mail or mail so I had a record of all of it. Did I mention that sometimes I’m still naive?

My mistakes were many. For the first year I didn’t tell anyone. I should have reported the ethical breaches right away. My goals for the committee were two fold. 1. Assess the needs of the Chief’s of Police and then develop programs to meet those needs. 2. Have law enforcement personnel become comfortable with psychologists so they would value and use our services.

I was afraid if I told anyone within the association I would be losing the trust and support I had gained with so many of the chiefs. I had worked so hard for law enforcement to see psychologists as valuable assets. I felt betrayed and trapped by my own profession. Finally, I contacted the confidential services of the ethics committee of the IACP and received excellent advice about how to minimize the impact of the personality types I was dealing with. I have followed that advice. I started confiding in peers and family. I sought consultation with other professionals. I had a plan that was reasonable and doable. I felt better.

Too many times as psychologists we forget the best thing we can do is confide in another human being, basically get some of the help from others that we usually provide our patients. “Physician heal thyself” isn’t a good motto for us to live by. Reach out to others and let them heal you when you are in a professional ambush. Ask for support. Trust your own profession to give you the help you need!

Marla Friedman, Psy.D.


Blog Director:  Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article. The author discusses a painful aspect of professional practice which is sadly been the experience of many psychologists. As recent events have demonstrated, the profession of psychology needs to seriously address issues of ethics. It is imperative that psychologists examine their behavior towards each other. Respect and an openness to different viewpoints is essential. Just as an individual can be ambushed, recently the profession of psychology has been ambushed. The ambush was by the leaders within APA. Secrecy and ambush and ethical behavior are not compatible. Thanks to the author for this reminder.

    • Thank you for understanding not only my small situation but the larger picture as well. We have to protect the field of Psychology from those whose agendas are unprofessional and/or unethical.

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