Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

Police Psychology:  Randomness in Life

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.  ABPP


We can use the idea behind a coin toss to help manage our mental health.

In police psychology, as well at other divisions within psychology, we are always looking for innovative ways to make a point to our therapy clients that is not only memorable, but can be applied to their lives across numerous situations.   One of my favorites uses the coin toss research that is probably as old as psychology itself, or perhaps as old as mathematical probability at least.  I remember reading it as an undergraduate, but didn’t think much of it at the time.  Since then, the simplicity of the research has amazed me.

The researchers tossed a coin in the air and record whether the outcome is head or tails.  The research team tossed the coins 100 times, 1000 times and even 10,000 times.  At the higher numbers, a strange phenomenon occurred. (more…)

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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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The Police Psychologist and the BFD


cloud and lightening

Everyone has those little things that tick them off and trigger a bad mood.

Those in police psychology must learn about the BFD. The cops used to use that acronym regularly.  Bad F—ing Day.  I am not sure what the “F” means in the acronym, but I don’t think it is too nice. (Let’s not have a bunch of you writing in to tell me). Everyone has bad days. Some bad days are considerably worse than others and you can pinpoint exactly what happened that made you feel this way. Some days may just feel strange or off, but you’re not necessarily sure why. Perhaps you had a bad dream that is just too far down in your subconscious that you cannot remember it; or maybe you slept in a strange position that made your back or neck cramp. Maybe you got into an argument before bed and even though you made up, you’re still upset about it. Or it could be as simple as you’re too hot, or too cold, or too hungry, or there’s a bad smell in your house that you can’t really identify. The possibilities are endless—unfortunately. And the BFD can cause a lot of undue police stress

Getting Worse

error on computer

In police psychology, we often find ourselves dealing with individuals who are constantly in a bad mood.

Or, if you make it through the morning wake-up feeling good, random events can turn a good day into a bad day. You’ll say the gods are conspiring against you, or you are the proverbial cat to kick because the boss is frustrated about something.  Like mosquitoes after a sudden downpour on a sunny day, they can strike silently and unexpectedly.  No one is safe, whether you’re a student, a businessman, a parent, or working in police psychology. We all know that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach. But we all need to face the world at some point regardless of what it brings to us, and if we face the world with a negative attitude, with the bad mood that accompanies us throughout the day, we will have a much harder time working efficiently. This bad mood may not just affect our work performance; if we are rude and grumpy throughout the day, you can bet your co-workers, clients, friends, and even family will want very little to do with you.

 The main problem with waking up in a bad mood is it tends to follow you throughout the day, like an obnoxious gnat swarming around your head, or a shadow that refuses to get lost.  And, if waking up in a bad mood has an impact on the rest of our day, then the trick is to shake off those negative feelings as soon as possible.  In other words, the best thing to do when you wake up in a bad mood is to change your mood.  I know, I know…that’s easier said then done.  When you feel like there’s a black cloud floating on top of you, it can seem very difficult, maybe even impossible, to snap your fingers and make the sun shine.

 Elevator Story

I remember a story told to us in graduate school as a lead in for rational emotive therapy. It starts in an elevator that goes up 30 flights. You rush to get the elevator and are the last person in. You are crammed in, face on the opening, and can’t turn or see in any direction.   The elevator is broken and it “dings” at each floor but the doors do not open. You can’t reach the buttons to get out. You are stuck. The elevator goes up to the second floor, and you hear the ding. Then you get about a two inch round, cylindrical object hit you right in middle of the back.  You don’t think anything of it.  Next floor get the ding, a round object clips you right in the middle of the back.  You squirm to get out.  Same thing happens for ten floors.  You are angry.  You reach for the controls but can’t get to them.  You yell but the music and the crowd negates your sound. Eleventh floor same ding, same poke in the back.  Twelfth floor – ding, poke.  By twenty five floors you are fuming.  You can’t wait to get out and rip someone’s head off. You got a black and blue mark expanding from the one inch to the entire back.  You are raging.  Finally the moment comes. Thirtieth floor. The door open, you have a combination of rage and happiness cause you are getting to fulfill your destiny.  People start piling out of the elevator. You have your attack planned.  Then you see a little old blind lady in the back of the elevator trying to search for the door being open with her cane.  She almost falls forward as she reaches.  She creeps forward.  Are you still enraged?  Her cane falls between the gap of the elevator and the floor.  Are you still wanting to beat her up or has your emotion changed instantaneously?

 We need to implement our own techniques and strategies to banish the bad mood, and they can happen in an instant.  Bad moods can disappear as quickly and as unsuspecting as they appear with just a little cognitive work.  And it’s a good thing I’m here to tell you about some of the tricks I use in police psychology. Try the techniques below to help banish your bad mood.

Police psychology: simple steps3 Steps for Banishing the Bad Mood

  1. Beat Yourself Up with Positive. Bombard yourself with positive information. Read Norman Vincent Peale, or Dale Carnegie, or Gary Aumiller (ohhh, that’s me). Focus all your attention and energy on the positive information into your system.   YouTube is great for that.  Get yourself positive. Throw compliments around like confetti at a ticker tape parade. Reduce the negative in everyday things.  Brushing your teeth isn’t so bad, eating breakfast isn’t so bad, working on this article for your boss or teacher isn’t so bad.  Look at every moment as a self-contained event or activity, and focus all your effort on making yourself smile. When talking to someone, make extra eye contact with them, devote your full attention to what they are saying, and compliment them.  When walking down the street, enjoy the breeze outside, the sunshine on your face.  Don’t let yourself get distracted by past events.
  2. Find Something that Brings Good Memories. Everyone has some smells that transport him or her back to a certain moment in time, like freshly baked cookies at your grandmother’s house, or a perfume that you wore on a really fun date.  Use those scents to bring up good memories. Listen to a song that makes you happy, treat yourself to a snack or lunch that you know you enjoy, focus on the simple things that make you happy.  If you find these simple things that bring up good memories for you to savor, there won’t be any room in your mind for the bad thoughts to intrude.
  3. Plan Something in the Future. If you’re in a bad mood or experiencing a lot of stress (police stress or otherwise), one way to get out of that slump is to plan something exciting to do in the future. Plan a trip, a date, an adventure, or even a walk to your favorite spot, and hold onto that excitement and expectation throughout the day. If you do something spontaneous you enjoy it for the amount of time you did it, if you plan it in the future you enjoy it for the planning, the waiting, and the event. This goal-oriented attitude, can do wonders to banishing your bad mood.


Using these steps, you can begin to change the bad mood you woke up with into a good mood. A BFD into a GFD. This will help you perform better and more efficiently at work or school, help you have a much better day, and help you smile.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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Keeping It Simple


Police Psychology has many facets.  This is one I learned quickly working with officers.


Keep life simple in order to increase happiness and reduce stress.

I sat and dutifully listened to a story I had heard many times from my parents and now from my friend’s Brooklyn relatives. It seems that people who were children of the forties and before remember a time when there was no refrigeration in their homes. To compensate for what seems a necessity nowadays, people had ice blocks delivered to their homes from a centralized ice house. These blocks were put in an ice box with all the perishables that needed to be kept cool. This process led to one of the world’s simplest pleasures, and a pleasure that I have envied since the first time I heard this story.

As the iceman would travel down the street on a hot summer day, a pack of children followed his truck. As he chipped off a hunk of ice from the big block to fill each order, small pieces would break off. These small pieces of ice were given to the children to cool themselves down in the summer heat. Each small piece of ice was cherished, bringing immeasurable pleasure to the overheated children-who are now misty-eyed adults remembering the gleeful event seventy years later. Imagine, a piece of ice – frozen water. Is there anything simpler?


Simple – Then and Now

Today, when ice cream comes in thousands of flavors, with exotic names like double-fudge-upside-down-magic-cookie-cream-monster crunch, I would still bet that those simple pieces of ice brought more pleasure to those kids. In fact, I would be willing to venture that most of us will never know a pleasure comparable to that simple “piece of ice.” It is sad to realize that in a time so filled ·with the “riches” of life – IPAD’s, smart phones, Facebook, YouTube and the rest – we actually live in great poverty for the pleasure of simple things, like that simple piece of ice.

In an attempt to better meet our perceived needs, we are denying our basic needs. In an attempt to make life easier, we are complicating our lives. In an attempt to create some kind of lasting happiness, we are setting the conditions for happiness to be transient. Happiness was around long before we intervened. Happiness was, and still is, achieved by focusing on the simple pleasures in your life.


Happiness is Simple

ice truck 2

Happiness is in the simple things, in limiting the clutter in your life.

Do you really believe that people in or society are happier than the settlers on the Western frontier who had very little? Are our children today happier playing on their IPADS than the children of the thirties following that ice truck? We have been made to believe that technology will provide the hope for mankind. We’ve been made to believe that a psychological understanding of our inner selves will transform us. The hope for mankind does not lie in scientific advances that add to “more.” It does not lie in the creation of bigger and more complicated toys. Happiness does not lie in any complex techniques of psychology designed to give you new insights into the inner self. The hope for mankind lies in the focus on the “simple” things in life. The hope for mankind may actually be a step back in a time when science is propelling the world forward at a phenomenal pace. The hope for mankind is learning again how to make things simpler amidst a tornado of technology, nasty news stories, and information.


Beginning to Simplify

Three things you can do now to begin to simplify your lives.


  • De-clutter: Get rid of the clutter around your house, in your basement, in your room and in your children’s room. Be careful to keep the few things you do use, but remember that cluttered cages cause animals to be sick. Overcome the entropy that can turn your life into a landfill. De-cluttering is the ultimate start to make things simpler.
  • Deprogram: Get rid of the complicated thoughts and patterns you have in your thinking that create an avalanche of misery. Let people one up you, let people have differing opinions. Get rid of the concept of self-esteem. Learn to focus on your efforts, not others opinions of you. Learn to focus on your self-talk, not the talk of others. Fight to not get too upset about the randomness of the world. People who don’t try to control the actions of others are much happier in their lives.
  • Desire: Make the goal of life to live experiences, not collecting things. Teach your children this early by concentrating your money on giving them fun experiences. Take them to a horse race, or a show, or a vacation. Worry about managing your time, not your possessions. Toys get discarded — memories never do.

Start the journey to make your life more rewarding now. You will never look back and regret it.


Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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Toxic Games


While the game pinball may be fun, emotional pinball can seriously impact your self-esteem.

From police psychology to basic chemistry:  If we wanted to make a very good cleaner, we would mix two decent cleaners and the combination would make something great. Doesn’t take a genius to understand, does it? So go home and mix ammonia and bleach and see what you get (actually don’t ever do this). You end up getting a chlorine gas that can cause you to lose consciousness, literally burn your insides out, or possibly just kill you. In fact, it was actually used in WWII for chemical warfare. This is called an interaction effect –the combination of two things take the shape of a separate event all to itself. And by the way, chlorine gas doesn’t feel good.


The Pinball  Effect

Now take two wonderful people, and mix them together and you will get a wonderful couple, right? Or take a job and a highly qualified person and magic happens. Well, not always. Sometimes you get a chemical warfare agent. A sort of mustard gas. And that doesn’t mean someone is undeserving or stupid. It doesn’t mean that someone is inadequate, it doesn’t mean that someone is bad, or wrong, or… (insert any negative word that you’ve ever told yourself). It means simply you are not right in that situation. Yet, we will work to blame someone, or point to some inadequacies in the other person, or do something that makes someone else or ourselves feel awful. This is human nature. When someone is particularly attuned to other people’s opinion, I call it “emotional pinball.” Just bouncing around from bumper to bumper lighting people up. Don’t pinball off others. Everyone’s definition of excellence will be different, and to some, your performance may be amazing, and to others it may fall short. But none of that should matter as long as you do your best, as long as you put in your effort.


How to deal with criticism and praise without the Pinball Effect

mental ward

Don’t let other people’s judgement change the way you see yourself.

There’s a stress management tip I use in my speeches and in therapy that I want to share with you. Close your eyes and picture in your mind sitting in class. Your teacher goes up to the front of the class and announces, “Wow, everyone’s paper was fantastic—oh, except for you (insert your name here). That was the worst paper I’ve ever read.” On a scale of –10 to +10, with “0” being neutral, how did your opinion of yourself change after hearing your teacher say that about you? Or after hearing your boss say your work was the worst he’s seen. Now, how about a different scenario: “These papers were the worst I’ve ever seen—except for (insert your name again—wow, I should have told you to bring a pen). That was the best paper I’ve ever read.” On that same scale, rate your change in opinion of yourself after this statement. What about walking down the street and hearing people catcall at you? (That often gets an age and gender dependent reaction). Or, having a stranger call you a jerk? (New Yorkers need not answer this) The point is your answer should be “0” for all of these. Your opinion of yourself should not change, positively or negatively, just because someone else has judged you or your work. You need to make an evaluation of your own effort, instead of “pinballing” off the evaluations of others. Feel good about your effort, or set yourself to work harder next time. Don’t pinball!

Self esteem was a construct created in the 1890’s which started as a simple evaluation of the goals and achievement. If you achieved goals you had a good self-esteem, if you didn’t you would have a negative self-esteem. William James gave it a name and others kept it alive. It is rotten meat. It is a dated computer. It is an old dusty moth-eaten hat in the attic. Time to throw it away. Escape the dungeon of self-esteem.


Social Media: The problem and the solution

This is especially significant with the advent of the internet and media. So often do we see people post pictures, videos, or statuses on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and they get so many negative comments. Don’t get bummed out by them; don’t let your opinion of yourself change just because someone else judged you and found you wanting. Don’t tear down the picture or the video, or cry in your room, or blame the world for being against you. Ignore the gossip and harsh criticisms of other people. Sometimes you can be the best one out there, but if you’re not right for the part, you won’t be the right person. Accept that you can’t be everyone’s hero. And that can’t change how you feel about yourself, can’t change the voices in your head to negativistic, because as long as you know you’ve given it your all, that is all the judgment you need.

So let’s vanquish the concept of self-esteem and say simply, I did the best I can or I have to work harder next time or focus more next time. Let’s not worry about ourselves all the time. And mostly, let’s stop pinballing off of others’ opinions, and see our efforts as the most important goal of all.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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