Posts Tagged ‘stress management’

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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Canned Soup Has Labels, People Shouldn’t



In police psychology, among other areas, naming things and putting a label on it, has come at a huge detriment to society.

Assessment is the goal of some parts of police psychology, but certainly not if you are working with the police officer on fixing their problems. When my brother was younger, he was known as a rambunctious child, the class clown, always running around, crazy with very high energy. People would have said he was “minimally brain damaged,” because at the time that is what they later called “minimal brain dysfunction.” A little later he would have been called “hyperactive,” then “emotionally disturbed.” If he was born now however he would be called “attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity” (he’s over 60). No longer was he just a noisy and fun-loving child—now he was something more: an individual with a syndrome that had to be treated. And of course, since he has the proper label, you know a lot about the cause of the problem, right? No way.

Rumpelstiltskin Effect

This is what I call the Rumpelstiltskin effect, a name I adapted from the Grimm’s fairytale character. In the story, this man is a pathological liar, and lies that his daughter can spin gold, like her blonde hair, from straw. Well, the king catches hold of the lie, and puts the girl in a room and says spin gold from straw or I will cut your head off (not quite the nose job she wanted). He agreed to marry her if she could in fact spin gold from straw. Well, the girl looked at the options, to become the queen or walk around headless, and decided she would rather become the queen. She paced and fretted and downright cried until this imp appeared and said he would spin gold from straw if she agreed to give him her first born child. Well she did, and they did and she got pregnant as the new queen. When it was time to collect on the bargain, however, the now-queen did not want to give up her child. Rumpelstiltskin agreed that if she could guess his name within three days, she could keep her child. On the final day, the desperate queen rides around outside looking for the imp to beg mercy, and she overhears Rumpelstiltskin singing his name. With this information in hand, she names the creature and gets to keep her child. The imp goes away forever and she and the king live happily ever after. Because naming the imp made everything better! Just like in life, if I name the problem the other questions in life get answered.

 The problem is there are a lot of derivatives that come along with putting a name to something. There is a tendency among many people today to believe there is a singular cause of a business problem, psychological problem or a medical problem that has a name. When something becomes a syndrome the universal thing is to look toward someone’s diet, or bad market projections or a vitamin deficiency or an over-bearing mother. It is just plain human nature and we miss the proverbial forest for the trees because the symptom is the problem and the cause is really minor in fixing it. When someone is labeled with a certain diagnoses, it is very hard to lose it and what comes with it.


I’ve Been Labeled and I Can’t Get Out

A famous study by Rosenhan in the seventies proved this very point. In his article “On Being Sane in Insane Places,” he demonstrated that pseudo-patients (individuals who were perfectly healthy, with no signs of mental illness whatsoever) who checked themselves into mental institutions claiming they had schizophrenia were quickly pigeonholed into having many other problems, but they showed no symptoms. To illustrate, during the long hours when they were in the institution, there was often nothing for them to do so they often gathered outside the meal hall a half hour before the doors would open. Nurses and doctors who noticed this (very normal) behavior quickly labeled these individuals as having “oral inquisitory syndrome” or “an oral fixation” when it should have been “bored-out-of-their-wits” syndrome. Additionally, these pseudo-patients had been instructed to record what it was like in the mental institutions for the purposes of the experiment. Because of this, they constantly took notes throughout the day. The nurses and doctors labeled this “writing behavior” calling it from paranoia to obsessive-compulsion and recorded it in the patients’ charts. It is interesting to see how the behavior of these perfectly healthy and sane individuals was seen in a new way, just because they had been given the label “schizophrenic” when they checked themselves into the institution. None of the staff saw any of the 118 pseudo-patients as imposters, although mental patients in the hospital identified 35 of them as researchers checking up on the staff. By the way, it took the average pseudo-patient 19 days to be released with a high of 52 days, all because of a label put on them at admission!

 The point is there is very rarely one single cause of a problem. It is much more typical that there are multiple causes for any behavior, business fluctuation or medical symptom. Each individual is different with different experiences. Hyperactivity does not have to be due to a mental illness—it can just as easily (and more likely) be due to consumption of lead, or too much sugar, or genetics. In fact, most likely it is due to a combination of a couple of these causes! We need to move away from the assumption that giving a name to something means we understand it, or that we have diagnosed it completely. We need to move away from the idea that creating a name for something that is happening gives us any more than a name, and could hurt us considerably. And my brother is retired now after two wonderful fully grown kids and a long healthy career. And he had no labels.


procrastination23 Steps to Help You Avoid the Rumpelstiltskin Effect

  1.  Avoid egocentricism. When people think they are the center of the world, they tend to believe that anyone who behaves in a way counter to their own is wrong, or deficient. This can lead people to naming others and incorrectly diagnosing their behavior. If you are a very composed person, when you see someone who can’t sit still, it is easy to prescribe a defect in the other person. You need to accept that there is always more to the story than you know, and just because they look or behave differently, does not mean they have a problem. Avoid spreading rumors or gossip about someone just because they don’t neatly fit into your definition of normal. Perhaps our columnists and news people should hear this.
  2.  Evaluate externally. Along the lines of avoiding egocentricism, you need to look at your own behavior objectively. If you are having an off day because of random circumstances, and you snap at everyone at work, or avoid eye-contact and don’t greet anyone, think about how that will look to other people. It is very possible they are evaluating your behavior and naming you as suffering from some mental illness, or syndrome or creating a problem employee. In fact, you are just having a bad day because you overslept and didn’t have time for breakfast, or there was no hot water when you tried to shower this morning, or you had a flat tire on the way to work. It is so easy to excuse our own behavior as being due to external causes, but we need to use that same mindset when we look at other people—perhaps their behavior, too, is not due to something internal, but to external circumstances. Cut down the judging and just evaluate the behavior for what is there now.      
  3.  Value the person not the Label. Even if someone’s behavior is given a name, you need to understand that they are still human and have feelings just like you do. If you value this person, then you should accept them for who they are, regardless of artificial names that can be places upon them. At the same time, if you feel other people are evaluating you, ignore their judgments—don’t let the pinball effect trap you in its claws. Leave Rumpelstiltskin to the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm and make our world your happily ever after.


 Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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Get Your Butt Moving


Police psychology: inertia

Much like with trains, inertia is required in order to increase efficiency in your life, particularly with police psychology.

You don’t normally think of Isaac Newton or Galileo Galilei when you think about police psychology, but that is a mistake. These two weird-looking men while daydreaming under that apple tree or looking up at the stars came up with a theory that explains much of police psychology and much of life.

Inertia is the idea that objects will resist any change in their motion. In other words, an object at motion will stay in motion, going in that same direction at the same speed unless a force is applied. Further, an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by a great enough force.

People have a tendency to think of trains when contemplating inertia. I don’t know why, but let’s go with it. Picture a large train, chugging down the tracks, hooting cheerfully when it gets to the platform stations (you don’t need to be picturing a cheerful train like Thomas—any hunk of metal with wheels will do). Trains, like any moving object, operate due to the laws of inertia and it takes a lot of friction to slow them down and stop them. There is a lot of power as it moves faster and faster and you won’t want to get in the way. That power is inertia, and we can all understand that. We didn’t need two bearded old guys named Newtie and Gally to tell us that.

 Inertia Can be the Enemy Also

But when the train is at rest, it gains inertia also. The longer it is at rest, the harder it is to get moving. Yes, read this carefully because it will explain a lot. A train sitting for two days is harder to get moving than a train sitting one day. Trains sitting for months will be much harder to get moving. This is not so obvious, and why Newton and Galileo have been around for five or six centuries. Trains can begin to rust. Rust can settle in the mechanism, corrupting the engine, corroding the wheels, and consuming the body of the train, until it is left as an empty shell of its former self. Or perhaps the metal become less likely to go into motions for other reasons. Whatever the reason, negative inertia builds up and makes the train want to sit. It also can create a friction that totally stops a train even once it does start to try to get into motion again.

 Psychological Inertia: Be the Train

People live life according to these same principles. For example, when people are moving, when they are motivated, very little can stop them. They are productive. They are driven. They have a plan and a goal. Picture any moment in your own life when you felt this way. Chances are you felt really good about yourself, knowing how productive and accomplished you’ve been that day. This is the concept of inertia. You are in motion. You are moving in a certain direction, at a certain pace, you will tend to keep up that momentum.

But there is the danger of non-movement, and it is a very real danger for people too. When you are not moving, when you are sitting on the couch with a butt print already engraved on the cushions, with a bowl of chips in your lap, guzzling down beer…you’ve reached a point where you are beginning to rust. Or, perhaps you are worrying about some drama around the office instead of being productive. You’re building negative inertia. This inactivity, this lack of drive, this motionlessness is corroding your body and your mind, until you will be left with a hollow person, a mere shadow of your former self. This can be extremely dangerous, and it is hard to fix once you have gotten there. The lesson we can learn from inertia is to make sure we are moving

Change builds inertia. Movement builds inertia. Productivity builds inertia. It feeds itself and keep you moving. The trick is to start small, to do something—anything—that gets you to move forward in life. Once you start, inertia will take over and propel you in that goal-oriented direction.

procrastination2Three SIMPLE STEPS to Get Movement

Here are three steps for helping you get movement started:

 Start Motion in any Form. When I handle a client, whether it be a couple looking at numerous problems in their relationship, or a business person looking at some insurmountable task, sometimes I ask them just to create motion on the first day, even if it isn’t moving toward the goal. “I need you to be in the same room, even if you don’t talk for an hour a day. Just don’t sleep and don’t argue.” “I need you to get your desk cleaned off to prepare for the fight ahead.” Don’t approach the problem, just start movement. Get started. Overcome entropy. Remember a train in motion will have a much easier time with movement than a train sitting still.

 Stop Friction. Friction can stop movement before it starts going. If problems creep up while changing your relationship, deal with them later once motion is started. If issues at work are causing drama, let people know keeping motion is most important. Be careful of not starting someone emotionally pinballing when you are doing this.       Tell them you will simply put it first on a list to deal with once motion is started.  If at all possible you must keep motion going once you’ve started. There are tons of inertia breakers that are just not that important. You may slow the train at some point, but never stop motion.

 Build in Inertia Stimulators to Keep Movement. If you are not excited about the goal you have set, it will be very hard to stick with it. In order to create excitement, it helps to talk to others about it, read about it, create a routine to remind yourself daily of what success will look like for your specific goal. It can be a healthier, hotter body, or a better GPA in school, or positive attention from your boss leading to a potential raise or promotion. The more excitement you can engender into the task, the easier it will be to start doing it.

Use these tips to help you start the movement because once you started, the momentum will take over and completing future tasks will be even easier.

If you have any other tips, or if you want to share your own story, comment below! I would love to hear from you.

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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