Patterns of PTSD among police officers following shooting incidents: A two-dimensional model and treatment implications

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Abstract

Shooting incidents are a rare phenomenon in low violence police work. However, when an incident occurs, the psychological impact for the officers involved may take the form of severe PTSD symptomatology. Of 37 police officers who had been involved in serious shooting incidents between 1977 and 1984 we found that 17 (46%) fulfilled DSM-III criteria for PTSD, either at the time of the interview (n = 7, 19%) or prior to it (n = 10, 27%). Of the PTSD-negative group 17 still showed an impressive pattern of PTSD symptoms. Only three showed no symptoms of PTSD at all. Laufer et al. (1985) presented a two-dimensional model which seems to fit the PTSD-pattern in police officers reacting to trauma. From clinical experience, it is apparent that most police officers involved in these incidents seek refuge in denial (Lazarus, 1984). Focused psychotherapy in combination with working through of the incidents and sometimes psychopharmacological intervention appear to be of value in alleviating PTSD in police officers. Preliminary experience in psychotherapy with these police officers is presented in two case vignettes.

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