Analyzing Cops

Ever wonder where law enforcement officers and their families go for help for mental health issues?

Meet Ellen Kirschman, MSW, PhD., who I am thrilled to have on my blog today! Ellen has worked as a police psychologist for over thirty years.

Ellen Kirschman, MSW, PhD.

Ellen Kirschman, MSW, PhD.

Can you tell us something about your background?

I’ve been a police psychologist for over 30 years. I started out as a clinical social worker and eventually got my PhD. My dissertation was titled “Wounded Heroes.”

It was what we call an intensive case analysis of three officers all of whom began their careers in good mental health and wound up retiring on stress related disability retirements – kind of a cross between Sigmund Freud and Mickey Spillane.

Dareen Mcgavin as Mickey Spillane

Dareen Mcgavin as Mickey Spillane

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

People ask me all the time if I’m married to a cop or a fire fighter. I’m not. I like to keep clear boundaries between my work and my personal life.

My husband is a retired contractor and a talented photographer. He took that great author photo of me. We love to travel, cook and hang out with friends. In addition to writing and holding workshops, I train peer supporters and volunteer at a wonderful organization, the First Responder’s Support Network.

We hold retreats for psychologically injured officers and their families. If your readers are interested, they can go to to learn more. My husband also volunteers at FRSN, cooking for the Spouses and Significant Others (SOS) retreats.

Are there any differences you’ve found in counseling police officers vs. Joe Citizen?

You have to earn a cop’s trust. That’s hard work. Cops are protectors and may try hide some of their most pressing issues because they don’t want to injure their therapists. They are skeptical about the value of psychotherapy and the worry more than the average client about confidentiality. In particular, they are concerned their departments will find out they are in treatment and this will jeopardize their jobs as well as their standing with co-workers.

Tell me about your new book, Counseling Cops, What Clinicians Need to Know.

Counseling Cops, What Clinicians Need to Know

I co-wrote this book with two colleagues, Mark Kamena and Joel Fay, both of whom are psychologists and retired police officers. Our collaboration made the book so much richer than it would have been had I written it alone. As lead author, I was responsible for blending our voices into one readable narrative using  plain English, not psycho-babble, to describe various dimensions of the police culture, de-mythologize cops as super-human or super-aggressive, and challenge clinicians to examine their own biases. We talk about the prevalent mental health issues cops and their families experience and offer evidence based strategies we know will work for these problems and this culture.


Our aim is to help clinicians become culturally competent to treat this unique population. Police officers are very reluctant to seek counseling, fearing it means they are weak or crazy. When their suffering is so great that they finally reach out for help, they deserve to be treated by clinicians who understand them and the culture in which they work.

For example, one of our clients needed treatment after two terrible shooting events. The first question his new therapist asked him was, “Are you ready to stop being a trained killer?”


This was a very inappropriate statement and upsetting to the officer who felt himself to be the victim of these two events. Needless to say, he didn’t return to that therapist and would have given up on therapy completely had a peer supporter friend not helped him connect to a therapist who understood cops.

As a therapist, I can see the value in reading this book. The book is grounded in clinical research, extensive experience, and you have a deep familiarity with police culture, this book offers highly practical guidance for psychotherapists and counselors.

You vividly depict the pressures and challenges of police work and explain the impact that line-of-duty issues can have on officers and their loved ones.

You offer numerous concrete examples and tips showing how to build rapport with cops, use a range of effective intervention strategies, and avoid common missteps and misconceptions. And you have practical approaches to working with frequently encountered clinical problems such as substance abuse, depression, trauma, and marital conflict, which the book discusses in detail.

When making an assessment, clinicians are trained to consider the whole of their client’s assessments. This would include the police culture. Can you explain what a  police culture is?


Hard to do in just a paragraph or two. Let me approach the question by listing the attributes of people who want to be cops. They are action oriented, rule abiding folks who value emotional control and structure. Like social workers, they want to make a difference in their communities. They have great senses of humor, a bit coarse for some, but it’s what gets them past the ugly stuff, and they see plenty of ugly stuff.

They are comfortable working in a para-military setting, taking and giving orders. They are decisive, sometimes a bit too black and white.  They love variety, take great pride in their work, and are fiercely dedicated to each other. They are protection oriented and may have assumed the role of protector or rescuer in their families as they were growing up. They are extroverted, perfectionistic and have high standards for themselves and others.

They are great in a crisis and rate high on mental toughness, at least when they are first hired. although for some, this can change over time. They are willing to use physical means to achieve a desired end and they are courageous enough to do what the rest of us couldn’t or wouldn’t.


Policing is also a story culture. Stories are how cops transmit norms, values, tactical wisdom, and model behavior. I have hundreds of stories circulating in my head. They are wonderful teaching devices and fodder for my new career as a mystery writer.

Can you explain what an FFD is, when they are used and why they are needed?

The acronym stands for Fitness For Duty.

Police employers have a legal duty to ensure that cops under their command are mentally and emotionally fit to perform their duties. Failure to do so can result in serious breaches of public confidence, danger to the officer in question and his or her co-workers, citizens in the community and the department’s reputation.

Circumstances that trigger a request for a FFD vary greatly. Some relate to on-duty actions (excessive force, emotional outbursts, repeated problems with judgment, reckless behavior and so on).


Others may pertain to egregious off-duty conduct such as intoxication, driving under the influence, drug abuse, domestic abuse, stealing, and other behaviors that raise questions about the officer’s fitness to serve. Suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitalization or a disability claim for mental health injuries will also trigger an FFD.

An FFD is a complex and lengthy procedure often entailing numerous legal complications. It is painful for the officer and should never be used as punishment or in lieu of discipline. The requesting agency should be able to articulate the problematic behaviors in question. The FFD examiner can be a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

Unlike therapy, the client is the requesting agency, not the officer.  Under these circumstances, the officer has no confidentiality.

What types of mental conditions do you see often of with police officers? 


Post traumatic stress injuries. We call them injuries because disorder sounds so permanent and we know that, with the proper care, cops can and do recover from trauma. Cops experience a whole range of common psychological problems, just like the rest of us:  substance abuse and addiction, relationship problems, panic attacks, sleep disturbance, depression, and anxiety.

What are the suicide, domestic violence, and PTSD statistics within this group of clients?  

Some of these statistics are hard to find. For example, statistics around suicide are controversial and there is disagreement among professionals.


The most important statistic, in my opinion, is that cops are two to three times more likely to kill themselves than to be killed in the line of duty.


That’s alarming. The prevalence of PTSD is also debatable, but certainly less than we see in returning combat veterans.

On the other hand, combat is time limited, cops work for 30 years, so they have plenty of exposure to trauma. Soldiers don’t get sued for going to war, but cops get sued a lot.

Trying to find out about domestic abuse is also difficult. What I do know is that psychologists are doing a better job of screening out applicants with the potential to commit abuse.

What would you like to see changed or improved? 

Good question. I would like to see every agency, big and small, have a confidential peer support program, family orientations at first hire and again every five years, a chaplaincy program,

supervisors who are knowledgeable about spotting mental health issues and compassionate when talking to their officers, and easy access for officers and their families to culturally competent, confidential, low cost counseling.

As a writer, I can also see where this book would help me in understanding my fictional LEO character’s flaws, inner thoughts and would help me construct the conflict.  Can you tell us how your book can help writers create more believable LEO characters?

I can’t tell you how many writers tell me they have dog-eared copies of my first book, I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, on their desks.


Written for families, this book describes what police families experience and what they can and can’t do to help themselves. It’s true to the popular bumper sticker that says, “If you think it’s tough being a cop, try being married to one.” Their are literally hundreds of stories in I Love A Cop, all of which provide grist for the writers mill.

Counseling Cops, What Clinicians Need to KnowCounseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know will give writers a deeper understanding of the emotional and psychological challenges facing officers and their families. The book is also filled with with stories as well as  a suggested dialogue. Readers can  learn what good and bad therapists say during a counseling session. I’ve tried hard in  both these books to  describe officers as three dimensional human beings who are both the same and different from the rest of us, not like the one dimensional characters you see on TV.

scOw9In Burying Ben readers will see police psychologist Dot Meyerhoff struggling to find her footing in the Kenilworth police department as a civilian, a woman, and a politically liberal character whose allegiance to the cops is shaken by memories of her father, a student activist, who was beaten and injured for life by police. Her world and her sense of self is shattered when Ben, a rookie cop she is counseling, unexpectedly commits suicide and leaves a note blaming her. Readers tell me they rarely read a book told from the clinician’s perspective.

Thank you so much Ellen for joining me here today! I’ve had so much fun and learned so much from you. I’ve read Burying Ben and I’ve almost finished Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know.  Although I’ve never counseled a cop, I will keep this book on my professional bookcase alongside my DSM-5 and treatment planners, as a resource.

Any Questions? Ellen will be checking in all day, so ask away!

Until Next time,

Happy Writing,

Diane Kratz

You can order Ellen’s books from Guilford Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and more of your favorite vendors, in print or as an e-book.

You can connect with Ellen at:

Counseling Cops, What Clinicians Need to KnowscOw9ilac_cover_smilaff_cover_sm


Facebook Fan Page:

Goodreads: .

Blog Edited by: Sally Berneathy

53 thoughts on “Analyzing Cops

  1. As a psychotherapist, thoroughly enjoyed the interview. It is great to know there are experienced therapists who bring to their clients respect, empathy and an open mind. Your books sound fascinating. “Burying Ben” will go on my to-read list.

  2. jbiggar2013 says:

    We don’t give near enough credit to these brave men and women. In Canada I believe that the R.C.M.P cycle their men from city to small town every so often as a way to maybe (take a break ) as such. Do you have the same programs in place there? Do you agree that it helps? Thank-you for this very informative blog

    • dianekratz says:

      I’ll let Ellen answer this one! Thanks for stopping by jbiggar and leaving a comment!

      • In theory, this is a good idea. The problem is practical logistics. Hiring and training an officer is an expensive and time consuming process. Moving officers from department to department would require a period of re-training to get familiar with the new community. What does work is to rotate officers between shifts and assignments so that no one is stuck on midnights for years (unless he or she is the rare night owl officer.) Some assignments, like internet child pornography, gang suppression, and undercover work are inherently stressful and should be time limited. Good question. Thanks for asking.

  3. Lindy Dierks says:

    Fabulous blog post! Not only was this helpful as a writer, but my sister and brother in law are both police officers so this gave good incite to me on a personal level. Thank you!

  4. Joe Haggerty says:

    The suicide issue in law enforcement is major. There are usually twice as many LEOs that commit suicide each year than there are LEOs killed in the line of duty. Although, I believe most of these deaths can be attributed to the job. Thank you Ellen for bringing this issue to the forefront. More departments need to supply training to officers and supervisors in recognizing an officer in trouble or recognizing the trouble in themselves.

    • dianekratz says:

      This book was an eye opener for me Joe! And I agree with you. More police departments needs better training to recognize when their officers are in trouble. Officers need to know by seeking out help, they won’t be labeled as weak, but as strong, for being able to see they needed help. Mental health has a negative stigma in world, but especially in law enforcement. I appreciate you stopping by and commenting on this important issue.
      Be safe and God Bless,

    • Hi Joe: Nice to hear from you. I couldn’t agree more about needed training for officers and supervisors and, I should add, their families, who are often the first to notice some of the early symptoms of depression, ptsd, or suicidal behavior.

  5. Angela Adams says:

    A wonderful interview with lots of information. Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. marsharwest says:

    Super informative post, Dianne. You always do such a good job sharing info or finding someone to share like Ellen. I’ll be FBing and Tweeting this one.

  7. Jo-Ann Carson says:

    Love this post. I’m still stuck on the stat that a cop is 2 to 3 times more likely to die from suicide than be killed on the job. So sad.
    Thank you for opening up this world to us.
    Best Wishes

    • dianekratz says:

      You bet Jo-Ann! It’s also shocking to know that so many therapist are not trained in helping these wonderful LEO’s! Ellen’s book was an eye-opener for me. She talks about letting LEO clients bring their weapons into the therapy session, because it’s part of their culture. Where I worked, that would be a big NO NO! But after reading her book, I perfectly understand “why” they should be allowed too. Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment! Appreciated!

    • Thanks Jo-Ann. It is a shocking statistic. Especially given that cops have to pass so many hurdles – psychological, medical and background checks – before they get their jobs. Barely 2 out of 100 applicants ever make it. Those that do are considered pretty hardy folks. The question is what happens to drive so many to take their own lives. That’s what I try to examine in my books.

  8. gemmabrocato says:

    Fascinating information. I imagine any time a department can offer a peer support group, every officer is better at his or her job. Knowing there are others in their culture who’ve experienced, or understands the difficulties all their friend face must make life easier for all. Great stuff.

  9. katewyland says:

    Fascinating post. I just started a 12 week Citizens Police Academy put on by my relatively small town. Been very impressed with the officers who have presented so far. One the of interesting things is the difference in the training and focus depending on the communities they’re serving.– our area versus the nearby big cities. I’m looking forward to learning a lot more about them.

    • dianekratz says:

      I would love to take part in a 12 week Citizens Police Academy!I live in rural Kansas and we have nothing like this here. I’d have to go to KC in order to take part in something like this, which is about 80 miles from my home. This would be a great question to ask about on one of those days. We need more police departments to offer more peer support groups and have superiors trained in spotting problems. Thanks for stopping by! Have a great 12 weeks!

    • Excellent. I wish everyone would attend a Citizens Police Academy. It expands your understanding of what cops really do.

  10. Excellent blog. I am always interested in information about the police and what they go through. I have a great admiration for those who are called to serve.
    Teresa R.

  11. Great blog, Eileen. We lost so many cops down here (New Orleans) before, during and after Katrina, from those who fled, those who died during the storm, a lot of which was not publicized, and those who just couldn’t handle coming back afterward. I don’t think our police force has ever grown back to the number we need since then. Also, our mental health services since hurricane, 8 years later, are worse than dismal. It’s good to see someone getting the word out about how our public responders can be helped.

    • dianekratz says:


      Thanks so much for stopping by! Your support means so much! I believe mental health carries a stigma no matter who uses it. But especially for the group of clients. Ellen’s books breaks the myths and helps not only with LEO’s and their families, but also therapist. And, for me, this was a VERY important message I got from her books. I can only imagine the trauma the New Orleans public responders encountered after hurricane Katrina. I wish all public responders offices had the motto, “Tough professionals ask for help” included in their missions statements. It’s should be part of their training. Spreading the word is the only way to get the message out. Thank goodness we have Ellen to show us the way. 🙂

    • Hi Holli: Thanks for writing. We met several years ago at a PSWA conference in Las Vegas. I am aware of the stress facing NOPD. They’ve had more than their fair share. I can only hope things will improve.

  12. Oops, sorry, that should be Ellen- late night typo on my part!

  13. pmillhouse says:

    An incredibly meaningful post, you two. Thank you for talking so candidly about this.

  14. PJ Bishop says:

    An excellent post. At least in the past, nurses and cops tend to gravitate toward each other–both are protectors–so I’ve known more than my share of cops. Everything you wrote is dot on!

  15. Allie Harris says:

    Thank you so much, Ellen for all the information and thank you Diane for having her on your blog. Ellen is there a big difference between analyzing men vs. women? And if so what are the major differences. Thank you again!

    • Hi Allie: Thanks for your question. First of all, analysis, as in psychoanalysis, is really not the appropriate treatment for most cops. They like a more directive, interactive kind of therapy. As for the differences between males and females, in general, women are more willing to seek help when they need it and to do so in a more timely way. They are usually less reluctant to talk about their emotions. Statistically they are less prone to alcoholism and more prone to post traumatic stress injuries. They may be more prone to stress from discrimination and/or harassment in the workplace. Both single Moms and married mothers carry the largest share of child care responsibilities, which puts them at risk for exhaustion and unmanageable levels of stress.

  16. I added the first two books to my goodreads stack!

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