Psychologists as Crisis Negotiators?

Should psychologists serve as critical incident negotiators for law enforcement agencies? The short answer to this question is no. There are two basic reasons for this answer.

  1. First, in the negotiation process it is always good for the negotiator to start out in as neutral a position as possible from the perpetrator’s perspective. Using a psychologist as a negotiator may lead the perpetrator to think that the authorities believe that he or she is “crazy” and in need of psychological help. These thoughts may further exacerbate an already difficult situation.
  2. Second, negotiation is not therapy. It is sometimes difficult for psychologists to make the transition in thinking from a therapeutic intervention where the ultimate goal is relief of suffering and positive growth to a crisis negotiation situation where the primary goal is the safe release of hostages and the surrender of the perpetrator in as speedy a fashion as possible.

Critical incidents may end with the use of force and possible perpetrator death. This is rarely the outcome in therapy. Participating fully in the negotiation process might also mean sharing information gleaned from the negotiation process (i.e., violating confidentiality) to assist tactical personnel in assault planning and implementation. Some psychologists might find these tasks difficult and potentially unethical.

However, with proper training in law enforcement missions, procedures and protocols, there are several possible roles that psychologists could play on crisis negotiation teams.

Ethics & Risk Management: Expert Tips III
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The above preview is from our continuing education course, Ethics & Risk Management: Experts Tips III in an article written by Thomas J. Fagan, PhD. This course addresses a variety of ethics and risk management topics in the form of 14 archived articles from The National Psychologist. Topics include: disclosure of records during a legal proceeding, psychologists as crisis negotiators, boundary issues and multiple relationships, HIPAA changes driven by the federal economic stimulus plan, duty-to-warn, treating “perfect” and “not-so-perfect” patients, documentation and use of the internet, psychological response to recession, child safety online, insurance limits on coverage, positioning for change in the healthcare industry, personal versus professional comments in the media, treating several people who have a relationship, and progress towards DSM-V. This course is intended for psychotherapists of all specialties. 2010 | 26 pages | 24 posttest questions | Course #20-40