Working with Law Enforcement Clients and Families

Providers who wish to successfully work with law enforcement personnel and their families must understand the unique working conditions and demands of the profession. The specific psychological processes (e.g. coping strategies and perspectives) that may develop can be both strengths and weaknesses in client/family interactions.

In addition, providers will need to feel comfortable with law enforcement personnel. This sense of alignment is necessary to build trust between the client and the provider. Frequently, law enforcement personnel will seek help from providers who understand their work situation and can discuss issues accordingly. To that end, it is important to not only be non-judgmental about the person-as is true in all therapy-but also to be non-judgmental about his/her work.

The following list includes psychological values, dynamics and issues that may be relevant for the provider to understand, model, and address with the client for clinical success. (A fine line exists between behavior that is within the normal range of coping skills and behavior that has become a clinical issue or even pathological for the law enforcement client and family members.)

  1. Interpersonal dynamics
    • Law enforcement personnel frequently operate from a "siege mentality." Providers should evaluate how this affects the client's relationships.
    • Law enforcement personnel often use a "dark" sense of humor as a coping mechanism for working in dangerous situations. Providers should understand that this type of humor is normal and at times, limiting to client relationships.
    • Law enforcement personnel develop a "thick skin" and are not overly sensitive to discussions and experiences of gore. Providers also should not be unnerved by graphic descriptions.
    • Guns and weapons may be part of the client's uniform. Providers need to be at ease with guns and weapons in the therapy office.
    • Privacy needs are exceptionally high for law enforcement clients. Providers should evaluate their office and waiting area and consider alternatives to preserve a client's privacy. Suggested treatment modes should also include the sense of privacy.
    • Strong friendships with fellow law enforcement personnel are formed which may continue after work, affecting personal relationships and time management.
    • A "macho" persona may develop as part of the professional training. This persona can have multiple consequences in the client's family life.
    • Personal and emotional concerns can be overly minimized, which can lead to family relationship difficulties.
    • Both law enforcement clients and family members are under public scrutiny, which can create pressure.
  2. Job demands may influence the family relationships, as well as the counseling relationship. Demands include:
    • Erratic schedules and overtime
    • Highly dangerous situations
  3. Co-morbid factors may be present and should be screened for. Factors include:
    • Alcohol and other drug abuse
    • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
    • Suicidal risk
  4. Recent active military duty: Law enforcement clients may have recently been discharged from active duty, which may have "residual" effects in their new job.

Recommended books for providers with law enforcement clients:

  1. I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know: Ellen Kirschman
  2. On Killing : The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society: Dave Grossman
  3. Deadly Force Encounters: What Cops Need To Know To Mentally And Physically Prepare For And Survive A Gunfight: Loren Christensen
  4. Copshock, Surviving Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Allen Kates

Recommended articles for providers with law enforcement clients:

  1. Every Police Department's Nightmare: Officer Suicide, Sgt. Monroe Dugdale,
  2. Police Officers: Control, Hopelessness, & Suicide: Brent E. Turvey,

This article is for informational and self-help purposes only. It should not be treated as a substitute for financial, medical, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral healthcare advice, or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified professional.