Episode 32: Ellen Kirschman

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Randy Alderson Spelling looks more like a girl than a woman. So tiny she's nearly lost in the cushions of my office couch. Her legs jut out over the floor until she scoots forward and places her feet squarely on the ground... I'm the last hurdle between her and the job she covets -- police officer for the Kenilworth Police Department. -- Ellen Kirschman, The Right Wrong Thing I could not be more honored to talk to author and police psychologist Dr. Ellen Kirschman. A writer of both fiction and nonfiction, Ellen captures the world of police officers with tremendous depth and nuance. It's a world she knows well, having worked in the field for thirty years. The Right Wrong Thing is the second book in the Dot Meyerhoff series, and is just out in paperback. Her first novel, Burying Ben, introduces her protagonist in a wonderfully suspenseful tale. Interested in her nonfiction? Her latest book is Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know and she is in the process of writing the second edition to I Love A Cop: What Police Families Need to Know. First responders aren't limited to police officers, and Ellen has also written I Love A Firefighter: What the Family Needs to Know. Check out her page, and don't miss her donut metaphor. It can transform the way you look at the world, even if you aren't a first responder. Speaking of which, the First Responder Support Network is an organization near and dear to her heart, if you want to check out the excellent work they do. As always, if you'd rather read than listen, the transcript is below. Enjoy! -- Laura Transcript of Interview with Ellen Kirschman Laura Brennan: My guest today is Dr. Ellen Kirschman. Her first novel, Burying Ben, introduced police psychologist Dr. Dot Meyerhoff and the officers she helps -- a world Ellen knows well, as she herself has been a police and public safety psychologist for over thirty years. Ellen, thank you for joining me. Ellen Kirschman: My pleasure. LB: Let me start off by saying, I didn't know that police psychologist was an actual job. How long has it been around? EK: I've been doing it 30 years. There have been people doing it a bit longer than I have. There are about 200, give or take some, people who, psychologist whose main practice is police and public safety. By public safety, I also mean firefighters, dispatchers, emergency medical techs, sometimes emergency room nurses. LB: There's always been such a feeling that the police have to be macho -- and in fact, I think you mentioned one of your books the idea that seeing a psychologist can be seen as a weakness in and of itself. So I love that they have started to really incorporate it into part of the job. Was that a big hurdle to overcome? EK: Well, it was a big hurdle and actually it still is. Of the several hundred police psychologists that exist now, most of them do preemployment screening and fitness for duty evaluations. So they are acting in some ways like traditional psychologists and that their primary work is assessment. Those of us who do clinical interventions represent a smaller percentage of people. I worked for one police department where I was in house, inside the actual physical building, two days a week for 25 years and the day that I left, there were still officers who were sure I had a videocam that went from my office right to the chief's. And then of course people who actually came and talked to me realized that that was not the case and that I knew how to keep secrets and keep their confidentiality, because that's primarily, they're worried about confidentiality. And as you said, the culture for both males and females is somewhat that kind of rugged, individualistic/macho sort of culture in which the thing you never want to appear to be is weak. And of course I tell people, you're not weak, you're human and to be human is to have problems, is to have emotions that you don't always like and is to react to things.

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