Vicarious Traumatization is a Reality for Forensic Psychiatrists

Photo Courtesy: Wade Cuddington, Ottawa Citizen

Photo Courtesy: Wade Cuddington, Ottawa Citizen

We know that those who are victims of horrific crimes and live to share their experiences often suffer from psychological repercussions that can take a lifetime to heal. But what about the men and women who work to capture the perpetrators, whose job it is to get inside of some of the most disturbed individuals in our society? Perhaps not surprisingly, investigators who must confront the realities of such evil also carry emotional trauma. Recently in her wonderful forensic psychology blog that I have referenced before, Dr. Karen Franklin shares the story of one colleague who is working through such a recovery process.

John Bradford is a forensic psychiatrist who was given the task of looking into the motivation behind the twisted acts of Canadian Air Force Colonel Russell Williams, a decorated military man who had been the pilot for dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth II and the Prime Minister of Canada. Williams tortured and killed two women, and Bradford had to watch video that Williams had taken of these victims unsuccessfully begging for their lives.

As Franklin details, Bradford found himself sobbing uncontrollably and lashing out at individuals who had no connection to the matter. In a profession in which it is assumed you know how to distance yourself from all of the atrocities you review, Bradford recognized that he needed help. He eventually was diagnosed with a particular type of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) known as vicarious traumatization. He has since returned to work, but is more selective about the cases on which he advises.

We know that psychologists and psychiatrists who give us insight into the criminal mind are intelligent and impressive, and maybe they do have a stronger ability to dissociate than others. But, they are still human and I would worry about them if they were not affected by some of the material they read and see. I recommend you check out the entire piece to learn more about John Bradford and his ordeal.

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About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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