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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Police and mental health practitioners should work together in hostage situations‏

Embargoed until 04 June 2009

Mental health professionals can greatly assist the police in hostage situations – but must be wary of ‘taking over’, an expert has revealed.

Professor David Alexander, director of the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research, at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, told delegates at the Royal College of Psychiatrists Annual Meeting in Liverpool, that the profession often commits the “cardinal sin of oversell” in hostage situations.

“We are not police officers and most mental health professionals do not know enough about the law,” he said.

However, Professor Alexander added there was plenty of room for psychiatrists and psychologists to work together with the police. “Mental health people can monitor the emotional climate of the situation – whether it is perplexed, bothered, aggressive – and provide guidance for police officers,” he said.

“More particularly, they can advise on the mental state of the perpetrators, the hostages and the police negotiators. After hostages have been released they can also assess them and provide some psychological first aid.”

Professor Alexander, who is also a consultant to the police, urged mental health practitioners to:

  • Be aware of police protocols
  • Learn the language of police officers
  • Learn acronyms used by police

“You have to learn about their world, be informed , make sure you are properly briefed and know your boundaries and do not commit the cardinal sin of oversell, which has been known by mental health professionals in difficult circumstances.”

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896



Annual Meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, BT Convention Centre, Liverpool, 2 -5 June 2009


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