Conflict & crisis communication: workplace and school violence, Stockholm Syndrome, and abnormal psychology.
Subject: School violence (Health aspects)
Stockholm syndrome (Risk factors)
Stockholm syndrome (Diagnosis)
Stockholm syndrome (Care and treatment)
Workplace violence (Health aspects)
Author: Vecchi, Gregory M.
Pub Date: 09/22/2009
Publication: Name: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association Publisher: American Psychotherapy Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American Psychotherapy Association ISSN: 1535-4075
Issue: Date: Fall, 2009 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 3
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 208639911

Workplace and school violence have received much attention over the past decade, due in part to highly publicized events, such as those relating to the U.S. Post Office, Columbine High School, and Virginia Tech. During this article, we will explore these topics from the aspect of crisis communication. This article will also explore aspects of the Stockholm Syndrome and psychopathology, which may be present in these situations.

Workplace Violence

Many people think of workplace violence as physical assault; however, it also includes such things as threatening behavior, verbal or written threats, harassment, verbal abuse, and, of course, physical attacks. Each year in the United States, approximately one million people become victims of nonfatal violent crime while working, and more than 1,500 employees are victims of murder, which is now the second-leading cause of workplace fatalities (BJS, 2002). In addition, an estimated 17,000 people kill themselves in the workplace annually. Interestingly, the risk of death for the 892,000 employees of the U.S. Postal Service is 2.5 times lower than that of all workers nationwide (CDC, 1992).

Given the above statistics, one might think that the business sector would have implemented contingencies; however, this doesn't seem to be the case. For example, fewer than 30% of businesses have programs to deter or deal with workplace trauma (Society for Human Resource Management, 2002). Furthermore, fewer than 60% of fortune 1000 industrial companies have an operational crisis management program in place (Management Review, 2002). Existing programs typically focus on "putting out fires" or "cleaning up the mess," while traumatic stress reactions from the victims and coworkers are generally ignored.

Assessing Workplace Violence

The key to understanding and responding to workplace violence is assessment. Fein & Vossekuil (1999) suggest three principles of threat assessment:

* Targeted violence is the result of an understandable and often discernable process of thinking and behavior

* Violence stems from an interaction among the potential attacker, past stressful events, a current situation, and the target(s)

* A key to threat assessment is identification of the person's "attack-related" behaviors

The six most common motivating factors for offenders to commit workplace violence include:

* Disgruntled employee

* Domestic (family) violence

* Robbery

* Fired employee or employee in fear of being fired

* Disgruntled customer

* On-strike employee or picket line violence

Policy Considerations

Workplace violence prevention general policies should include pre-employment screening, disciplinary procedures, emergency preparedness plans, threat assessment, and critical incident response strategies. Policies specifically need to address hiring issues, preemployment interviews and screening, supervision, and firing from the perspective of workplace violence prevention. Hiring should include background investigations, checking references and former employers, and developing other "sources of information" from the references and former employers.

Pre-employment interviews and screening protocols should be used in efforts to obtain the following information:

* Recent (past six months) history of violence toward self or others, threats, or arrests

* Past history of violence toward self or others, threats of violence, or arrests

* Family history of violence

* Current violent ideation

* Substance abuse

* Medical conditions and medications taken

* Access to and experience with weapons

* Social and environmental factors

* Previous intervention and response

Some possible interview questions may include:

* "Describe the best and the worst boss you ever had."

* "What are some of the things your last employer could have done to be more successful?"

* "How do you go about solving problems at work?"

* "Did you ever tell your previous employer any of your thoughts on ways they could improve?"

Supervision should focus on positive reinforcement and accolades for a job well done and corrective punishment for infractions. Errors should be corrected and efforts made to immediately deal with ignorance of or noncompliance with rules, policies, procedures, and law.

When an employee is fired, management should remember to: * Preserve dignity

* Not negotiate the terms

* Be direct

* Make the termination complete

* Choose the proper setting

* Choose the right time

Workplace Violence Communication Considerations

Even the best laid policies and procedures for preventing workplace violence cannot prevent all violence in the workplace; therefore, it is necessary for the communicator to understand characteristics that tend to contribute to violent employees and customers. In understanding some of these characteristics, the communicator can then properly assess the situation in order to apply the best communication strategies and tactics based on the situation (Lanceley, 2003; McMains & Mullins, 2006; Rogan, Hammer, & Van Zandt, 1997; Slatkin, 2005; Strentz, 2006; Vecchi, Van Hasselt, & Romano, 2005; Vecchi, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c).

The following inappropriate behaviors are often early indicators of potential hostility or violence. If these behaviors remain unchecked, they may escalate to higher levels.

* Unwelcome name-calling, obscene language, and other abusive behavior

* Intimidation through direct or veiled verbal threats

* Throwing objects in the workplace

* Physically touching another in an intimidating, malicious, or sexually harassing manner

* Physically intimidating others (e.g.,

obscene gestures or fist shaking)

In addition to inappropriate behavior, there are warning signs that usually relate to violence. Although the prediction of future violence is very inexact, these warning signs should be a cause for concern, as people with problems oftentimes display them:

* Irrational beliefs and ideas

* Externalization of blame

* Verbal or nonverbal intimidation or threats

* Fascination with weaponry or violence

* Expressed intent or plan to hurt self or others

* Un-reciprocated romantic involvement or obsession

* Causes fear in coworkers or customers/clients

* Displays unwarranted anger or hostility

* Increased stress at work or home

* Overly sensitive to criticism or complaints

* Intoxication from alcohol or other drugs

* Productivity, attendance, or punctuality problems

* Dramatic change in attitude or beliefs

* Feelings of being victimized

* Statements of hopelessness or helplessness

* Violence toward inanimate objects


School Violence

The shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in April 1999, the massacre at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia, in April 2007, and similar crimes have shocked the public and have given new urgency to addressing school violence. Even so, it should be noted that school shootings and other forms of school violence are not just a criminal justice problem. According to the FBI National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (1999):

Nevertheless, it is oftentimes the criminal justice professional that is notified to respond to school violence situations in the role of the crisis responder.

Perpetrator Characteristics and Background

A majority of the school shootings in the United States involve males who perpetuate non-traditional, multi-victim homicides in a school or classroom setting; these shootings tend to occur as a reaction to fear of punishment or some other anxiety or a demand for attention or notoriety. Common to these situations are the following characteristics:

* Broadcasting a threat (e.g., told others what he intended to do)

* Usually unknown to school and police authorities

* Social outcasts

* No apparent mental illness

* Journal or letter writing of intent

Some perpetrators also exhibit suicidal ideations and may have characteristics associated with the "serial killer triad" of bedwetting, pyromania, and torture of animals. In addition, the perpetrator most likely will have experienced the following stressors two weeks to 24 hours before the incident:

* Rejection

* Discipline

* Frustration

* Loss (real or imagined)

* Humiliation

The following general characteristics are associated with school shooters:

* Caucasian male

* Middle class

* Average age is 16

* Rural or small community

* Physically healthy

* Public school

* Appear normal to adults

* Dysfunctional, although may appear superficially normal

* Family anger and power struggles

* Poor parent-sibling relationships

* Family history of mental illness, personality disorders, and/or substance abuse

* Problems with attachment and bonding

* May be perceived by others as a loner or social outcast

* Member of alienated group

* Guns in the home; Familiarity and/or proficiency with firearms

* Negative self-image and unstable self-esteem, which the perpetrator may try to mask

* As an infant, colicky, temperamental, delayed milestones (e.g., walking, talking, etc.)

* No physical handicaps, disabilities, retardation, or severe mental illness

* No history of serious school conduct problems

* Covert vandalism and dishonesty

* Immature

* Distrustful and secretive with adults in authority

* Interest in real and fictional violence

* Violent fantasies

* Unmonitored access to computers, media, and entertainment

* Signs of depression

* Mixed personality disorders with paranoid, antisocial, and narcissistic features

* Stalking of females

* Recent multiple stressors

* Average to above average IQ

* Easily frustrated

* Peer coping skills

*Lack of resiliency

* Failed love relationships

* Significant resentment over perceived in justices

* Dehumanizes others

* Lack of empathy

* Exaggerated sense of entitlement

* Attitude of superiority

* Externalized blame

* Distrustful

* Intolerance

* Manipulative

* Anger management problems

* Inappropriate humor

* May have negative role models

* May be rigid and opinionated, which may be coupled with an attitude of superiority

Socially, these offenders may prefer the company of younger children and may have an interest in a rigid, highly eccentric world view or philosophy that may be militaristic, occult, or sociopolitical in nature, which gives them a sense of social support and superiority. Peer groups tend to be limited to those who share the same beliefs, which insulate them from new and different views or perceptions.

Communication Strategies

Prior to a shooting event, the perpetrator may exhibit signs of premeditation, planning, and surveillance. For example, subtle changes in behavior or more obvious behaviors may be present such as practicing with firearms, leaking intention, withdrawal, or suicide ideations. In addition, the perpetrator will usually have experienced recent stressors such as discipline, rejection, or humiliation. During the shooting event, the likely targets will be females and high functioning students. The perpetrator may be homicidal, suicidal, or attempt a "suicide by cop" strategy.

The perpetrator is likely to be confused, exhausted, and unsure of what to do next. The communicator should speak in a calm and controlled manner and advise the person that a peaceful resolution is sought and assure him of the desire to help. The communicator should also give the person a "reality check" by reassuring him that things are under control outside and that he is responsible for maintaining control inside.

The communicator should ask the perpetrator if he is all right and ask if anyone near him needs medical attention. There should also be special attention given to listening for emotions and feelings and the person should be encouraged to discuss them (Lanceley, 2003; McMains & Mullins, 2006; Rogan, Hammer, & Van Zandt, 1997; Slatkin, 2005; Strentz, 2006; Vecchi, Van Hasselt, & Romano, 2005; Vecchi, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c).

If the person exhibits any positive behavior, the communicator should praise it and minimize what has happened with a view toward not making things worse. The communicator should suggest that perhaps something could be learned from the event (e.g., some good can be derived: "It might help others to know how you were treated and what led to this").

The communicator should use "suggestibility statements" such as "when you come out ..." rather than "if you come out," making sure not to use the word "surrender." The person should also be assured that there is no intent to harm him and he will need to perceive being treated with respect, as the person will need to save face and maintain dignity in order to voluntarily come out.

It should be noted that suicide is a real possibility, which will require good active listening skills to be employed throughout (Lanceley, 2003; McMains & Mullins, 2006; Rogan, Hammer, & Van Zandt, 1997; Slatkin, 2005: Strentz, 2006; Vecchi, Van Hasselt, & Romano, 2005; Vecchi, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c). Moreover, the communicator should not be perceived as authoritative because it is likely that the individual has a problem with authority in the first place. Finally, expect the person to project blame, being careful to only agree with the emotions being felt without condoning his actions.


The following are some suggested interventions to assist in reducing the potential for school violence:

* Confrontation by mental health professionals and police

* If planned day of event is known, use a show of force

* Use of metal detectors

* "Zero Tolerance" policy

* Inform students and parents of clearly stated school policies

* Consider employing a threat assessment coordinator

* Consider employing a multi-disciplinary team comprising school staff and administration, law enforcement, and mental health professionals

* Educate and encourage students to come forth with information

* Establish a school "hotline"

* Implement a friendly school resource officer who has established rapport with the students

* Implement student assistance programs

* Implement peer assistance programs

* Implement programs to educate parents on how to recognize problems and where to seek help

* Follow through with help for students

identified as making threats rather

than just expelling them

Stockholm Syndrome

Oftentimes, workplace and schoolhouse violence involves the taking of hostages, which necessitates the use of conflict and crisis communication strategies and tactics (Daniels, Royster, & Vecchi, 2007; Vecchi 2009a, 2009b, 2009c). At times, distinct relationships may develop among the players (hostage-taker, hostage, and negotiator) that, if understood, can be crucial in determining effective communication techniques to successfully resolve the situation. One such set of relationships is the Stockholm Syndrome (De fabrique, Van Hasselt, Vecchi, & Romano, 2007; De fabrique, Romano, Vecchi, & Van Hasselt, 2007; Van Hasselt, 2002). The Stockholm Syndrome gets it name from an incident that occurred in 1973 in Stockholm, Sweden. From August 23-28, 1973, bank robbers held four hostages until the police ended the incident using tear gas. The interactions and subsequent bonding between the hostage-taker and hostages during and after the incident sparked research into the phenomenon of the Stockholm Syndrome (De fabrique, Van Hassett, Vecchi, & Romano, 2007; De fabrique, Romano, Vecchi, & Van Hasselt, 2007; Van Hasselt, 2002).

To better understand the interpersonal dynamics that comprise the Stockholm Syndrome, Van Hasselt (2002) provides the following chronology and details of the 1973 Stockholm, Sweden incident:

Day 1

* Jan-Erik Olsson, an explosives expert, entered one of the largest banks in Stockholm, Sweden, carrying a loaded submachine gun, reserve ammunition, plastic explosives, blasting caps, a knife, and a radio.

* Upon entering the bank, Olsson fired his submachine gun into the ceiling, causing the bank's customers and 40 employees to drop to the floor, hide, or run out of the bank.

* Olsson ordered a male employee to bind the hands and ankles of three female employees: Kristin Ehnmark, Birgitta Lundblad, and Elisabeth Oldgren.

* By the end of the day, Olsson spoke with the Swedish Prime Minister and demanded that his friend, Clark Olofsson, be brought to the bank along with a large sum of money and a car. The Prime Minister complied and Olofsson became Olsson's negotiator with the police. Thereafter, Olsson unbound the three hostages.

* Near midnight the hostages went to sleep and Olsson sat hostage Oldgren in a chair facing the doorway of the vault and placed an explosive charge at her feet in the event that the police stormed the vault. Oldgren woke up due to the chill in the vault. As she opened her eyes, Olsson draped his wool jacket around her shoulders. Recalling this and subsequent actions by Olsson, hostage Oldgren later stated, "Jan was a mixture of brutality and tenderness."

Day 2

* Olsson began the day by firing two rounds from his submachine gun at a civilian and a police officer on the stairway of the building.

* In the afternoon, the Police Commissioner was granted permission to talk with the hostages and reported that "the hostages showed hostility toward me, their demeanor sullen and withdrawn." Hostage Ehnmark, he recalled, practically "curled her lip" at him. He observed a "peculiar friendliness between the hostages and Olsson. In addition, Olofsson had his arm around the shoulders of two of the women, and all of the hostages asked to be allowed to leave the bank together with their captors."

* Later that day, hostage Ehnmark talked with the Prime Minister by phone and said: "I am very disappointed. I think you are sitting there playing checkers with our lives. I fully trust Clark and Jan. They haven't done a thing to us. On the contrary, they have been very nice. What I am scared of is that the police will attack and cause us to die ... Of course, they can't attack us ... Olsson is sitting here and he is protecting us from the police."

* Olsson set up his "headquarters" in the bank's safe-deposit vault. When hostage Oldgren complained of claustrophobia, Olsson "put a length of rope, perhaps thirty feet, around her neck and let her out for a walk." Oldgren later stated, "I remember thinking he was very kind to allow me to leave the vault."

* That night, while the hostages were asleep, Olsson approached one of the female hostages sleeping on the floor. He asked her if he could lie beside her and she consented.

When he asked if he could caress her, she again consented. She allowed him to touch her breasts and hips. When he asked her if they could have intercourse, she refused, at which point he turned away from her and masturbated himself to orgasm.

Day 3

* Police approached the bank vault where the captors and hostages were holed up and slammed the vault's door shut and locked it from the outside. The entire group was frustrated and angered by this: "The girls have begun to believe that the police intend to sacrifice them and are only looking for an excuse to justify the massacre later on."

* Olsson "caters to the needs of his hostages, wiping away their tears, giving one of them a bullet from his submachine gun as a keepsake, and apologizing to one of them (Lundblad) for having made her nervous enough to resume smoking."

* By afternoon, they did not know if food would be sent in. Olsson, however, had saved three pears from a previous meal. He carefully cut each in half and gave a piece to each hostage.

* At this point, the "outlines of a community" were observed. Hostages did chores, such as moving furniture and emptying wastebaskets they had been using as toilets. The captors talked of prison life with the hostages.

* A hostage later said: "We were all in sympathy, taking in everything they told us. We acted as though they were our victims, not the other way around."

* Another hostage stated: "I couldn't have stayed normal if I had opposed the robber; whoever threatened our world was the enemy."

Day 4

* In the afternoon, hostage Ehnmark awoke from a nightmare. "Olofsson was instantly at her side, soothing her until she was herself again." She later told police, "Clark gave me tenderness ... It made me feel enormously secure ... It was what I needed."

Day 5

* By this point, the captors felt the end was near. According to hostage Oldgren, Olsson was very moody, "alternating between a tenderness and a brutality that had both become heightened."

Day 6

* At 8:35 a.m., police sprayed tear gas into holes that they had drilled into the vault. A police officer shouts, "Hostages first!"

* There was no movement in the vault. The hostages maintain their positions, rejecting rescue. Defiantly, hostage Ehnmark shouted back, "No, Jan and Clark go first--you'll gun them down if we do!"

* As the captors and hostages came out, they "abruptly embraced each other, the women kissing their captors and shaking hands with them. Their farewells over, all six walked out of the vault, Olsson and Clark in the lead."

For several months after their release, the hostages continued to see the police as the "enemy" and their captors as protectors who gave them life. One hostage later accused psychiatrists of trying to "brainwash" her so as to turn her against her captors. Six months later, all four former hostages testified against their captors. Olsson was sentenced to ten years in prison. About one year after the incident, one of the former hostages visited her captor after having experienced a "powerful impulse" to do so. She refused to tell anyone what they discussed. Ultimately, two of the female hostages became engaged to the two captors (Van Hasselt, 2002).

There are three widely accepted indicators of the Stockholm Syndrome: (1) Positive feelings by the captive(s) toward their captor(s), (2) positive feelings by the captor(s) toward their captive(s), and (3) negative feelings by the captive(s) toward the police and authorities trying to win their release (De fabrique, Van Hasselt, Vecchi, & Romano, 2007; De fabrique, Romano, Vecchi, & Van Hasselt, 2007; Van Hasselt, 2002). According to Van Hasselt (2002), certain variables indicate a propensity towards the development of the Stockholm Syndrome. These variables include age, sex, captors having strong personalities and/or strong beliefs that are communicated in a non-hostile manner, hostage(s) having a weak personality, the relationship of the hostage to the terrorist's cause (the less a "we-they" stance exists, the more the syndrome will appear), and increasing psychological distance of a hostage from his/her government.

For the communicator, the most important thing to remember is to continually attempt to personalize the hostages by asking how they are by name and never referring to them as "hostages" (Vecchi 2009a, 2009b, 2009c). It is also important for the communicator not to "overdo" the personalization of the hostages by giving them too much "attention" in the eyes of the hostage taker, as this may enrage the hostage taker and risk injury to the hostages. The following are some variables that increase the likelihood of the Stockholm Syndrome taking effect (De fabrique, Van Hasselt, Vecchi, & Romano, 2007; De fabrique, Romano, Vecchi, & Van Hasselt, 2007; Van Hasselt, 2002):

* The absence of the gagging and/ or hooding of hostage(s) by the captor(s)

* Hostage(s) being permitted to make eye contact with the captor(s)

* Infrequent rotation of "guards" for hostage(s)

* Guards being permitted to speak with the hostage(s)

* Reducing hostage-captor language differences

* Reducing prejudice or pre-existing stereotypes that might put psychological distance between the hostage(s) and captor(s)

Abnormal Psychology

According to the DSM-IV-TR (APA, 2000), mental disorders are defined "as a clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual and that is associated with present distress ... or disability ... or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom [and] [w]hatever its original cause, it must currently be considered a manifestation of a behavioral, psychological, or biological dysfunction in an individual" (pp. xxi-xxii). Abnormal psychology can be divided into four broad types of disorders: psychotic, affective, personality, and sexual (APA, 2000).

Psychotic (Schizophrenic) Disorders

Schizophrenia is a group of psychotic disorders characterized by major disturbances in thought, perception, emotion, and behavior. Common to most schizophrenia disorders are the following characteristics (2000):

* Delusions (beliefs that the rest of society would disagree with, such as paranoid/persecutory thoughts, grandiose behavior, unwarranted jealousy, and thought broadcast)

* Hallucinations (sensory experiences in the absence of any environmental stimulation, such as voices)

* Disorganized speech (incoherence)

* Disorganized behavior (bizarre facial expressions or gestures and manic behavior)

* Disturbed affect (no emotions or inappropriate emotions, such as laughing at funerals)

* Social occupational dysfunction (poor work history, impaired interpersonal relations, and lack of self-care)

Under the category of schizophrenia, there are three main subtypes: paranoid, disorganized, and catatonic; however, for purposes of this discussion, we will look at paranoid schizophrenia. Paranoid schizophrenia has three main characteristics: 1) disorganized thinking, 2) disturbed perceptions, and 3) inappropriate emotions and actions (APA, 2000). Disorganized thinking involves delusions, which are false beliefs, often relating to persecution or grandeur, despite evidence to the contrary (APA, 2000). The paranoid schizophrenic may also employ "word salad," which are thoughts that spill out in no logical order and jumping from one idea to the other. For example, a paranoid schizophrenic thinks that aliens are out to get him, so he barricades himself inside his apartment and starts shooting out the window. This scenario is not uncommon for communicators to come across.

Disturbed perceptions involve hallucinations, which are sensory experiences without a known external cause (APA, 2000). These hallucinations usually involve auditory "voices" that command the schizophrenic person to do things; however, they may involve any of the five senses (APA, 2000). For instance, in the alien example, the paranoid schizophrenic believes that he is the only one who can hear the aliens and that he alone should inform the President of the impending doom.

Inappropriate emotions and actions are also common to paranoid schizophrenics and these are among the easiest characteristics to observe (APA, 2000). Laughing at funerals, crying when others laugh, becoming angry for no apparent reason, and exhibiting no emotion are common examples of inappropriate emotions. An example of inappropriate actions includes performing senseless, compulsive acts such as rocking, rubbing the arm, or twirling the hair.

Affective Disorders

Affective Disorders include major depression, manic depression, and suicide. Individuals who suffer from major depression usually experience (APA, 2000):

* Sadness, depression, or anger

* Frequent changes in appetite or weight

* Sleep difficulties

* Loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities

* Fatigue

* Negative self-esteem, self-blame, feelings of worthlessness and guilt

* Concentration and attention problems

* Indecisiveness

* Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Someone who is suffering from manic depression bounces from depression to elation without warning. This disorder is often misdiagnosed as depression because mental health professionals and medical doctors only see these individuals when they are depressed. Manic depression, otherwise known as bi-polar disorder, is characterized by the following (APA, 2000):

* Elevated, expansive, or irritable mood

* Extraordinary increase in activity level

* Unusual talkativeness

* Rapid speech

* Less sleep needed

* Inflated self-esteem or feeling of special powers and abilities

* Distractibility

* Involvement in high risk activities

Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are long-standing, inflexible, maladaptive traits that impair social and work performance. There are many types of personality disorders; however, some of the more crisis-prone are the antisocial personality, the borderline personality, and the inadequate personality. The antisocial personality disorder, also commonly known as psychopaths and sociopaths, exhibit the following characteristics (APA, 2000):

* Disregard of others at an early age

* Deceitful and manipulative

* Impulsivity and failure to plan ahead

* Charming and persuasive

* Reckless disregard for safety of self and others

* Consistent irresponsibility

* Lack of conscience, remorse, or anxiety

* Seeks immediate gratification

* Extreme sense of entitlement and blame of others

* Heavy drug or alcohol user

Some serial murderers have antisocial personalities, which is one of several common characteristics that also include bedwetting as a child, cruelty to animals, and pyromania.

The borderline personality disorder exhibits the following characteristics (APA, 2000):

* Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment

* A pattern of unstable and intense relationships (idealization to devaluation)

* Identity disturbance and unstable self image

* Impulsivity

* Recurrent suicidal tendencies

* Chronic feelings of emptiness and boredom

* Mood instability

* Inappropriate intense anger

Inadequate/dependent personalities have the following characteristics (APA, 2000):

* Ineffective in dealing with stress

* Views self as a "loser"

* Need constant advice and reassurance from others

* Unassertive

* Lack of confidence

* Immature and childlike (whining)

* Poor planner

* Marital and work problems

* Attention-seeking

* Excessive and changing demands

* High suicide potential

Abnormal Psychology Communication Strategies

In order for communicators to effectively deal with persons suffering from abnormal psychological pathologies, they must not only understand the pathological characteristics, they must also understand and be able to apply strategies and tactics in a manner that does not aggravate the characteristics. In other words, you don't want to inadvertently fuel the fire. The following provides suggested approaches to be used in light of communication theory and practice.

Sexual Disorders

Some of the most bizarre sexual disorders have to do with paraphilias (APA, 2000). Paraphilias involve sexual attraction m unusual objects and taboo sexual activities. Some paraphilias include: exhibitionism, fetishism, frotteurism, pedophilia, sexual masochism and sadism, transvestic fetishism, and voyeurism. The following are some common and uncommon paraphilias with respect to category' and erotic focus (Psychologist Anywhere Anytime 2009):

Abasiophilia: Lame or crippled partner

Acrotomophilia: Amputation in partner

Adolescentilism: Impersonating or being treated as an adolescent

AndromimetophiliaFemale to male transsexual

Apotemnophilia: Own amputation

Autogonistophilia: Being observed, being on stage

Autogynephilia: Image of self as a woman

Chrematistophilia: Being charged or forced to pay

Coprophilia: Feces

Formicophilia: Small creatures

Gerontophilia: Elderly partner

Gynemimetophilia: Male to female transsexual

Hybristophilia: Partner has committed an outrageous act or crime

Hypoxyphilia (autoerotica): Reduced oxygen intake

Infantilism: Impersonating or being treated as an infant

Kleptophilia: Stealing

Klismaphilia: Enemas

Mixoscopia: Viewing couple having intercourse

Mysophilia: Filth

Narratophilia: Obscene language with a partner

Necrophilia: Corpses Olfactophilia:Odors

Partialism: Focusing on a body part

Pictophilia: Pornographic pictures, movies, or videos

Saliromania: Soiling or damaging clothing or body

Scoptophilia: Viewing sexual activity

Somnophilia: Sleeping partner

Stigmatophilia: Partner tattooed or pierced

Symphorophilia: Stage-managed disaster

Telephone scatophilia: Obscenities over the telephone

Triolism: Observing partner engaging in sex

Urethral manipulation: Insertion of objects in urethra

Urophilia: Urine

Vampirism: Blood

Vomerophilia: Vomiting

Zoophilia (bestiality): Animals

Schizophrenic Disorders

For the communicator who has to deal with a person that is schizophrenic, it is very important to mind the tone in a way that exhibits an open and nonjudgmental attitude because these individuals tend to be very suspicious of other's loyalty and motives and they can be very argumentative. One specific thing to keep in mind is to stay in their frame no matter how illogical they become (Vecchi, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c). The following are some communication strategies to keep in mind when dealing with schizophrenics:

* Avoid arguments

* Show respect and interest

* Establish a sense of security and safety

* Paraphrase without criticism

* Keep your voice calm and even

* Do not challenge hallucinations or delusions

* Allow for venting of emotions

* Beware of negative attitudes towards criminal justice and mental health professionals

* Offer help and protection

* Offer medication

* Focus on the "here and now"

* Avoid using family and clergy as third party intermediaries

Affective Disorders

In dealing with major depression, the communicator should keep in mind the following points (Vecchi, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c):

* Concentrate on active listening

* Show empathy, warmth, and concern

* Use more direct or closed questions if the person is unresponsive

* Find the "hook" (what the person values and needs)

* Ask about medication

* Ask about suicide

* Expect a slow response

* Discuss concrete, real world issues

* Beware of sudden improvement

Strategies for dealing with manic depression/ bi-polar disorder depend on what "pole" the individual has gravitated to when the communicator responds. More often than not, however, the communicator will most likely be dealing with the depressive end of the spectrum, which requires an emphasis on active listening skills (Vecchi, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c).

Personality Disorders

When managing and negotiating with someone who is antisocial, the communicator should keep the following points in mind:

* Use the "buddy approach" (e.g., sharing criticism and blaming others)

* Employ a non-critical, problem-oriented approach

* Promise only what you can deliver

* Expect bargaining demands

* Establish credibility

* Assist in saving face

* Avoid using third party intermediaries

Overall, these people have the potential to be very dangerous and they are usually very intelligent and cunning. The communicator should endeavor to avoid lying to these individuals and focus on assisting them in saving face, as they tend to be very narcissistic.

The communicator should keep the following in mind when negotiating with someone who exhibits characteristics of a borderline personality:

* Focus on active listening to establish a relationship

* Defuse emotionality through understanding

* Use a reassuring voice

* Be alert to signs of suicidal intent

* Be alert to rapid shifts in emotion

* Maintain close and ongoing contact

The communicator should keep the following in mind when negotiating with someone who exhibits characteristics of an inadequate/independent personality:

* Assist the person in saving face

* Build his or her ego

* Avoid criticism and provide understanding

* Capitalize on suggestibility

Sexual Disorders

When responding to individuals with sexual disorders, the best approach is for the communicator to be empathetic and agree where possible. This does not imply that the communicator should agree or pretend to agree to behavior that is criminal or immoral in nature. In these cases, the communicator may respond by saying: "I don't agree that having sex with children is good; nevertheless, I respect your opinion."


Workplace and school violence cuts through all levels of society. Although there are many causes of violence, there are certain behavioral characteristics that are common among the perpetrators of workplace and school violence, which can assist the communicator in assessing and employing effective communication strategies and tactics. Communicators should be cognizant of the development of the Stockholm Syndrome in workplace and school violence situations where captives are taken and seize on any opportunity to develop it in order to personalize the hostages as people, rather than as objects. Moreover, many of these situations involve individuals who exhibit characteristics of psychopathology such as disorganized thinking, behavior, speech, and affect; unrealistic perspectives and expectations; and poor judgment, which the communicator must deal with upon responding to these types of situations.

Past problems

Virginia Tech gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, had been confronted by police and professors in 2005:

Fall 2005 Professor Nikki Giovanni's creative writing class drops from 70 to seven students because of Cho's unsettling behavior

* Giovanni threatens to resign if Cho is not removed from her class

* Professor Lucinda Roy offers one-on-one teaching, has code word with her assistant to call police if she felt threatened by Cho; encourages him to seek counseling


Nov. 27, 2005 Police called when female student becomes concerned with calls and e-mails; Cho referred to a judiciary office, no charges filed

Dec. 13, 2005 At request of another female student, police meet with Cho and ask him not to contact female again; friend of Cho's contacts campus police saying he seemed suicidal

* Temporary detention order obtained and Cho is taken to local mental health facility off campus for evaluation

Dec. 2005 Virginia district court found Cho to be "mentally ill" and an "imminent danger to others"

* Cho taken to Carillon St. Albans Behavioral Health Center in Radford, Va. for an unknown amount of time

Source: The Washington Post, ABC News, McClatchy Washington Bureau Graphic: Melina Yingling, Lee Hulteng

Looking back

April 20 is the 10-year anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School.



(1) Gunmen, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebod, open fire in parking lot

(2) Enter cafeteria, shooting as they walk in

(3) Climb stairs to library, continue shooting

(4) Enter library, shooting; return briefly to cafeteria before committing suicide in the library

SWAT teams entered school 47 minutes after attack began

* 12 students, one teacher, both gunmen) killed

* More than 20 people injured

* Schools, grades K-12, includes private and public

[c] 2009 MCT

Source: AP, National School Safety Center

Stockholm syndrome

Hostages under strong physical and mental stress may experience a psychological reaction called the "Stockholm syndrome":


Captor threatens to kill captive

No escape possible

Captive is isolated from outside, only perspective available is that of the captor

Captor shows some degree of kindness



Captive begins to identify with captor, a defense mechanism

Captive realizes that action taken by rescuers is likely to hurt him

Long-term captivity builds stronger attachment to captor as is seen as a human being with problems, aspirations

Captive seeks to distance himself emotionally from situation; denial

Phenomenon's origin

1973: Four Swedes held in bank vault for six days during robbery became attached to their captors

[c] 2002 KRT

Source: Peace Encyclopedia Graphic: Elsebeth Nielsen, Morten Lynne


American Psychiatric Association [APA]. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders-text revision (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.

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Daniels, J. A., Royster, T. E., & Vecchi, G. M. (2007, October). Barricaded hostage and crisis situations in schools: A review of recent incidents. In D. L. White, B. C. Glenn, & A. Wimes (Eds.), Proceedings of Persistently Safe Schools: The 2007 National Conference on Safe Schools, pp. 61-67. Washington, DC: Hamilton Fish Institute, The George Washington University.

De Fabrique, N., Romano, S. J., Vecchi, G. M., & Van Hasselt, V. B. (2007). Understanding Stockholm Syndrome. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 76(7), 10-15.

De Fabrique, N., Van Hasselt, V. B., Vecchi, G. M., & Romano, S. J., (2007). Common variables associated with the development of Stockholm Syndrome: Some case examples. Victims and Offenders(2)1 , 91-98.

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Fein, R. & Vossekuil, B. (1999). Fear & Violence in the Workplace. (

Lanceley, F. J. (2003). On-scene Guide for Crisis Negotiators (2nd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

McMains, M. J., & Mullins, W. C. (2006). Crisis Negotiations: Managing critical incidents and hostage situations in law enforcement and corrections (3rd ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing.

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Rogan, R. G., Hammer, M. R., & Van Zandt, C. R. (Eds.). (1997). Dynamic Processes of Crisis Negotiation: Theory, research, and practice. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Slatkin, A. A. (2005). Communication in Crisis and Hostage Negotiation: Practical communication techniques, stratagems, and strategies for law enforcement, corrections, and emergency service personnel in managing critical incidents. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.

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Strentz, T. (2006). Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

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Van Hasselt, V. B. (2002). FBI National Crisis Communication Course. Quantico, VA: FBI Academy.

Vecchi, G. M. (2009a). Conflict and crisis communication: A methodology for influencing and persuading behavioral change. Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association 12(1), 34-42.

Vecchi, G. M. (2009b). Conflict and crisis communication: The behavioral influence stairway model and suicide intervention. Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association 12(2), 32-39.

Vecchi, G. M. (2009c). Critical incident response, management, and resolution: Structure and interaction in barricaded hostage, barricaded crisis, and kidnapping situations. Inside Homeland Security 7(2), 7-16.

Vecchi, G. M., Van Hasselt, V. B., & Romano, S. J. (2005). Crisis (hostage) Negotiation: Current strategies and issues in high-risk conflict resolution. Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal, 10, 533-551.

Gregory M. Vecchi, PhD, CFC, CHS-V, is the Unit Chief of the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Dr. Vecchi was assigned to the BSU in January 2006, where he conduces research, training, and consultation activities in behavioral-based conflict analysis and resolution, crisis management, conflict and crisis communication, and global hostage-taking.
They involve schools, families, and the
   communities. An adolescent comes to
   school with a collective life experience,
   both positive and negative, shaped by the
   environments of family, school, peers,
   community, and culture. Out of that
   collective experience comes values, prejudices,
   biases, emotions, and the student's
   responses to training, stress, and
   authority. His or her behavior at school
   is affected by the entire range of experiences
   and influences. No one factor is
   decisive. By the same token, however,
   no one factor is completely without effect,
   which means that when a student
   has shown signs of potential violent behavior,
   schools and other community
   institutions do have the capacity--and
   the responsibility--to keep the potential
   from turning real. (p. 4)
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