The Pros and Cons of Psychologists in Hostage Negotiations

Posted: August 12th, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Psychologists in Hostage Negotiations







The Pros and Cons of the Psychologist in Hostage Negotiations

Psychologists are used to assist in hostage negotiations, in place of the police who usually do not have adequate skills on how to handle hostage situations. Police always utilize the services of a psychologist in hostage situations because they have to understand the role that can be played by an expert in behavioral science. Hostage situations should be approached with utmost care. The role of the police in such cases has always been in conflict with that of the psychologist. Some scholars hold diverse views on who between the police and the psychologist should act as the primary negotiator in hostage situations. Two articles that are of particular importance to this topic are the views of Hatcher et al (1998) and Ebert (1986). These articles contain opposite views on the role of psychologists in hostage negotiation. Ebert held the view that the police psychologist was the best person to lead hostage negotiations, on the other hand, Hatcher et al held the view that the police psychologist should not act as the primary negotiator. They said that the psychologist had only four roles to play in hostage negotiation. This paper will examine pros and cons of psychologists in relation to the views of these two groups of authors.

In trying to justify their argument, Hatcher et al outlined four roles and responsibilities of a psychologist during hostage situations. They argued that a psychologist acts as an adviser to the police; they can consult the psychologist for assistance. Second, the psychologist also plays the role of the integrated team member; he/she therefore works hand in hand with the police and provides information to the negotiators. A third role is the primary negotiator role. A psychologist should not perform the role of the primary negotiator because he might fall into problems if the perpetrator has an unpleasant experience with psychologists. The last role that the psychologist plays in hostage negotiation is being the primary controller. They argue that a psychologist should not act as the primary controller unless they are familiar with the functions of the agency they are working with (Hatcher, et al, 1998, p. 468-469). Hatcher et al suggested that there is a possibility that a misunderstanding may arise between the psychologist and the hostage taker during negotiation, and thus psychologists should exercise due caution. According to them, the psychologist is limited to only one of the four roles outlined above

According to Ebert, the psychologist is the best asset the police can acquire to assist them in hostage negotiations. Ebert in his case insists that no limitations should be placed on the work that mental health counselors do especially when such tasks require psychiatrists (Ebert, 1986, p 581). He calls for psychologists to assist in hostage situations as consultants. Ebert highlighted the following as the probable duties of a mental health professional during negotiation. Psychologists should provide negotiation services in terror cases. They should communicate important information to the negotiator during negotiations. They should provide advice to the negotiators on the psychological implications of the negotiation and that psychologists should help with the counseling of hostages and their families after such situations. He however advises the psychologist against taking the role of the primary negotiator. This role should be left to a qualified police negotiator.

Psychologists are essential when it comes to preparing and actual implementation of hostage negotiations. They can train negotiation teams and offer counseling to victims. According to Hatcher et al, the best position for a psychologist in hostage negotiations is the advisor role while Ebert prefers a consultations role. Any of the above roles has it challenges as put out by the writers but psychologists are increasingly becoming a necessity in hostage negotiations.




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