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Psych Congress  

A Simulation to Increase Police Officers Empathy for the Mentally Ill

Amy J. Chaffin, PhD, RN, CNS-BC,
Nevada State College

Goal: A community partnership between Nevada police departments and psychiatric nursing faculty at Nevada State College was developed March 2012 to enhance officers’ encounters with mentally ill individuals. The Hearing Voices Simulation was offered to police to increase officers’ empathy for the mentally ill. 
Background and significance: A mentally ill individual having auditory hallucinations may hear voices that command them to do harm. Police are often called to intervene. The end result in the local community has, at times, involved harm to the police officer or mentally ill individual, e.g., physical harm or shooting incident. These events prompted new educational efforts focused de-escalation and better understand of psychotic individuals. 
Method and procedure: Officers complete the Hearing Voices Simulation, and use headphones to listen to recorded voices while attempting to do simple tasks. The recorded voices simulate ones heard by the author of the simulation, Dr. Deegan, who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia as a young adult. Simulation experience is designed to mirror confusion and frustration inflicted on persons that hear voices as they try to deal with the world around them.
Participants: As of August 2013, 260 officers have completed the simulation. Post-simulation interview comments show increased empathy, e.g., “I understand the symptoms to look for and can be more patient because they (the mentally ill) can’t control what they’re experiencing.”
Simulation’s impact and future study: The Hearing Voices Simulation has generated appreciation awards from police departments, and recognition by the state’s Board of Regents for higher education. Police participants have rated the simulation as one of the top three presentations in the Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). An IRB-approved study of officers’ empathy pre/post simulation is planned for 2013-2014 with publication of study results in 2014.

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