Can you tell us something about your background and why you decided to work in the field of applied trauma psychology?
I have had a very mixed career; I have worked in medical research, as a
retail operations director, property development, Head of a counselling
service and running my own company. I think that the fact that I have
had lots of experience doing different things has been really helpful to
me. Although I love research, at heart I am a practitioner and enjoy
working with people and organisations to help them to have happy and
I don’t think that I set out to be an applied trauma psychologist – it
was just that the work was interesting and I could see that it helped
people deal with difficult issues.
Tell us more about applied trauma psychology - what does your work involve and who do you aim to help?
I work with lots of different organisations and kinds of people. My
main areas of expertise are in psychological trauma, bullying and
harassment and psychological rehabilitation. I have worked with victims
of major incidents such as 9/11 and the 7/7 bombings as well as natural
disasters, transport deaths, rapes and other crimes. My goal is to
help organisations prepare for crisis and disasters by training and
preparing their employees and when a crisis occurs to help the
organisation to deal with it to limit the damage caused to the
workforce. I have developed a number of psychological tools which help
people to recover from stress, burnout and psychological trauma.
What experience have you had working with digital forensics professionals?
The first time I worked with digital forensic professionals was around
ten years ago. A commercial forensics organisation had taken over some
work on Operation Ore and the young forensic examiners were having
problems in dealing with the impact of the images they were assessing. I
later became involved in supporting other forensic examiners who were
working in Eastern Europe where they felt that they were in very
threatening working environments with little support. More recently I
have become more involved with law enforcement officers working with
child abuse. This is a really interesting area of work and I find that
the people involved in this work are really dedicated and keen to push
the boundaries of their knowledge of computer forensics to the limits.
What are the short and long term effects
of working with the kind of disturbing material which digital forensics
examiners often encounter in their work?
I think that it is relatively easy to see that some people will never be
able to deal with the distressing images, sounds and dialogue that are
part of the examiners world. Some people fail within the first few days
of being exposed to the material. However, perhaps more difficult is
the slow grinding down of the digital examiner's resilience which can
happen over months or years. People who have handled this kind of work
may suddenly find that they are unable to deal with it any more. I
think that most people have a “shelf-life” for dealing with the most
distressing material and need to take a break. The initial reaction to
distressing material is the shock and disgust it causes, the fact that
people will do things that most of us could never imagine. This is
particularly distressing when the victim is a child. The real problems
relate to the trauma reactions that this shock can create. The way our
brains work is to try to protect us from anything that could cause harm.
The common response to a traumatic exposure is to a) try to avoid
further exposure b) become hyper alert or aroused to the material or
thoughts about the material and c) to have dreams, flashbacks or
constant thoughts about the exposure. People can also become irritable,
detached and start using “self-medication” (caffeine, alcohol, drugs –
prescribed and otherwise) to handle their symptoms. Often relationships
suffer as normal loving relationships are affected by the impact of the