After the Webinar: The Contagiousness of Vicarious Trauma. Q&A with Dr. Obed Magny

Webinar presenter Dr. Obed Magny answered a number of your questions after his presentation, The Contagiousness of Vicarious Trauma. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: So, a few slides go on slide 39. You had a slide showing officer deaths. Are those deaths just the result of suicide, death by suicide or does that include work-related deaths? 

Dr. Obed Magny: No, that is suicide alone. And that includes those who were retired, also.

Host: Got it, so, as an example, 228, just in 2019. And of course, very disturbing.

Dr. Obed Magny: Extremely, disturbing. Extremely disturbing.


Audience Question: I did see your question about the last poll question in inherited trauma. We decided to skip that to make sure that we can meet the time and have time for Q and A.

Dr. Obed Magny: As part of the Q&A, let me just let me spoiler alert the inherited trauma part. So, that slide and that video, if you guys ever get the chance, you know, later on, you can watch it. But, you know, what I wanted to say is the earlier slide, where I talked about the crisis, what crisis? A lot of this trauma that we incur changes the DNA structure in our bodies, and that can be passed on to our children, our children’s children, and so on and so forth. It’s all part of epigenetics, they’ve done this with mice. Were, you know, the offspring the mice were exposed to trauma. You know that same stimulus that the offspring never had to experience when it was introduced some of the first time exhibited at the same trauma or the same traumatic response, and then it went on for generations. So, if you’re somebody who’s in law enforcement, or if you’re a therapist, be mindful of the fact that, you know, you can pass this on to your children, and they don’t even know. You don’t even know. So, it’s kind of like, this is another reason that had an added layer as far as, like, getting ahead of this, and paying attention to these things, because we’re not just talking about that today. We’re talking about generations from now. So, I just want to make sure to include that.

Host: Absolutely. In fact, we’ve had a couple of webinars that have touched on inherited trauma. I’ll try to include links to those when I send out the course available, e-mail tomorrow.



Audience Question: Do you believe that during these times, victim advocates, can be of great help to police departments in helping both officers and victims? What are your thoughts?

Dr. Obed Magny: Well, I think that was, that was like a softball. Not only do we need more professionals. This is one of the reasons why, for the leaders who are still listening in policing, you need to partner up with, and you need to be proactive with reaching out to these therapists and mental health professionals. Because, whether it’s community members, whether it’s with officers. I mean, again, you see in surveys coming out, were officers are talking about they’re stressed out more than ever. I think Pew or Gallup did a poll on this last year. And whether it’s social media and so on and so forth, these things are affecting officers. And we’re still with the mindset of that bravado, hubris, “I’m a guy, I can handle it, no big deal.” Again, you just saw the example with the trooper, who blew up with something that wasn’t innocuous as somebody give him the finger and that response was textbook example an exhibit A of what can happen if we don’t get ahead of this, because here’s a guy saying, “I’m just here to collect a paycheck and I’m out of here in 14 months, I’m out.” Thankfully nobody was physically hurt or anything like that in the interaction. But the trauma that he’s still living with that he’s dealing with and with the motorist who’s dealing with that. And then you got to think about who’s watching the video because they’ve got some people who are, let’s just say anti-police on scene. But then you’ve got other people who I’m sure are always doing a good job, they’re watching this. That’s like see, now, this guy just ruined it for me. So, if we’re not talking to somebody a mental health professional, we’re doing our self a grave disservice. If the former First Lady is openly saying, Hey, a lot of this stuff has affected me. This is serious, you know? We know it’s affecting other people, too.



Audience Question: A lot of people don’t really understand that it’s more than just law enforcement officers and our first responders that are having to deal with trauma. Although probation officers aren’t on the front lines, we hear our probationers’ trauma and experience it in other ways. When we’re when we were working in an office, we had a separation between home life and work-life but now working from home due to COVID and seeing probationers via video all day has been really hard. Do you have any suggestions on how to balance work and home life in this manner? 

Dr. Obed Magny: So, two things. First thing, when I say police officers, I want to make sure I’m clear on my terms. Police officers include probation, corrections officers, and those who are working in the justice system on the frontline. So, I wasn’t being exclusive to one group versus another group or anything like that. So, yes, when I say police officers, I also mean probation officers to and so on and so forth. So, going back to the working from home thing, what are you doing to manage the stress in your life when you’re dealing with probationers all day long on online. So, and of course, I say that rhetorically. So I give the example of, if I’m used to seeing something all day long, I know that I’ve got to find a way, whether it’s going to the gym, and getting my mind off things, seeking help, like, you see a therapist, your mental health professional, whatever that is, if you have good people in your life, people who may not be in the profession and you just want to talk to who can give a different perspective, that’s another option. I talked about the getting lost thing. I mean, yeah. We’re technically quarantine, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in your car and go for a drive somewhere. That’s another way to deal with that. You’re working with probationers, that in and of itself, you’re dealing with things that the normal person is never going to deal with. Police officers, same thing. This includes firefighters and paramedics. I mean, every call you go into somebody’s shot, broken leg, broken arm. At some point, that’s going to take a toll, you got to find some way to find an outlet to let that stuff go. So, that would be my recommendation, is, just, there’s nothing wrong with, the fact that it,  it could be a little depressing dealing with probationers all day long from their home, but the answer now is what are you doing to mitigate that. And B, are you doing it?



Audience Question: Could you talk a little bit about cumulative trauma. 

Dr. Obed Magny: That’s another webinar. As well, that’s the thing. So, if you, so a book that a really good friend recommended to me was Atomic Habits and it’s done by James Clear. And if you have two glasses, right? If you got one filled with sand and one not filled with sand, you take one grain every day, from the full jar and you put it in an empty jar, over time, that jar is going to get full, right? So just because you go out there today, or you see something today, doesn’t mean that it’s going to affect you for the rest of your life. However, if you see it today, you see it tomorrow, you don’t deal with it, you don’t deal with it. You let it go, you ignore it, you ignore it, I didn’t see it. At some point, you’re accumulating all of this stuff, and you might not even be aware of it. And then, you know, bringing it back to the trooper, something innocuous, and then you irrationally act out in a rage or whatever it is. You’re like, where did that come from? And I know that from mental health professionals, I know this is something you guys are familiar with, is, you know, people act out, and whether it’s crying or just blow up on something that, somebody brings you a, I don’t know, a Gatorade, you wanted a lime and somebody bought you a strawberry, and then next thing you know. People just lose their cool, and that would be the, I guess you could say, the accumulation of other things that were never dealt with. And so, you never got ahead of it. You will never proactive about it. Then when you do deal with it, it’s at the most inconvenient time. So not to say that you’re not going to accumulate stress or you’re not going to accumulate trauma over time, we all are. We’re all doing it right now. If you watch CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, you’re going to accumulate trauma every single day. So, is, how are you dealing with that stress?  Are you involved? What are you doing to improve your sanity, your mental health, and well are you eating right? Nutrition is a huge part of this. If you ain’t eating right, you ain’t going to feel right. And then if you ain’t feeling right, then you have to do something to help your mental health, that’s a compound fracture. So, you can make matters worse by not addressing it or at least work on it. Nobody’s saying that you’re going to solve everything overnight or over the course of two days or two weeks. This can take some time. I’m going to tell you that I’m dealing with some stuff now, I’m working on every single day, there’s Nothing wrong with it.



Audience Question: We actually have victim advocates that are embedded in law enforcement agencies to bridge the gap between officers and the community, but there have been some difficult moments for advocates due to the controversy scope perspectives, in regards to Black Lives Matter. Do you have any advice or considerations, suggestions for advocates? 

Dr. Obed Magny: It is not on the onus of victim advocate groups, it is not the onus on mental health professionals, It is not on the onus of those who are therapists, and so on to be proactive about this. Because I know, and those of us in this room, know, you guys have already been on the front lines, and you guys have already been proactive with a lot of this stuff, whether it’s race relations or all of these things. This is and I’m going to hammer the point, again, this is where leaders in policing have to step up, the lid? Ain’t working on no more, people want to see receipts. You can’t wait for, “Hey, oh, we’ve got an issue now,” because we’re very good at being reactive in policing. That’s something that we’re, we are great at that it’s the, what, let’s wait until something happens, bad first, and then, oh, we got to find a way to fix it. So, you know, with the work with victim advocate groups trying to partner with policing. I already know you guys have been there, this is one of the reasons why, you know, with the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing and other groups that I’m working with. This is why we’re trying to get the institution so that they can be proactive with this. When the police chief in New York City is like, hey, so we’ve had how many suicides, oh, hey, we should do something about, no, no, no, you don’t wait until that happens. What you do is you take care of the mitigation on the front end. You take care of the problem first. This is why, you know, if you guys have cars, you change your oil every 3000 miles, because if you don’t, your car is going to blow up on you, and then you may end up having to get a new engine that’s going to cost you what, 5000, 6000, $8000 versus a $60 oil change? So, you take care of it on the front end, this is the onus on policing, not necessarily with the advocacy group. Yeah, you can try to partner with them. Yeah, you can say, we would like to, you know, we’d like to see more of a partnership, but this is where if you can’t even get it done with the policing organization, you know, work with the city’s risk management, work with the city council. That’s another avenue that I’d recommend, but if we in policing don’t get ahead of this. We’re going to regret it. That would be my best advice.

Click Here to Watch a Recording of The Contagiousness of Vicarious Trauma.



Additional Resources
5 years ago
Trauma Informed Jails: An Interview with Dr. Robin Timme
We know that most inmates have some level of trauma in their background. But what about your correct […]
5 years ago
Thought on Inmate Trauma from Harmony Goorley
We loved this statement Harmony Goorley made during her webinar, Balancing Order and Recovery: Bluep […]
5 years ago
Thoughts on Trauma from Amy Morgan
We loved this quote Amy Morgan made during her webinar, The Trauma of First Response to Cruelty. […]
Trauma Infogrx Thumbnail
7 years ago
Infographic: What is Trauma?
"The truth, however, is that day-to-day police work includes enough stress and exposure to t […]