Impact News

Responding to Violence, Suicide, Psychosis and Trauma

3. Violence – a different perspective


Most of the literature on violence is about everything except violence – the “Long, Slow Story” – and all about the factors surrounding violence. Otherwise it is about fatuous advice of the kind “don’t shout help, shout fire” – gimmicky tricks that, IMHO, have an enormous propensity for getting you into a lot of trouble.

So what do we do? Make it up? No – we take a fresh look, ask new questions and look sideways. For much of my career just one question has troubled me – “when faced with imminent violence, what can we do?” You look at a man who is shouting at their partner. He sees you looking at him, smashes the bottle and bears down on you with it. You want to change the course of events, immediately.

So where should we look? I suggest a new direction and here I will simply suggest some readings that you might find illuminating. I will start with the more populist stuff and then start narrowing it down – but each part will eventually prove to be an essential part of the jigsaw.

I start with “Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell (2006). It will only set you back about £7.00 and is an intriguing look at how we make remarkably effective (and sometiems catastrophic) snap judgments. It introduces the concept of “thin-slicing” and challenges the notion that thinking things through is always effective or appropriate. Like all of Gladwell’s books it’s a fascinating read.

Second up is “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman (2012) and again only costing about £7.00. Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel Prize winner and in a very entertaining way summarises a life-time of research covering the differences between thoughtful and rapid cognition.

Next up is “The Anatomy of Violence: the biological roots of crime” by Adrian Raine (2014) – a bit more expensive at around £9.00. Another very interesting read. I am not a biologist but I do want to make sure that whatever I say makes sense not only psychologically but also with the way our bodies function.

If you are fascinated about the way the brain works there are two other fascinating books. The first is by Debra Nierhoff (1999) “The Biology of Violence:  The Brain, Behavior, Environment and Violence” – brilliant stuff beautifully told. I’ve just seen that you can get it from a well-known online book retailer for as little as £2.00! Seriously buy it instead of that extra latte.

The other is perhaps more seminal, less about violence but more about how we do things fast (like react to a punch) and is by Joseph LeDoux (1999) “The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life.” Here Joseph explains the neuro-science underpinning rapid reactions.

Next will drill down a bit into the psychological processes engaged during critical incidents. So here we should take a close look at a literature review by Andrew Moskowitz (2002) on Violence and Dissociation and here is the link


Finally I should draw your attention to a great paper that has largely been overlooked, but is very relevant to us. It is by Artle Dyregov (2000) and called “Mental mobilization processes in critical incident stress situations” and the link is:

Of course you could just buy the book “Facing danger in the helping professions” or attend one of my courses!

In my next posting I will try to explain the “Instant Aggression Model” providing you with map through moments of terror!

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2. Violence – Terror in the Mind

woman blurred head

So talking about the “Short, Fast Story” …

I was saying that violence is overwhelmingly a psychological affair so let me clarify what I mean. Violence is an act of aggression and yet it has relatively little to do with pain, injury or even force. We might stub our toe, fall off a bike, scald ourselves, be on the receiving end of fierce rugby tackle, or bash our head on a low doorway. The pain goes, the injury heals, we get on with our lives and forget all about it. Compare this with someone coming up to you and poking you in the chest, or spitting in your face. No real pain, injury or force – and yet you might be troubled by this for a long time.

Now let’s think about force a little more. Many of us feel that we would be at an immediate disadvantage because we are not particularly big or strong. Yet size and strength turn out not to be particularly significant – at least not in the way you expect. My best friend at school was huge – and well built – and yet he got bullied relentlessly by kids who were even smaller than me. I would tell him, “Rich, if not for you, for me, next time they do that to you – just sit on them” but he wouldn’t – his size and strength were his enemies, not his friends. Indeed when I consider some of the scariest people I have encountered, a lot of them have been remarkably small – but still scary!

Okay, many of us still say we are scared by violence – and yet the truth is that violence isn’t particularly scary and sometimes isn’t scary at all! What is scary is the fear of violence – the dreadful anticipation of what might happen as your sympathetic nervous system prepares you for the worst. When the violence takes place there are a whole host of emergency psychological processes that can take over – emotions can be de-activated, time can expand or collapse, dissociative processes engaged and the whole experience can feel unreal. After, of course, there is the trauma – the shattered belief system, the constant ruminations, the nightmares and flashbacks, disturbed arousal, avoidance and the feeling of pervasive danger. The violence itself is the least troublesome part.

The reason we fear violence is because it throws us (psychologically) into the “unknown.” Reason, understanding, reflection and problem-solving – the bed fellows of much of our professional practice – leave the room. Instead of reflecting, we are called on to react – faster than we can think, with little margin for error and possibly catastrophic consequences. We are lost, on our own and without a map.

Well that is where I come in ( ).

In the next posting I will begin to lay down the theoretical foundations to a new approach to understanding and responding to violence – or if you are impatient you could always buy my book! (

Finally if you want to learn about violence through a fringe theatre style training workshop, Mosaic Training are putting on “Difficult, Disturbing & Dangerous Behaviour” in London on 27th November. Click here for details.

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1. Violence – The Long and the Short Stories

man staring

Since not everyone is going to attend one of my courses ( or read my book ( I thought I’d write a series of short posts on violence for general consumption.

When you look into the literature and at the work of clinical and forensic psychologists on violence it is almost exclusively about what I call “The Long, Slow Story.” It is about understanding the profile of violent offenders, identifying the antecedents of violence, assessing the risk of future violent offending and the treatment of violent offenders. These are matters open to rigorous scientific investigation. It is not, however, the whole of the story. The other part is “The Short, Fast Story” and that is where I come in. This involves the violent encounter itself as it happens second by second and the highly dynamic interplay between the various protagonists.

As professionals, violent behaviour is something we want to change and in “The Long, Slow Story” we can draw upon the established therapeutic literature. When addressing “The Short, Fast Story” however, that literature doesn’t help much – ignoring someone who is about to smash a bottle into your face doesn’t work, nor does challenging distorted cognitions! So it is assumed that when push comes to shove we have little influence over the aggressor’s behaviour.

Training, therefore, tends to focus on preventing or minimising the risk of violence to staff, or moves into physical restraint and breakaway techniques. Both are important and laudable and yet between the two an important gap exists – and that gap is that is overwhelmingly psychological.

In my next posting, I will explain why this so …

A final plug … there are still a few places left on the “Difficult, Disturbing and Dangerous Behaviour” workshop in London on 27th November. This is the only opportunity this year for individuals to attend. For details click here.

Filed under: Impact Training, Other Mental Health, Violence, , , , , ,

Dangerous Behaviour Workshop in London, 27.11.15

Dangerous Behaviour

Difficult, Disturbing and Dangerous Behaviour” is a dramatic workshop that is usually only delivered as an in-house, bespoke training experience delivered on commission to organisations for delivery to their own staff. This can be frustrating for staff who wish to attend as individuals. However, for the only time this year Mosaic Training are staging this course for only £69.95/person in London on 27th November. It is anticipated that this workshop will sell out quickly so if you are interested please click here for the details.

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