Police work and other criminal investigation can take a real toll on a person. After all, these people see the worst that humans can do to each other, and that can leave scars. Even the most sane, balanced person can get pushed to the breaking point under those circumstances.
That’s why many police departments have psychologists, either on their staff or as professional associates. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the detectives will actually use those services unless required. There’s still, to some extent, a stigma attached to getting mental health care. But more and more, people are seeing the wisdom of getting such support when it’s necessary. And that aspect of police work – the aftermath of a case – can make a fictional character more human and believable.
For example, in Michael Connelly’s The Last Coyote, LAPD detective Harry Bosch is at the end of his proverbial rope. After an incident in which he attacks a superior officer, he’s sent for mandatory psychological counseling, and relieved of his duties until he completes it. Bosch begins his sessions with Dr. Carmen Hinojos, who tries to help him face some of his personal issues. One of them is the fact that his mother was murdered when he was eleven. She was a prostitute, and not a ‘high profile’ one, either. So not much was done to investigate. Feeling at loose ends because of his enforced break from work, Bosch begins to look into his mother’s death again. That case, plus his work with Hinojos, helps Bosch do some of the work he needs to do to start functioning again.
In Ian Rankin’s Resurrection Men, we meet career analyst Andrea Thomson. On the one hand, she’s not a doctor, a psychiatrist, or a psychological therapist. She’s hired by the police (as a freelancer) to work with the detectives on job-related issues. On the other hand, job counseling and mental health counseling aren’t that far apart, so some of the same issues come up. That’s how she meets Inspector John Rebus, who’s just gotten into deep trouble for throwing a mug of cold tea at a supervisor during a meeting. In Rebus’ case, he’s been sent back to Tulliallan Police College for career counseling and a refresher course on working with others. Needless to say, Rebus isn’t happy being pulled from his regular work. Nor is he deeply interested in reflecting on his career. He’s happiest out on the streets, dong his job. He and a group of other detectives who’ve been sent for the same refresher course are given a ‘cold case’ to work, as a way of building their teamwork skills. But that doesn’t stop him working with Sergeant Siobhan Clarke on a case they were already investigating. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how the police view counseling, Thomson, and the process of reflecting on their work.
Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) introduces readers to Copenhagen detective Carl Mørck. As the novel opens, he’s just returned to active duty after a line-of-fire incident in which one of his colleagues was killed, and another left with permanent paralysis. Mørck was badly injured, too, and not just physically. He’s never been overly friendly or extroverted, but since his return, he’s been even worse. In fact, no-one wants to work with him. So he’s ‘promoted’ to head a new department called ‘Department Q,’ which will have responsibility for cases of special interest – cold cases. In this way, the Copenhagen police can respond to media and public criticism over unsolved cases, and at the same time get Mørck out of the way. The first case that Mørck and his assistant, Hafez al-Assad re-open is the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. At the time she went missing, everyone thought she’d had a tragic fall from a ferry. But Mørck and Assad begin to suspect she may still be alive; if so, she may be in grave danger. In the meantime, Mørck’s boss wants him to get some psychological help. The department has recently hired a crisis counselor, Mona Ibsen, and Mørck is strongly encouraged to work with her. He has no desire to face any personal issues, but he is smitten by the new counselor. And it’s both funny and awkward to see how he starts to do the work he needs to do, even if it is for very much the wrong reasons. Fans of this series will know how both his mental health work and his interactions with Mona Ibsen evolve as the series does.
In David Mark’s Sorrow Bound, Hull D.S. Aector McAvoy and his team are up against a dangerous new crime boss. At the same time, they’re dealing with what looks like a series of revenge killings that are related to past police investigations. And all of this takes place during a heat wave that makes everyone miserable. Things aren’t made easier for McAvoy by the fact that he’s been required to attend six sessions of counseling to help him deal with some of the trauma he’s been through recently. Here’s what he says to Sabine Kean, his counselor:
‘‘Look, the people at occupational health have insisted I come for six sessions with a police-approved counselor. I’m doing that. I’m here. I’ll answer your questions, and I’m at great pains not to be rude to you, but it’s hot and I’m tired and I have work to do, and yes, there are lots of places I would rather be. I’m sure you would, too.’’
As the novel goes on, we see how McAvoy’s sessions progress and where they lead him, mentally speaking.
Of course, it’s not only the police who occasionally need mental health support, whether they admit it, or want it, or not. Fans of Åsa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson series will know that Martinsson, who is a lawyer, needs and gets quite a lot of psychological counseling after experiencing severe trauma in The Savage Altar (AKA Sun Storm) and The Blood Spilt.
It makes sense to weave this element in to crime novels, since crime is traumatic. So long as it’s not melodramatic, that sort of plot thread can help make characters seem more believable.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Amy Winehouse’s Rehab.