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article imageWhat are Some Mental Health Lessons from Fort Hood Killings?

By Carol Forsloff     Nov 8, 2009 in Crime
This last week Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a psychiatrist in the Army Medical Corps, killed 13 people and wounded 31 more. What can we learn about mental health issues from this?
Some bloggers now question the authenticity and integrity of mental health personnel assigned to treat veterans with trauma, wondering why the American Psychiatric Association has not responded to the recent tragedy nor polices its own. CBS News reported Hasan to have had a past marred with difficulties. Is there a requirement that fellow professionals in mental health report those who cannot practice effectively and if so does this raise a question with respect to the incident at Fort Hood? The public is raising questions about mental health training and responsibilities. Perhaps it is important to examine the standards of the profession with respect to impairment of a fellow practitioner.
The Austin Statesman examines the condition some mental health personnel called "compassion fatigue." Some experts maintain Hasan may have suffered from this, which may have caused him to respond irrationally to internalized pain. "Compassion fatigue" is defined as a syndrome where counselors are impaired as a result of having incorporated some of the anger and frustration experienced by their clients. This is one of the explanations concerning why Hasan acted as he did, but what are the ethics with respect to responsibilities of fellow professionals? Some have wondered whether or not Hasan should have been allowed to counsel trauma survivors given the fact he was given a poor performance rating at Fort Hood.
Mental health professions have a Code of Ethics requiring them not to personalize mental health material, to remain focused on the needs of the client, and to disassociate themselves from cases or clients where they can't provide good service. This is especially true of a counselor who may be emotionally impaired. That's because the impairment could cause the professional to be unable to function reasonably and fairly. Goodtherapy.org provides a listing of the standards of the major groups involved in mental health counseling and therapy. The following is one of the specific guidelines set forth by the American Counseling Association that reflects the responsibilties counselors have in relationship to thier own limitations and what other counselors must do if a colleague is shown to have impairment.
"Counselors are alert to the signs of impairment from their own physical,mental, or emotional problems and refrain from offering or providing professional services when such impairment
is likely to harm a client or others. They seek assistance for problems that reach the level of professional impairment, and, if necessary, they limit, suspend, or terminate their professional
responsibilities until such time it is determined that they may safely resume their work. Counselors assist colleagues or supervisors in recognizing their own professional impairment and provide consultation and assistance when warranted with colleagues or supervisors showing signs of impairment and intervene as appropriate to prevent imminent harm to clients."
Hasan had a poor performance rating at Walter Reed Hospital. He was, however, assigned to Fort Hood and was awaiting assignment to a war zone. West Texas News raises questions about this, quoting Dr. Thomas Grieger, who was the training director there that while he was an intern, Hasan had some "difficulties" that required "counseling and extra supervision."
Finally there is the mental health lesson, simple and direct, from Wednesday Martin, Ph.D psychologist in Psychology Today She writes: "The lessons of Nidal Hasan may be many and profound. But one of them may be a simple case of recognizing that war is hell, and trauma is hell, and mental illness is hell, and sometimes even a shrink who has slipped through its nets can't fix it. So he does much worse."
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