Jeff Thompson, Ph.D.
Adjunct Associate Research Scientist, Molecular Imaging and Neuropathology, New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University Irving Medical Center
“My work involves some very difficult and sad moments but this is not an individual journey. The support from the NYPD and policing community, CUMC, and especially IPPA reminds me of we are all on this journey together. I’m especially grateful for those in IPPA who have already helped me and I look forward to working with so many more!”
Jeff Thompson wears a lot of hats. In conjunction with being a Detective with the New York Police Department, he is also the NYPD’s first Mental Health and Wellness Coordinator.More
In addition, to support his roles within the NYPD, he is also an adjunct associate research scientist at the molecular imaging and neuropathology division at the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University Irving Medical Center [CUMC].
Jeff has been using Positive Psychology in one way or another for his entire life. Since his entrance into law enforcement, he has consistently advocated for peer support programs, crisis communication skills, and the like. Prior to his current role, he worked in conflict resolution and hostage negotiation. However, roughly two years ago, he fell down the Positive Psychology rabbit hole of research and landed upon IPPA. While in Melbourne in 2019 for a law enforcement conference, by an act of fate, IPPA was hosting the 6th IPPA World Congress in Melbourne as well… and the rest is history.
But do law enforcement and Positive Psychology even mix? Thompson believes the two should go hand in hand, now more than ever. Law enforcement officers are faced with daily stressors inherently by their job description and providing all possible tools is essential. He feels there are three different lenses where Positive Psychology can be used within law enforcement. There is proactive preventive outreach, where the emphasis is based on a positive mindset and coping habits. Helping in crisis situations, which focuses on providing relief during those stressors. Finally, in the devastating scenario where a law enforcement officer dies by suicide, Thompson and his team have to focus on what can be learned and how to honor the fallen by improving their support for future officers, while also providing support to grieving officers.
Through his multiple positions, Jeff is creating a resiliency program at the NYPD that utilizes several methods in Positive Psychology. This new curriculum has four key pillars; awareness, wellness, purpose, and positivity. Awareness centers on principals within the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Triangle, as well as accepting how much psychology can play a role in law enforcement. Wellness places heavy emphasis on physical and mental wellness and the inherent connection between the two. Purpose focuses on each law enforcement officer’s ‘anchor’ or personal reason for joining the force. He is adamant that this ‘anchor’ cannot be solely about the individual officer. It must have a tie to their role in service to the public. Breathing practices and working with gratitude help ground the officer. Finally, positivity is essential as officers are often dealing with such bad experiences in the field, they need to surround themselves with positivity at home and at work. Despite what they may experience in the field, it is important to reinforce that the world is not full of evil and that there are people that do love and care about you. He reminds officers this is not “soft” either, but rather the approach is evidence-based and helps them to excel at their job.
Jeff is extremely passionate about his work and thinks that Positive Psychology training in some form should be implemented internationally. He emphasizes that this is an untapped realm for both law enforcement and Positive Psychology that could be a great harmony if both sides unabashedly embraced one another. This sort of training needs to be carefully packaged and sustainable. He feels that one-hour webinars and books may help in the short term, but for real sustainable change, it needs to be implemented into the lives of law enforcement officers, including starting in police academies and throughout an officer’s career.
Jeff is extremely proud of the work he, the NYPD, and CUMC continue to do but is excited to watch Positive Psychology provoke positive change in his very own work environment.