Regulating and coping with distress during police interviews of traumatized victims

Patrick Risan, Per-Einar Binder, Rebecca Jane Milne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: The aim of this study was to qualitatively explore approaches to police interviewing of traumatised victims experiencing distress. Specifically, we examined the research question: What do police investigators regard as useful approaches to regulating distress, maintaining rapport and promoting the well-being of the interviewee? Method: To explore processes relevant to the research objective, 21 semi-structured interviews were conducted of police investigators who interviewed survivors following the Utøya massacre on 22 July 2011 in Norway. To examine the relationship between the research question and the material, we used thematic analysis based on a reflexive hermeneutic-phenomenological epistemology. Results: Following the analysis, three main themes emerged: (i) becoming aware of the interviewees' capacity to cope with distress by attending to nonverbal cues, (ii) interviewers communicating acceptance and modelling how to cope with painful emotions, and, (iii) regulating distress by responding to the interviewees' emotional needs, helping them to feel safe and promoting the positive. Conclusion: The findings of the study show the importance of relational processes in investigative interviewing of traumatised interviewees, particularly with regard to coping with emotions. The results suggest that if the police investigator who is conducting an investigative interview can offer a trusting, safe and compassionate relationship, or if he/she steers the relational dynamics towards safety in the present moment when distress arises, he/she may facilitate the interviewee's adaptive self-regulation. We propose that if the interviewee's emotions are managed in this way during the police interview, it will lead to increased rapport and promote therapeutic jurisprudence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)736-744
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
Issue number6
Early online date21 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


  • interviews
  • semistructured
  • qualitative analysis
  • health and wellbeing
  • police interview
  • Utøya
  • trauma
  • vulnerable populations


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