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Distinguished Psychology Professor Prepares Students, First Responders for Crisis Situations

When Bryan Steinkopf was considering where to enroll in a doctoral program, he chose NSU because of one professor whose research and expertise he had so frequently come across as a psychology student.

"I came to NSU specificallyto studywith Dr. Vince Van Hasselt," said Steinkopf, a doctoral student at NSU's College of Psychology. "Dr. Van Hasselt is well known in the practice and research community for his expertise in police psychology. In my search of the literature, his work came up frequently. I read as many of his articles as I could get my hands on. When I found out he was teaching at NSU, I knew I wanted to come here."

Van Hasselt, Ph.D., recently honored as Distinguished Professor of the Year at the College of Psychology, directs clinical services at the college's Psychology Services Center. Those include the Adolescent Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program and the Family Violence Program.

Widely known for his expertise in police psychology, behavioral criminology, and critical incident stress, Van Hasselt is a 1995 graduate of the Broward County Police Academy and a certified police officer who helps train law enforcement in areas such as hostage negotiation.

He is the editor of multiple journals; author of more than 200 journal articles, books, and book chapters; and a lecturer at the Broward County Police Academy and the FBI National Academy.

"Growing up in New York City, I got to see what the police had to deal with," he said. "I thought it was a very noble profession. I thought it was an area that can use psychology services...I wanted to know what we can do as police psychologists to provide support services."

Since arriving at NSU in 1992, Van Hasselt has provided hands-on experiences and training and research opportunities to graduate and doctoral students and alumni now working in psychology within federal agencies, police departments, the military, academics, or private practice.

"My job here is to provide opportunities to students. They need to get experience outside the classroom," said Van Hasselt, who credits his students for recently developing and delivering a two-hour behavioral health training program to more than 250 Broward County fire-rescue workers in addition to 911 dispatchers.

"First responders are not the most approachable group - especially on behavioral health-related topics. With Dr. Van Hasselt's experience, we customized that program to be informative, useful, and engaging to each group," said Steinkopf, who also is a member of Nova Players - doctoral psychology students and volunteers who play the roles of hostage-takers, victims, or witnesses in scenario-based training for police crisis/hostage negotiators.

"My experiences with the Nova Players has given me a better understanding of the interactions between individuals in crisis - including the mentally ill and law enforcement - as well as where problems have occurred and how to act to achieve the best outcome," said Steinkopf who got involved during his first week in the doctoral program and has served as a coordinator for two years.

Van Hasselt sees multiple benefits to his students, including learning "how to teach," being comfortable in front of groups of people, firsthand experience with police and crisis responders, and learning from the inside out about the functions of a police agency.

"At least half of the training for police hostage negotiators is role-play scenarios," said Van Hasselt, who teaches "active listening skills" to help police quickly build rapport with an unstable suspect or hostage taker, a skill similar to what psychology students are taught to use with clients.

"I tell students if you're going to be a police psychologist, you have to know what's out there. You have to understand what they deal with...the stress of homicides, sex crimes, family violence, child abuse, the worst kind of incidents. It's tough. This work is not for everybody."

Experiences such as these offer students firsthand experience, collaborative relationships, and "an immersion into the police culture," said Vera Klinoff, a student in the college's Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology program who earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology at NSU.

"I've been able to apply my knowledge of psychopathology and communication techniques to real-life scenarios. This experience has brought what I learned theoretically to life," said Klinoff, who participates in Nova Players, co-developed the behavioral training program, and has worked on research projects under Van Hasselt's supervision.

"As a prolific psychologist in his field, Dr. Van Hasselt has forged endless opportunities that he eagerly continues to share with his students," Klinoff said.

"I came to NSU to have Dr. Van Hasselt as a mentor, and he has far exceeded any expectations I had as to what he could provide," Steinkopf said. "He takes the time to prepare and provide resources for the projects we work on. He really cares about his students' success."

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