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Role Interference and Moral Distress in the Subjective Experience of Deep Undercover Law Enforcement Operatives

by Thomas E. Coghlan

e-Book PDF
Institution: Yeshiva University
Advisor(s): Carl Auerbach, Ph.D.
Degree: Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology
Year: 2010
Volume: 161 pages
ISBN-10: 1599423707
ISBN-13: 9781599423708


The following is a qualitative study regarding the experiences of law enforcement operatives engaged in deep-undercover persona. There were four participants in this study, although in keeping with the study's safeguards, no demographic or other identifying information concerning those participants is provided. Face-to-face, semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with the participants. Those interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and redacted for de-identification purposes in keeping with safeguards. The transcribed interviews were then analyzed using a grounded theory procedure. Three theoretical constructs emerged from this study: 1. A Pre-Persona Engagement Current, Coherent Meaning System. This construct describes the participant deep-undercovers' pre-existing worldview in which a concrete dichotomy existed between right and wrong. This dichotomy informed their expectations of their roles within law enforcement, not only for their own actions but also their expectations about the criminals they would investigate, the agencies that would be their support system, and their emotional responses to all of these elements. It also describes those aspects of the experience that provided role satisfaction for the participants. 2. Breakdown of the Coherent Meaning System, which describes both emotional and cognitive appraisals of challenges to the assumptive worldviews contained in the pre-existing coherent meaning system, and the gradual breakdown of that system and, thus, the participant's experienced role interference and moral distress. 3. Oudenos Chorion: The No-Man's Land of Re-entry, Integration and Adjustment, which describes the feeling of disconnect from their roles and identities that participants experienced in the post-persona engagement phase after their return from the deep-undercover operation, and their attempts to make sense of, and mediate their conflicts. This construct reveals feelings of regret, self-doubt, guilt, and resentment toward the agency. Clinical implications, limitations, and suggestions for future research are discussed.

About The Author

Thomas E. Coghlan completed his Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology at Yeshiva University in September 2010. He also holds a M.A. in Forensic Psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. He is a Detective in the New York City Police Department. His primary clinical interest is in the field of forensic psychology, particularly individual psychotherapy with patients with ASPD and psychopathy.