Dr. Donald S. Bosch
Director of Risk Psychology and HEAT, Headington Institute
We felt the first raindrops just as the kidnapping scenario was about to begin at the Kenya military/UN training center. This came as a welcome relief from the intense sun for the participants, who would soon be hooded with black sacks and bound in hand restraints. During the next training session, they would be interrogated by hostile militia commanders, held in makeshift huts with blaring obnoxious music, and made to do useless repetitive tasks. Here, they would learn to control their physical and emotional reactions, increasing their chances of survival in a real life emergency.
During these training scenarios, I help ensure that no one is pushed beyond their limits. Since I’ve already coached participants in psychological survival skills, I’m there to provide support. Occasionally, someone exits a scenario mid-stream, and then we talk. More often than not, these are moments of insight, enabling them to draw connections between their current reactions and their history. Because participants completed a prior online assessment, I can modulate the experience for those who need more gradual exposure. Typically, they return to complete the scenario.
I help participants understand how the brain functions in dangerous situations, and get familiar with their own unique responses. This prepares them for what they may encounter in the field. Rather than shocking and overwhelming them, the program carefully blends elements of advance preparation with realistic immersion. The team of highly skilled security trainers ensures both the grim realism of the scenarios, and the safety of all participants.
Toward the end of this particular training program, the regional security adviser motioned me over. He had just learned that two aid workers from another organization had been abducted that day from the same location we were preparing this team to enter. In that one awful moment, I again felt clarity as to why the Headington Institute would choose to assist with such difficult training exercises. We do it to help aid workers have the best chance of surviving the horrors that accompany fieldwork in today’s world.