The woman who keeps our cops sane

2013-05-26 14:00

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She has listened to many horror stories as part of her work, but it is cases involving children that upset Busi Buthelezi the most.

“As a mother, cases that involve children make me fear for my own children. In a lot of cases, you’ll find that members have to deal with children in the line of duty who’ve been raped,” says Buthelezi, the woman tasked with keeping members of the SA Police Service sane.

“Issues that shock us as a community also deeply affect us.”

Buthelezi heads the police’s psychology division. The mother of two, who holds a master’s degree in psychology from Wits University, has been in the job for four years.

It’s been a big and a tough change.

Before joining the police, she was with the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, and also worked for a private company, Independent Counselling and Advisory Services.

According to the available statistics, there are only 131 psychologists for 1?131 police stations and close to 160?000 police officers.

Basically, if all officers were to seek help, this would equate to about 1?220 cases per psychologist.

This shortage means Buthelezi takes on cases too.

“The number of psychologists in the country is very limited, so I also have to take on cases,” she says, adding: “By listening to other people’s traumatic stories, you can’t help but be vicariously traumatised yourself. And also as a human being, you have your own issues.”

Despite the horror stories, she enjoys her work. “We have to counsel the officers who have experienced stressful incidents and make sure they are ready to get back to work to carry on with their jobs of upholding the law and protecting people.”

Buthelezi is a little cagy when asked about police brutality.

She says: “Police officers are members of the public and we’re dealing with a very angry public. As much as we have incidents of police brutality reported, it’s also a matter of perceptions.”

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