Thomas Strentz, Ph.D.
In social work, you learn about how to connect with people and understand their mindset. You have to be a good listener. Certainly, social work skills helped in terms of assisting people in crisis in my job as a negotiator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
After working in California in the welfare department, I joined the FBI, which was setting up a behavioral science unit. I began my career in Texas and worked on a variety of cases from kidnappings to bank robberies to defections.
A transfer sent me to Washington, D.C., where I handled gambling and organized crime. Finally, I landed in Quantico, Va., where I worked in the special operations unit focusing on hostage negotiations. Terrorism had begun to ramp up. In those days it was primarily reactive crimes such as hijackings and bank robberies. While there, I had the opportunity to pursue my Ph.D. at VCU, which was starting up its doctoral program. I commuted to school from Fredericksburg, Va., for nine years.
My social work background gave me insight into how to deal with folks who were schizophrenic, paranoid, anti-social or suicidal. Every day in my job as a negotiator, I relied on the application of what I learned at the VCU School of Social Work regarding interviewing techniques and letting people tell their story. And it worked. It worked just beautifully.
I’ve negotiated many scenarios but one that sticks with me involves a suicidal young woman. Distraught over a recent breakup, she was pacing the roof of her building and threatening to jump. My team and I arrived at the scene. We began talking to her and discovered that she was very close to her aunt. That was our “hook” to reach her. She broke down, we grabbed her and got her to safety. I still get choked up about it. It was really emotional. But it became a “happily ever after” moment and it all comes back to building on the foundation that I learned in social work.
This is why I studied social work.
Thomas Strentz, Ph.D., worked as an FBI special agent for 20 years. He is a professional anti-terrorism expert with a background in hostage situations, negotiations, instruction and survival. The author of two books, “Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation” and “Hostage/Crisis Negotiations: Lessons Learned from the Bad, the Mad, and the Sad,” Strentz is also responsible for much of the original research on Stockholm syndrome, including the profiling of terrorist groups and individuals. In addition to being an instructor, public speaker, consultant, author and training film producer, he has concentrated his academic and professional efforts on instructing persons and law enforcement agencies around the world in the physical and psychological tactics needed to survive hostage situations.