On Jan. 20, psychologist James Trent, PhD, heard a knock on the door at his home in a suburb of Nashville, Tenn. Nothing--even his 20 years of experience in psychotherapy practice--could have prepared him for what happened when he answered it.
The visitor, Steven Tabb--a man angry about the fitness-for-duty evaluation Trent had recently completed--wanted to talk. When Trent refused, knowing Tabb was "trouble," Tabb raised a gun and shot three times. Trent was shot in the head and chest. The third bullet missed him and hit a window sill.
Minutes later, his teen-age son found him bleeding by the doorway and called 911. Just hours after Trent had been taken to the emergency room, the shooter was dead--killed when he ran his car into a tree.
Trent stayed in the trauma unit for four days, then spent about two weeks in the rehabilitation center. And for the next three months, he underwent speech and physical therapy. Thankfully, his recovery has been swift.
"It's been a real experience as a psychologist--sort of a personal experiment to see how you re-establish neurological connections that have been disrupted by trauma," he says. And, although he admits the experience has been fascinating in that regard, "it's not one I'd recommend," he says with a laugh.
As one might expect, the incident changed the way Trent chooses to live and work. "When it first happened, I thought practicing again was out of the question," he says. But with support from his family and his patients he realized, "It's not the practice I don't want to do. It's certain kinds of work." For example, he won't do any more fitness-for-duty evaluations, where he says the psychologist is "seen as the enemy."
Since the incident, Trent has slowly gotten back into practice. His patients wanted to know how things were going but didn't really know how to ask. "Hallmark doesn't really have a card that fits this situation." After his patients relaxed and realized he was recovering well, he says, they could get back to the therapeutic work.
In addition to choosing his workload differently, he pays a lot more attention to issues of safety and advises other psychologists to do the same. "I didn't think this was any more dangerous than anything else," he says.
"If I were going to do fitness-for-duty evaluations again--which I think are very valuable and necessary--I would never do them in my office. I'd have the client company provide a space." Since the shooting, Trent avoids seeing patients while he's alone in his office and he's much more careful about maintaining his privacy. "I always tried not to let my work disrupt my normal life. I never tried to get an unlisted phone number or address. That has simply changed now."
But being more cautious hasn't stopped Trent from getting back into his life--work and play. "It's important to not let something like this paralyze me. You have to keep living your life, not in an overly careful way but in a smart way."
Letters to the Editor
- Send us a letter