Oregon City mental health specialist teaches conflict mitigation
Licensed Clinical Social Worker Valentina Muggia, who last December became the Oregon City Police Department's first mental health specialist, is offering two live presentations in October on tools people can use to mitigate conflict.
Muggia told Pamplin Media Group that she developed her workshops after direct requests from business owners who have been experiencing intense interactions with their customers.
"With everything that has been going on, things have been pretty intense and sometimes people have difficulty expressing emotions such as frustration, fear and confusion," she said. "These workshops are really intended for everyone that wants to learn how to improve their interactions with individuals that might be experiencing intense emotions. The workshops focus on understanding human emotions and how to use nonviolent communication."
Muggia worked with law enforcement agencies for decades prior to being hired by OCPD, which now dispatches her to 911 calls involving people experiencing a mental health crisis. She recently told OPB that the first step in addressing a person in crisis is to determine what the person needs.
"The first step is to kind of build the relationship and really listen to this person who sometimes has difficulty expressing exactly what it is they need," she said.
Noting that "human behavior is often unpredictable," Muggia seeks to provide people with a "safe and calm environment" and never arrives wearing a police uniform.
"You're not in any trouble; we're just here to support you," she'll tell people who are having a mental health crisis.
Muggia said Clackamas County Behavioral Health staff do an amazing job helping clients given their limited resources.
"We'll never have enough services," she said. "We're currently very overwhelmed and there is a lot more clients than there are therapists."
In envisioning the creation of Muggia's position in 2019, Oregon City Police Chief Jim Band agreed that county resources are spread too thin to be as effective as possible for Oregon City citizens. Band said Muggia's extensive training in crisis intervention and trauma response for people with severe and persistent mental health illnesses will allow her to serve the community well.
"Things like stress, fear, shame and guilt affect how people communicate with one another," Muggia noted in the poster for her upcoming presentations. "Understanding where people are coming from emotionally can provide valuable information to ensure the safety of all present during a difficult situation."
From 2015 until taking the OCPD job, Muggia worked as a mental health clinician with Clackamas County, assisting law enforcement agencies when they had contact with individuals and families experiencing mental health crises. In addition to the county job, she opened an Oregon City-based private practice in June 2019 that seeks to offer first responders a safe place to process and implement changes in their personal and professional lives.
Muggia received her master's degree in social work from Portland State University in 2013 and her bachelor's degree in languages from the University of Oregon in 1998. She is excited for her new OCPD position.
Thanks to a federal grant, Muggia's annual salary didn't come at the expense of OCPD's sworn officers. Oregon City has continued to have 46 sworn full-time officers — since OCPD is backfilling the police position that was reallocated to Muggia's work as a mental health specialist — partially using $125,000 in funding from the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program over the next three years.
Muggia also provides quarterly trainings to staff members of all Oregon City departments, especially police, library, pool, City Hall and the senior center that interact directly with members of the public. Her upcoming one-hour workshops seek to provide citizens with tools for interacting with people who seem angry, aggressive, entitled or that might be experiencing a mental health emergency. She wants to teach people how to better understand and mitigate conflict, and how to differentiate situations when it is safe to engage with someone from when it is more appropriate to call for police or mental health professionals.
Muggia's live Zoom presentations will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, at bit.ly/39ntty7 and 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, at bit.ly/3lNNNOK.
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