CJ 720 Trauma & Crisis Intervention Blog
Criminal justice jobs are stressful for a number of reasons. Law enforcement personnel have to work long hours, often closer to eighty hours than to forty, and in many places, they have to experience violence and extreme trauma on a daily basis. Not only do police officers frequently get put in highly stressful situations, but they often have to help people who have suffered extreme trauma. What many people do not realize is that it is possible to get PTSD second-hand, from dealing with people who have experienced trauma first-hand. “‘Vicarious trauma is the transformation that occurs within the therapist (or other trauma worker) as a result of empathic engagement with the clients’ trauma experiences’ (Perlman and Mac Ian, 1995)” (Rousseau D., 2019. Module 1.) While this quote is referring primarily to therapists, police officers also experience vicarious trauma because of their interactions with severely traumatized individuals or through looking at media, such as photos or videos, of traumatic incidents including rape, murder, suicide, and other violent deaths. All of this means that law enforcement personnel are usually under a tremendous amount of stress, and not surprisingly the rates of PTSD in Law Enforcement are between 7% and 15% (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2018), which is significantly higher than the national average, and suicides rates among law enforcement are roughly four times the national average (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2019). In order for police officers and other emergency services personnel to continue to do their jobs year after year, while being both under stress and exposed to other people’s stress they need to have effective ways to let off steam and relax. Self-care techniques are almost never completely sufficient to eliminate issues such as PTSD, but these techniques can help alleviate daily stress, and can help prevent a buildup of stress that could cause more serious health issues. These techniques can also help those who are suffering from PTSD, as long as they are combined with visits to a specialist who can help with the aspects of PTSD that cannot be effectively self-treated.
Over the years both in school and in various jobs I have had to learn to deal with being in stressful and sometimes frustrating situations. Throughout this time, I have found that working with and being around dogs has made me calmer, more relaxed, and overall less stressed. Growing up I had dogs and I found that when I would get stressed out, if I just played with my dogs, I would feel better. Because of my own experiences I decided to find out if any police departments were using dogs for stress relief and therapy purposes, instead of just the usual tracking and drug sniffing K9 uses. It turns out that in the past two years a few police and fire departments around the United States have started to use therapy dogs to help their employees cope with stress and PTSD. According to the departments who are starting this initiative their hope is to reduce stress, anxiety, and police officer deaths by suicide. One reason why this idea might not very common yet is the high cost of a trained therapy dog.
According to Bolton Fire Chief, Jeff Legendre, his department has to raise $8,000 in order to get a therapy dog (Miller, B., 2019). Compared to other expenses that police and fire departments face this cost might not be astronomical, but these types of organizations rarely have extra money, and therefore, they are not inclined to shell out $8,000 for something that might or might not help their departments. I suspect that as more departments get therapy dogs, and the successes of this become more known, then more departments will raise the necessary funds to have their own dog. Other departments, such as Fayetteville North Carolina, have found cheaper ways of obtaining department therapy dogs (McCleary, N., 2017). The Fayetteville Police Department officially acquired a certified therapy dog in January of 2017 by having the dog be owned by one of the department’s employees. One of the Fayetteville Police Department forensic firearm examiners, Jaimie Minns, decided to get their personal dog, Rebel, trained as a therapy dog. Minns then went to her Police Chief and suggested that Rebel become an official member of the department, because she had seen that other departments in the state had started to get therapy dogs. The Fayetteville Police Chief went along with this idea and thus the department acquired a therapy dog for free (McCleary, N., 2017).
I doubt that every single police and fire department needs to have their own therapy dog. That being said, I think that if this idea takes off enough that most police officers and firefighters have access to a therapy dog, even if it works for another department, there is a significant chance that suicide rates among first responders will go down. Therapy dogs have been successful in hospitals and helping soldiers with PTSD, so why not use them to help police officers and firefighters, ideally before they actually get to the point of having Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder? I am sure that therapy dogs will not eliminate PTSD or suicide among first responders, but if the dogs can at least reduce the number of first responders who commit suicide each year, then that will be a huge success in my book.
Rousseau D. (2019). Module 1. Introduction to Trauma. Lecture, BU Blackboard Learn
Rousseau D. (2019). Module 6. Trauma and the Criminal Justice System. Lecture, BU Blackboard Learn
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018, September 25). National Center for PTSD. Retrieved April 29, 2019, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/care/toolkits/police/managingStrategiesPolice.asp
National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2019). NAMI. Retrieved April 29, 2019, from https://www.nami.org/find-support/law-enforcement-officers
McCleary, N. (2017, January 27). Therapy dog helps Fayetteville police deal with stress, anxiety. Retrieved May 02, 2019, from https://www.fayobserver.com/048ceda3-354f-5aaf-97a4-8dca37302f5d.html
Miller, B. (2019, May 02). Could bringing back the fire station dog help first responders cope with stress? Retrieved May 02, 2019, from https://www.boston25news.com/news/could-bringing-back-the-fire-station-dog-help-first-responders-cope-with-stress-/945759107
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment that was initially created to diminish the anguish associated with traumatic memories. It is an unconventional treatment that has sparked great debate and controversy over its effectiveness (Rousseau 2019). According to van der Kolk (2015) EMDR challenges the long time belief that severe emotional pain takes many years to heal from. EMDR treatment exhibits that a comparative sequence of occasions happens with mental processes. It is believed that the brain’s information processing system moves toward mental-health by nature. In the event that the framework is blocked or imbalanced by the effect of an exasperating occasion, the injury putrefies and can cause exceptional affliction; when the blockage is cleared healing resumes (EMDR Institute, Inc. 2019). Utilizing the methods learned in EMDR treatment, clinicians are able to assist patients in stimulating their natural healing processes.
According to EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs (2019), EMDR treatment targets trauma in eight phases which exhaustively recognizes and addresses encounters that have overpowered the cerebrum's normal strength or adapting limit, and have in this way produced awful side effects or potentially hurtful coping mechanisms. Through EMDR treatment, patients can reprocess horrendous events until they are not mentally disruptive. Through this strategy, patients tend to process the memory in a manner that leads to peaceful resolution.
EMDR was initially used to treat persons suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Through EMDR treatment, eye movements are utilized for a fragment of the session. After the clinician has figured out which memory to target first, they request that the patient hold distinct parts of the event in mind and use their eyes to follow the specialist's hand as it moves forward and backward in their sight. According to the EMDR Institute, Inc. (2019), as this occurs, for reasons accepted by a Harvard specialist to be associated with the organic instruments engaged with Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, interior affiliations emerge and the client starts to process the memory and disturbing sentiments. In successful EMDR treatment, the significance of tragic/traumatic events changed on an emotional level.
I am a firm believer that severe emotional trauma takes years to truly heal and recover from. Most people suffer from trauma of some sort. However, different methods work for different people. For those who are apprehensive or uncomfortable with the idea of speaking through their trauma EMDR would be a great treatment to try. It indisputably empowers the patient and has them view their trauma as an event/events they overcame instead of an event/events that define them. While some assert EMDR treatment is ineffective there have been successful cases of treatment. The treatment process is intricate. It reminds me of hypnosis. Targeting traumatic imagery for healing follows the saying “face your fears,” – you face your fears to overcome them. I do question whether there is an undoing of this hypnosis like process. EMDR seemingly is effective, but I would like to do further research to truly trust the long-term effects and success.
EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs. (2019). What is EMDR? Retrieved from https://www.emdrhap.org/content/what-is-emdr/
EMDR Institute, Inc. (2019). What is EMDR? Retrieved from https://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/
Rousseau, D. (2019). Module 4: Pathways to Recover: Understanding Approaches to Trauma Treatment. Lecture presented in Boston University, accessed online 9 April 2019 via https://onlinecampus.bu.edu/
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York, NY: Penguin.
It’s the near the end of the academic school year and most teens are looking forward to prom night, graduation bash, checking their mailbox for college acceptance letters, and the most important event of all…..commencement day which means the end of one chapter and the starting of the next. But for some teens their hopes are about how to make it through each day after their dreams were shattered by one of the most destructive fires in California history which claimed the lives of 85 people and destroyed more than 153,000 acres (Sacks, 2019). The fire has destroyed three schools in the Paradise community displacing students at different locations some as far as one hour or more commute. Many families were left homeless as the fire engulfed their homes. Some have went on to live with other families who were not affected by the fires while others live in tents and trailers with no electricity making it difficult to access wifi connection for those students who are attending school online. Since the November fire, many teachers have been teaching class in malls, stores, warehouses, airports, empty spaces, or just about anywhere they are allowed to teach. Some students attend class online when they have access to wifi and others use transmitters so they can hear their teacher’s lecture (Sacks, 2019).
Class in session in a temporary office space.
Former Orchard hardware store now being used as a temporary space for a school.
Some students have turned their part time job to full time in order to help their parents get through this devastation and save enough money to afford some place to live. Others have applied for food stamps and trying to apply for an I.D. to obtain their birth certificate and look for employment in order to lease an apartment and pay for utilities. Most people lost their documents in the fire such as birth certificates which makes it more difficult to identify themselves with FEMA and their local Red Cross to obtain services (Sacks, 2019). The devastating event not only left people without a home and kids struggling to attend school but now the community has to deal with the effects of trauma. Acute trauma is a single traumatic event that is limited in time such as death, a shooting, car accidents, fires, hurricanes, and floods (Smithwick, 2019: Module 2 live class). Studies shows 92.5% of youth experience at least one trauma; 84% experience more than one; and over half of those youth experience or are exposed to trauma at least six times or more (Smithwick, 2019: Module 2 live class).
What are we as a society doing to help displaced victims of acute trauma especially such as this event in which an entire community was ravaged by wildfires? Where are the mental health services? What are our politicians doing about this tragedy? What about our president? Can he leave the border wall alone for just one day and do something about rebuilding Paradise community rather than let it disappear by the fire? The issue with illegal immigrants and migrants seeking political asylum has existed since the border wall was built and the issue is not going to go away as long as the wall is there but we cannot just let a community go up in smoke and just let it be. We have to rebuild it and help its community members get back on their feet again.
Professor Rousseau stated that PTSD after the 911 event was much lower than “expected and predicted”. The percentage was actually small. One possible explanation is that people came together and felt “connected” in that common experienced in which they were able to support each other (Rousseau, 2019: Module 5 live lecture). Students from Paradise community are doing just that: coming together and staying connected in their common experience while keeping their spirits up. Resilience hasn’t been easy for these students but one thing they also share in common is their struggle to stay afloat and finish the school year.
Class takes place inside a store.
Rousseau, D. (2019). Module 5 live lecture: Genocide. Accessed online April 17, 2019. https://learn.bu.edu
Sacks, B. (2019). Students live in tents, do homework under flashlights, and deal without textbooks months after California’s massive camp fire. Retrieved April 25, 2019, from https://apple.news/Aq4r7U0w2Tg-wTG842Up8rg
*pictures on the blog were retrieved from this source.
Smithwick, L. (2019). Module 2 live lecture: Best Practices-Juvenile Justice and Gender Responsivity. Accessed online March 26, 2019. https://learn.bu.edu
Prolonged Exposure Therapy: An Integrated Approach that Incorporates Coping Techniques and Trauma Confrontation
Trauma is an overwhelming emotional response experienced by an individual who has experienced a threatening event. The emotional response of trauma could have a long lasting effect and presence within an individual long after the threat is gone, leaving the individual to experience those high emotional responses in the absence of such threat where they originated from. This persistence of trauma symptoms is identified as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in which “an individual gets stuck chronically in a stress and trauma response – either because of chronic stress and trauma or because the mind and body lose the capacity to accurately assess a true threat of danger” (Rousseau 2019).
Although there are many approaches to trauma therapy I believe that The Prolonged Exposure Therapy Approach truly targets the issue in individuals who are suffering from PTSD as it helps individuals gradually revisit traumatic memories to help process and manage the emotional response associated with that experience. Other therapy approaches focus on the development of coping methods and emotion recognition/ self awareness to essentially suppress the emotional response when presented with a traumatic trigger. However through prolonged exposure therapy the root of the problem is addressed and that is the threat of the specific event.
When an individual is presented with a situation it is the brain's job to detect it and organize it. Sensory information comes in through the senses (eyes, ears, nose, and skin) these sensations then reach the thalamus in the brain which essentially “ stirs all the input from our perceptions into a fully blended autobiographical soup, an integrated, coherent experience of “this is what's happening to me””(Van der Kolk p.60 2015) These sensations are then passed to the amygdala and the frontal lobes. The amygdala is located in the unconscious brain and upon receiving the input its function is to determine whether that input is relevant for survival, if so it initiates a fight or flight response for preservation even before the input reaches consciousness. The frontal lobes receive the input and interpret its context based on past experiences and knowledge in order to further carry out a response (Van der Kolk 2015) .
Peter Tuerks elaborates on the organizing function of the brain as it provides evolutionary predictability in disorganized situations. He states that it is the purpose of the human mind to process their surroundings in order to make sense of it and develop a response. Tuerks uses the example of a routine activity such as grocery shopping, when an individual is familiar with a routine or schema it becomes a mindless unmemorable task. However if that schema is interrupted by an unusual event such as an elephant in the back aisle , the brain actively searches for a similar schema which would make the information at hand make sense. If the brain is unable to organize and make sense of this information it remains readily accessible in the mind. This applies to trauma in which an individual experiences a new and heightened emotional response, that of which is not familiar to the brain. As a result of this situation that has not been categorized an put away in the mind, when an individual is presented with a similar triggering situation, that hyper aroused emotional response becomes cued and reactivated. The heightened emotions experienced by the individual in the triggering situation interrupt the peace of the individual. Therefore it is natural for individuals to avoid such similar and triggering situations that may elicit the same emotional response. This avoidance prevents the individual from being able to process and revisit the situation in order to make sense of it and put it away.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy is typically provided over a period of three months with weekly individual sessions. In the primary sessions the therapist goes over past experiences with the patient to form a relationship, and then also teaches coping techniques such as breathing those of which are to be practiced while revisiting the traumatic experience. These techniques are taught to manage anxiety and to avoid further traumatization as they help patients maintain control of their emotions that may be overwhelming. Once these calming techniques are practiced and understood the therapist them proceeds to initiate exposure of the traumatic experience with the client. This exposure can be done on two ways, imaginal exposure in which the patient describes in detail the events of the experience in present tense with the guidance of the therapist. This present tense guided description is recorded and allowed for the client to take home to further listen and revisit the experience while using calming techniques at home. The second method is usually approached later in the sessions, in vivo exposure, in which the client and therapist agree on which stimuli to confront outside of therapy as homework. The client works with the therapist to devise a plan on how this exposure is approached (Prolonged Exposure 2019).
I believe that Prolonged Exposure Therapy theoretically checks out as it incorporates hyper arousal suppression techniques and education which is used while confronting and processing traumatic memories and new seemingly similar situations or triggers. Through Prolonged Exposure Therapy the client not only learns new techniques to help them in potentially threatening and stressful situations in the future but it also gives them the tools to gradually confront their traumatic memories giving them the time to process the actuality of the situation little by little resulting in their ability to become more familiar with the situation allowing for processing and putting away of the event.
Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Prolonged Exposure (PE) Retrived April 27, 2019 https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/prolonged-exposure
Rousseau, D. 2019 Trauma and Crisis Intervention Module 1 : Introduction to Trauma / Module 4: Pathways to Recovery
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York, NY: Penguin.
Before we begin on strategies for Self-Care, it is important to define Self-Care.
Self-Care - the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health. (Oxford English Dictionary).
Sounds simple enough right? Wrong. Many of us do not take the proper steps and time to take care of ourselves. We are often too busy with every day life, work, children, taking care of others, we don’t leave enough time to take care of the most important person in our lives – which is our own health and well-being.
There are many things we can do to take care of ourselves and self-care can mean different things to different people; however, there are some basic rules that can be applied to everyone. Self-care does not need to be complicated or too time consuming; however it needs to be actively planned rather than something that just happens every now and then.
Here are some basics to stick to when planning for self-care:
1. Get enough sleep
2. Develop healthy and nutritious eating habits
3. Exercise regularly (not obsessively)
4. Learn how to say NO
5. Do something that makes YOU happy
6. Pamper yourself without feeling guilty
7. Surround yourself with people that uplift you
It is important to note that you don’t have to do all of these activities all the time or at once, however picking a few that are important to you is a good way to make it a part of your daily routine.
For myself, the top three from the above-list are: sleep, exercise and doing something every day that makes ME happy. Although I think that some of these can be combined, but for the sake of simplicity, I will keep them separate.
I have battled with sleeping issues for a long time due to stress and injury and I must say not getting proper sleep is a slippery slope to many unhealthy choices that follow. If you don’t get enough sleep, it can truly mess up your immune system, make you irritable and the rest of your day is easily ruined. Some people need 8 hours of sleep, some people need 5, but it is important to get restful sleep. Meditation before bed or reading can help tremendously when having trouble sleeping.
Exercise for me is key to getting my day started on a positive note – it does not have to involve hours at the gym. It can be as simple as taking a 20 min walk followed by some yoga with light weights at home or just using your own body weight to get your blood flowing. Personally, I love to run and do Pilates – both combined is one of the biggest stress relievers for me. I love working out first thing in the morning as it sets the tone for the rest of my day. I have noticed if for whatever reason I am unable to exercise in the morning, my mood is not quite as good and I am more irritable and on edge. Not only does it make my body feel great and strong, but most importantly helps to keep my mind sharp. Furthermore, it increases serotonin levels and leads to good energy and good mood.
Last but not least, doing something every day that makes ME happy is very important. At times this may sound selfish to others, but to make others happy and be a good friend/partner/employee etc. you must take care of yourself first and be content before you can do that for others. This strategy sounds vague, but it can create a lot of positives for one’s well-being. It can be something so simple as walking to your favorite coffee shop to get coffee in the morning; to getting a massage or hanging out with a particular friend that day. The most important aspect of this is you are doing something that makes YOU happy. For me, each day it varies, but sometimes I just want to stay home and listen to music while other times I want to be surrounded by friends at a nice dinner and cocktail or going to a comedy show or spending time with my nephews – it all depends on what small or big thing I want to do that day. It is also important not to feel guilty when doing so. We often do things we don’t necessarily want to do or if we take time for ourselves, we feel guilty about it – that has to stop!
These are some simple steps we can take towards taking better care of ourselves.
Life is not perfect, and we are all busy, but we must take time for ourselves; it does not have to be complicated, time consuming or costly, even 20 minutes a day can have a great impact. When we don’t take time for self-care, our energy and motivation can decrease, making it even more challenging to stick with healthy lifestyle choices.
Michael R. 2018 – What self-care is and What it isn’t?
According to Rousseau (2019), trauma represents exposure to experiences or situations that are emotionally painful and distressing, that overwhelm a person’s ability to adapt or cope, and over which they feel powerless. One common anxiety disorder that results from trauma is Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Symptoms of PTSD include: flashbacks, nightmares, hostility, difficulty sleeping, etc. Some people who get PTSD usually experienced trauma from child abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, an accident, a death of a loved one, or war. Since countless people experience PTSD, an interesting topic to examine would be the chance of animals also suffering PTSD. For many individuals, their pets are a member of their family. Many people adopt their pets from shelters, sometimes rescuing them from abusive owners. The trauma animals experience from physical abuse is similar to that of humans. So, can they develop Post-Traumatic Stress symptoms like humans as well?
Kumar (2017) discusses PTSD in her cat Lola. In May of 2017 in Afghanistan, a tanker truck was bombed. The attack claimed more than 150 lives and injured at least 700 others. The impact of the explosion was felt several miles away, breaking windows and cracking ceilings. 20 minutes after the explosion, Lola was hiding. For the next week, Lola was edgy. She was startled by small sounds and she would follow the author everywhere. Lola would wail when Kumar left the house and be clingy when she returned. She started eating less and losing weight. According to Kumar (2017), the U.S. military has seen this reaction to stress in its working dogs. About 5 percent of the dogs that have served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from “canine PTSD,” making some dogs aggressive, timid, or unable to do their jobs.
Romm (2016) discusses Elsom, a chimpanzee who experienced PTSD. Elsom’s mother died with he was 13. At age 15, he suffered a serious injury to his arm. He disappeared for a few months afterward and isolated himself from his community. Upon his return, he was different. He was easily agitated and angry. He was more fearful and had difficulty sleeping. Romm (2016) states that animal mental illness can be triggered by many of the same factors that unleash mental illness in humans, including the loss of family or companions, loss of freedom, stress, trauma, and abuse.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an awful illness that some people deal with. They are forced to relive whatever trauma they experienced through different psychological symptoms. It is evident, through many articles like the ones mentioned above, that animals can indeed suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress just like humans. Imagine a mental illness so powerful that it has the power to affect both humans and animals. That is the impact of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Kumar, R. (2017, July 08). Can animals suffer from PTSD? Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2017/07/08/can-animals-suffer-from-ptsd/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.b4f2fadef2ef
Romm, C. (2016, May 05). Animals Can Get PTSD, Too. Retrieved from https://www.thecut.com/2016/05/animals-can-get-ptsd-too.html
Rousseau, Danielle, PhD (2019, April 28). [Module 4 Lecture]. Boston University
Self-care is critical for all individuals in some form, but it is especially important for those in the criminal justice field. Self-care strategies are those things an individual does to reduce stress and ultimately rejuvenate ones self. This could be done through a combination of physical, mental, or even spiritual activities. Self-care could be as simple as drinking coffee while watching the sun rise; soaking in the quiet peace of the morning. It can also be as vigorous as playing recreational sports every week, or even a more spiritual approach of reflecting on the weeks sermon in church.
Self-care can be conducted in different ways but also includes making sure ones basic needs are met, such as maintaining a nutritional diet and ensuring one receives ample rest. These are all factors that can be done prior to the induction of stress to better prepare the body, physically, for the challenges to come. An individual can also prepare the mind for mentally challenging situations. Just as one exercises to build their physical stamina, one can also prepare the mind as a form of self-care. Building ones resilience is an effective approach to pre-conditioning the mind for difficult or stressful situations, which in the criminal justice field, is highly likely.
Resilience is the ability of an individual to bounce back in the face of adversity. Resilience skills and personal exposure and experiences all add to the response one might experience when faced with a stressful or traumatic event and can contribute to the level or existence of PTSD as a result of the event. Not every one experiences trauma the same way and not every event triggers a traumatic response from every individual. What we do know is that trauma can prompt a neurological effect in an individual, causing one’s emotional mind to react and essentially blocking the cognitive mind (Van Der Kolk, 2014). Yet, learning effective skills can boost an individual’s ability to cope with overwhelming amounts stress or lessen the physiological impacts.
In 2009, the Army took this concept and teamed up with the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania to develop a program specifically designed to teach resilience skills to Soldiers. The thought was that if Soldier’s learned specific skills designed to increase their resilience, they could better cope with the challenges of combat. These skills include methods that focus on the elimination of irrational thinking (i.e. giving in to the worst case scenario in a life threatening situation) to allow an individual to more clearly assess a situation (i.e. strategizing an escape or counter attack). Resilience skills can also improve personal connections, as connections are linked to an individual’s ability to overcome an event. This could also include skills designed to bring the body to the most optimal state for performance – mental, social, physical, and emotional skills. The idea is that a resilient individual is better equipped to cope with difficult situations and can further use these abilities for post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth is the ability of an individual to experience positive change as a result of a difficult event. “Resilient people tend to take responsibility for their emotional well- being and use the traumatic experience as a basis for personal growth (Southwick & Charney, 2012, p. 13).
Although the concept of resilience and trauma is a fairly new area of study, research has already suggested that resilience does have neurological affects (Friedberg, 2018). Therefore, developing resilience-based skills can contribute to an individual’s wellbeing, their ability to overcome stress and trauma, and their ability to regain control of their mental state. Because these skills focus on improving an individual’s ability to coop with stress, mastering these skills can serve as a form of preventative self-care. In the moment, exercising these abilities can help an individual return to a more positive and constructive mental state, ultimately rejuvenating ones self when it is needed the most.
Friedberg, Ahron & Malefakis, D. (2018). Resilience, Trauma, and Coping. Psychodynamic Psychiatry: Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 81-113.
Positive Psychology Center. (2019). The University of Pennsylvania School of Arts & Sciences. Accessed online 22 March 2019. https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/resilience-programs/resilience-research
Southwick, S. M., & Charney, D. S. (2012). Resilience: The science of mastering life’s greatest challenges. New York: Cambridge University Press. Accessed online 29 April 2019. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139013857
Van der Kolk, Bessel A. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
One would think after attending a Dr. Kevin M. Gilmartin presentation hosted by a local police department, I would have a better understanding of the importance of self-care. One would think after attending the previously mentioned presentation and later being assigned to read Dr. Kevin M. Gilmartin’sEmotional Survival for Law Enforcementin a work course, I would have an even better one two punch system for self-care. Guess what? Nope. Not at all. I listened to Dr. Gilmartin talk about being multi-dimensional and having more than just the title of “Krystal the Cop”; heck, I even read the book cover to cover! Here I sit, writing this blog post, after six weeks of discussions on trauma and crisis intervention realizing I am heading down a road of broken relationships, self loss, and walking right into being the victim of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by my job and those in it.
The emotional changes take place first: Anger can become a prevailing and ever present state in a police home. Then, as the years pass, physical changes can appear. The constant anger and the physical upheaval it causes, combined with years of shift-work-induced sleep deprivation, poor diet, and a sedentary lifestyle, can lead the now veteran officer to face physical changes in addition to emotional issues. (Gilmartin, PhD., 2002, pp. 4-5)
Yep, this is where my life is at. A ten-year veteran of a small town agency where the last five years were spent working a swing shift (1300 hours – 0100 hours), raising a now 7 year old boy, one failed marriage, working on trying to save a five year relationship with another man and his soon to be 7 year old son, looking around to realize I don’t have friends to call at any given moment in time. Clearly I am rocking this self-care! So what do I do? How do I change it? What steps do I need to take?
I have to get rid of the “I usta” responses. According to Dr. Gilmartin (2002), “It describes what they "used to” do before becoming police officers…the things that have been lost from the officer’s life, the things that are not work related…” (p. 69). Recognizing that I need to do things for myself outside of work, to include my family, and to not let the bitterness of my job continue to ruin my life.
Yoga for First Responders shows how implementing yoga for police and/or firefighters is important for emotional wellness and mental-resiliency (Yoga For First Responders, 2016). The benefits of yoga – stretching, meditation, breathing techniques – can be beneficial for me. Here is a “I usta” for me, I used to practice yoga long before I was a cop and I enjoyed it so very much but now with my schedule it is so hard to find the time. Physical fitness is another “I usta” for me, I used to go to the gym regularly but again my work schedule and having a child that cannot be home alone made it so difficult to maintain my gym schedule. A simple thing as going for drives, listening to music, putting my feet in the ocean and feeling the sand between my toes, all things that can help re-center my well-being and promote self-care.
But what it really comes down to is action. All the strategies in the world won’t mean a thing if I or another is not ready to make the move, to recognize the self-destruction that is occurring by not taking care of one’s self in this line of work. Going out to dinner with NON first responders, having friends that are not all first responders, doing activities that bring joy, being present in the moments with family and making the time to do things other than the job. I truly hope that everyone recognizes the importance of taking care of themselves, regardless of the job they do or regardless of their history.
Gilmartin, PhD., K. M. (2002). Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement.Tucson: E-S Press.
Yoga For First Responders. (2016). Yoga For First Responders. Retrieved from Yoga For First Responders: http://yogaforfirstresponders.org
Brothers and sisters in blue,
We aspire to protect and bring justice, but too often we neglect to protect and be fair to ourselves. From domestic violence cases, accidents, shootings, robberies, children in danger, we’ve seen it all! And let’s face it –it all takes a toll in our emotional, mental, social and physical wellbeing.
Suicide is the number one cause of death for law enforcement officers (Kulbarsh, 2016). Let that sit for a while…
We can no longer ignore the impact and the affects that experiencing constant crisis has on our mental health. Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the common mental disorder experienced by many law enforcement officers. Post-traumatic stress disorder is classified by experiencing/witnessing a life threatening event. With PTSD, individuals experience intense disturbing thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, fear, anger, sadness and avoidant behaviors (Parekh, 2017). Facing traumatic events is hard enough for anyone, especial law enforcements that are expose to multiple trauma in an ongoing basis; admitting that there is a problem related to that is even harder. Often officers worry about their jobs, their egos, their reputations. However, it is in the call of duty that the police profession break through the stigma of mental health within the profession so that our community of officers thrive both on the job and outside in their personal lives.
This is my hope, with this blog post. That the break-through starts with us. As a fellow law enforcement professional, I lived and witness the hardship that accompanies the job. There were sleepless nights and restless mornings. Too many days that I questioned why I was on the job. We are called to serve and if we are unable to adequately serve then we are not doing our duty.
That is why officers, I write this post to inform about the warning signs of PTSD, suicide ideations and distress impairments that can help in identifying if you or a team member are in need of mental health services. In order to build on coping skills to continue the great work you do.
Signs of change due to stress:
-Rapid heart beat
Cognitive and Emotional Changes
-Heighten or lowered alertness
-Feeling anxious, fear, guilt, grief
-Lack of motivation
-Impairment in social functioning
Things that you can do to break the stigma and seek help
-Change your frame of thought!
-Don’t think getting help is taboo. Your mental health is as important as your physical health…. Can’t chase a robber with a twisted ankle!
-Seek a support system from family members, friends, co-workers.
-Seek relationships and participate in social functions outside of work.
-Exercise, yoga, rock climbing, you name it!
-Exercise your mind!
-Build on your confidence mentally and physically- get into martial arts
-Watch your eating and sleep hygiene.
-Set a relaxing atmosphere to sleep
-Take time off from work.
-GET CONNECTED WITH A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL NEAR YOU!
-Seek experts that will guide you in reinforcing your coping skills.
Kulbarsh, P. (2016, January). 2015 police suicide statistic. Retrieved from
Parekh, R. (2017, January). What is posttraumatic stress disorder? Retrieved from
Stacy-Anne Parke ~ CJ720 ~ Trauma and Crisis ~ Blog Post
You deserve to enjoy life just as much as anyone else!
You may not know what good self-care looks like, but it forms the backbone of your physical and emotional well being. It encourages progress and healing. It is essential in the maintenance of a healthy relationship with yourself. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting enough sleep, waking up and getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, and providing your body with the right nutrients it needs. Other times self-care can manifest itself in taking walks, yoga (movement), hanging out with friends or not hanging out with friends, relaxing, expression, and listening to yourself.
How do you know you need to practice better self-care? Well, you may:
- Sleep too much!
- Or not sleep at all.
- Have a poor relationship with food.
- Abuse alcohol and substances
- Feel constant stress.
- Feel Helpless
Trauma is overwhelming and often the relationships between your mind and surroundings are heightened- and maybe even painted a shade of grey. Trauma survivors often feel detached, ”the essence of trauma is feeling godforsaken, cut off from the human race” (Van der Kolk, 2014). However, your life deserves to be in color, full of turquoise, light lilac and ignited red. Taking care of yourself is life-saving, it isn’t a luxury but it sure does feel luxurious . Especially for trauma survivors, it is important to engage in “activities that lower the physiological adrenal surge from trauma” ( De Lorenzo, 2018). Engaging in the present reduces those surges.
The neuroplasticity of your brain continues to develop past childhood; at any age, you can re-heal, grow, and learn. How incredible and hopeful is that? This can be accomplished through safe relationships, improved adaptive thinking, self-regulation, learning, and social skills, all of which are facets of many self-care plans (Masten, 2014; Matto, Strolin-Goltzman, & Ballan, 2014). Emotions help us to engage in actions and behaviors. Love encourages us to love, fear encourages detachment, while anger can culminate into aggression, violence, and emotional harm. Trauma suspends those emotions and instead leaves the mind and body feeling paralyzed, absolutely stuck in time. With the incredible tool of plasticity it is still hard for our rational brains to take care of ourselves, "the rational mind, while able to organize feelings and impulses, is not well equipped to abolish emotions, thoughts, and impulses" (Van der Kolk, 2009). For example, individuals with PTSD are usually out of touch with their physical sensations; mindfulness can help mend that relationship by allowing the individual to become more aware.
Starting with children it’s important to equip them with the right tools for self-management. For traumatized and neglected children this can be established in schools. In fact, schools can be a gateway to creating resilience. Thus, it is imperative
“to receive a good education in schools where they are seen and known, where they learn to regulate themselves, and where they can develop a sense of agency. At their best, schools can function as islands of safety in a chaotic world. They can teach children how their bodies and brains work and how they can understand and deal with their emotions. Schools can play a significant role in instilling the resilience necessary to deal with the traumas of neighborhoods or families … to be the places where children are taught self-leadership and an internal locus of control" (Van der Kolk, 2014)
For traumatized adults, it is imperative that there are established dependable and healthy relationships and if not eliminating toxic ones are ideal. Addressing the dimensions of self-care through those relationships can then do wonders.
Self-care shouldn't fall solely on the individual either. Friends and family can encourage better stress-management practices; Clinicians have a responsibility of encouraging healthy practices with their clients and themselves (vicarious trauma). Small assignments that turn into habits throughout a course of therapy can lead to momentous changes in behavior and self-worth. Improvements are made in energy levels, productivity, fulfillment/satisfaction, along with overall well-being.
Balancing psychological needs and maintaining a sense of well-being requires effort, consistency, and patience. Not only is there an ethical need for self-care for therapists, but there is a paramount necessity for it in order to live wholly. We essentially have all of the parts to be effectively be present and manage stress; however, self-care keeps those parts in shape and running.
25 ways to practice self-care
- listen to music
- change your clothes
- wash your face
- read a book
- write a poem
- light a candle
- talk to a friend
- talk to many friends
- feel- cry, smile, laugh
- practice forgiveness
- practice acceptance
- set priorities
- surround yourself with your favorite smells
- try something new
Masten, A. S. (2014). Ordinary magic: resilience in development. New York: Guilford Press.
Matto, H. C., Strolin-Goltzman, J., & Ballan, M. S. (2014). Neuroscience for social work: current research and practice. New York: Springer.
Van der Kolk, B. (2009). Yoga and Post-traumatic stress disorder [Interview]. Integral Yoga Magazine, 12-13.
Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Viking.