By William Schroeder, LPC
When embarking on my journey as a therapist, I never fully grasped the depth and complexity of challenges that our brave police, fire, and EMS personnel regularly grapple with. Every day, these remarkable first responders, be they police officers, firefighters, or paramedics, stare adversity in the face, bearing burdens that can trigger profound emotional and psychological distress. The very fabric of their duty subjects them to relentless exposure to traumatic events, persistent stress, and pressure that can take a severe toll on their mental wellbeing, potentially resulting in conditions like PTSD, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. If left unaddressed, these burdens can become overwhelming over time.
Providing counseling to first responders is a means of helping them navigate the emotional labyrinth that their work often becomes. It serves as a sanctuary for processing those thoughts and experiences that time doesn’t permit them to address otherwise. A great analogy is how we look after our cars – regular maintenance is key to the longevity and performance of our daily rides. Our minds, too, need that thoughtful, consistent care.
Supporting Our Heroes: The Vital Role of Counseling in the Lives of First Responders
We’re proud to announce that Just Mind Counseling has teamed up with Frontline Strong. In alignment with our shared goal, Frontline Strong is dedicated to offering cost-free therapy to our present and past Frontline warriors, including first responders, veterans, frontline healthcare workers, and their families by providing free access to counseling services.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF COUNSELING FOR FIRST RESPONDERS:
- Trauma Exposure: Our first responders regularly witness traumatic scenes, such as accidents, violence, and natural disasters. Such exposure can trigger symptoms of acute stress, anxiety, and PTSD. Counseling offers a secure, confidential environment for these brave individuals to untangle their traumatic experiences.
- Chronic Stress and Burnout: The exacting nature of their roles often precipitates chronic stress and burnout. The strain of long hours, sleep deprivation, and constant exposure to critical incidents affects their mental well-being. Counseling provides the tools needed for first responders to foster healthy coping strategies, manage stress, and ward off burnout.
- Emotional Well-being: The demanding situations first responders encounter can lead to emotional imbalance and a spectrum of mental health problems. Counseling serves as a platform to effectively address and regulate emotions, enhancing overall emotional well-being and resilience.
- Relationship and Interpersonal Challenges: The inherent stresses of their roles can take a toll on first responders’ personal relationships, leading to communication gaps, intimacy issues, and trust hurdles. Counseling can address these challenges, facilitating healthier relationships and nurturing wholesome connections.
An evidence-based counseling approach that’s been applauded for its effectiveness is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Backed by the VA to assist soldiers in resolving PTSD, EMDR can be a valuable tool. This method is particularly beneficial as it doesn’t require clients to spend extensive time discussing traumatic events. We establish targets and tailor a treatment plan that concentrates the work done during therapy.
So, What is EMDR?
The Potency of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR stands as a therapy method that’s garnered respect for its effectiveness in managing PTSD and other trauma-based disorders. This process, structured into eight phases, blends elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with bilateral stimulation techniques, which may include eye movements, taps, or sounds.
Here’s a snapshot of RESEARCH VALIDATING EMDR’s EFFECTIVENESS FOR FIRST RESPONDERS:
- Alleviation of PTSD Symptoms: Studies have attested to EMDR’s ability to alleviate PTSD symptoms among first responders. A 2019 research study led by Forbes found that firefighters who underwent EMDR therapy experienced a substantial reduction in PTSD symptoms, paving the way for improved psychological well-being.
- Improved Coping Skills: EMDR therapy empowers first responders with robust coping mechanisms to navigate stress and trauma. A 2020 study by Vogelmann-Sine and colleagues revealed that EMDR significantly reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and overall psychological distress among police officers.
- Prompt Recovery: EMDR has been shown to expedite recovery from traumatic experiences. A 2018 research study by Chen and his team demonstrated that EMDR significantly diminished distress and enhanced functionality in first responders who had experienced critical incidents.
- Decreased Emotional Reactivity: EMDR can help manage emotional responses ignited by traumatic memories. Hase and his colleagues in a 2019 study found that EMDR reduced emotional reactivity and enhanced emotional regulation among paramedics.
But why is counseling so crucial for first responders? Consider this:
- Have witnessed a severely abused child (35.9%)
- Have been seriously injured intentionally (23%)
- Have come across a sexually assaulted child (40.6%)
- Have personally been shot at (38.1%)
- Have found themselves in life-threatening situations (39.4%)
- Have been tasked with delivering death notifications (42.1%)
- Have faced threats with a gun (50.8%)
- Have been threatened with a knife or other weapon (55.2%)
- Have witnessed someone dying (87.2%)
Reflect on these additional statistics:
- More officers lose their lives to suicide each year than are killed in the line of duty, from all causes (excluding deaths where COVID was the cause).
- Police officers nationwide face a suicide risk 54 percent higher than the average American worker.
We are witnessing the loss of remarkable individuals whose collective, untreated trauma becomes an insurmountable burden. It’s crucial to acknowledge and address the impacts of this trauma.
Photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash