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Trauma: How to Help Firefighters and Police

unnamedIn the previous post we started talking with Elizabeth Barney about trauma in first responders, like police, paramedics and firefighters.  Today we continue with a discussion about trauma treatment.

Q: There is often stigma for first responders to seek treatment.  Are there studies or known strategies that help reduce stigma? 

First responders delay or avoid seeking treatment for mental health issues for a variety of reasons. There is little research on mental health and responders that is substantive. Some good resilience research exists, and I feel that it could easily apply to the first responder community. Dr. Everly has done some phenomenal work identifying factors that decrease a person’s resilience – role ambiguity, lack of job satisfaction, role overload and burnout; all of which can be seen in the first responder community. His work also highlights that increased resilience can be seen when a person has strong support including leadership at work, hobbies and a healthy lifestyle.

Q: San Antonio Police Department has dedicated psychologists who work for the department full time, and mandatory sessions for officers after certain incidents. That way they aren’t “choosing” to seek help.  Also, the psychologists are available for free for marriage counseling and other issues, making it easier for officers and their families to reach out.  Have you heard of something like this in other places?  What are your thoughts?

 A: San Antonio Police Department really deserves accolades for this approach to support their staff which promotes resilience and constructively supports mental health needs. While no system is perfect, I would like to see more response organizations promote resilience with a strong leadership support as they have.
Some responders I have spoken with at various conferences share with me that when they provide peer counseling, responders are fearful that their thoughts and stress responses may cost them their job, which only further worsens the situation they are experiencing.
Strong leadership that supports responders in all of their needs – including mental health and resilience is the first step in developing stronger departments and lasting resilience.

Q:What’s going on as far as resilience training for first responders?

Training for psychological first aid, critical incident stress management and anti-burnout courses are available and sometimes offered within the first responder community, but not at the rate that are really needed – though a comprehensive needs assessment would be required to know that. The US Army has some comprehensive resiliency programs that support the both the solider and their family to deal with a myriad of stressful situations.
In Texas, there is a strong state-level push from the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Texas Disaster Medical System to promote disaster behavioral health programs, including resiliency training for responders. Local departments have started developing or requesting resilience programs. I really enjoy working with departments to provide department-specific training for responder resilience because I strongly believe that this is a tool to build stronger responders and thus stronger departments.

Q: Any other information about first responders and trauma that you think people should know?

Responders deal with so many sources of traumas, day in and day out. The first responder community needs to share resiliency – that is to say share their struggles and how they have successfully dealt with something that was distressing to them. If responders promote the strengths of others and are willing to find a “new normal,” following a difficult situation, I feel this will promote a positive and healthy life for themselves and their families. Resiliency is the ability to adapt and deal with difficult situations relatively quickly, mitigating potentially lasting effects. I feel that building resiliency is so important for responders – it is just like exercise for a healthy body – it is exercise for a healthy mind.

Thank you Elizabeth!

Trauma: How to Help Firefighters and Police

Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

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APA Reference
Staggs, S. (2015). Trauma: How to Help Firefighters and Police. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Jul 2015
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