In honor of National Police Week and the brave law enforcement officers who have lost their lives serving the public and protecting others.

 

For those of you who may not already know this, I spent a decade of my life as a police officer prior to becoming a therapist. When I was in the police academy, we were bombarded with a plethora of training and information over the 14-week period that the academy consists of.

This training encompassed both classroom and practical training in several scenarios that included traffic stops, crimes in progress, building searches, court testimony, street stops and a variety of everyday situations common to police work. Of course, we also went through intensive firearms training, and a regularly scheduled strength and aerobic program. We learned about using defensive tactics, and how to de-escalate volatile situations.

Something I learned through my experience as a police officer is that first responders are often very much focused on physical health. Whether that be hitting the gym for strength training, practicing martial arts, or meal planning to maintain overall physical wellness. It is expected and encouraged to be physically strong and well-trained in physical wellness. It is also expected and encouraged to be well-trained and efficient with the tools of the trade such as firearms, fire hoses, tourniquets, or CAD (computer aided dispatch) systems.

But I feel something important is often forgotten as first responders spend a lot of time training their muscles and becoming efficient with the other tools they use on a daily basis. What about the tool you use every minute of every single day? What about your brain?

Adding regular “brain-training” to the regimen of maintaining your preparedness and wellness can result in many positive changes.

How Brain-Training Can Improve Mental Wellness for First Responders:

  • Become proficient in practicing techniques that can help you stay healthy, increase alertness, and improve attention to detail
  • Improve visual memory to recall events more clearly and accurately
  • Understand the effects of repeated exposure to trauma
  • Reduce anxiety, depression, and nightmares to improve mental health

Let’s accept that we cannot have overall wellness without also having a healthy brain.

It’s necessary for us to work towards changing the culture of first responders and how we view overall wellness in the profession. Luckily there are a variety of ways we can accomplish that.

How We Can Change the Culture of First Responders Pertaining to Wellness:

  • Encourage participation in therapy and wellness checks. Often, the fear of losing their jobs or being occupationally or socially scrutinized leads to reduced participation.
  • Start viewing therapy as an exercise and a way to maintain part of the body/mind that is necessary to have a healthy life.

How Family Counseling Service Can Help You or a First Responder You Know:

I encourage first responders to come to Family Counseling Service and talk with me. If trauma symptoms are interfering with your enjoyment of things you used to love, if you’re starting to hate your job and question why you went into the field, or if the way you look at the world has changed, talking can help. Speaking to someone, particularly a mental health professional with first responder experience, can make a huge difference in your quality of life.

I know how difficult it is to step foot into a therapist’s office as a first responder. All I ask for is just one meeting with me. Just one, so YOU can decide if you want to maintain or build resilience through improved mental health.

If you are a first responder, or know and love one, who would benefit from using our First Responder Behavioral Health Program, please contact me directly at cfry@aurorafcs.org or call 630-844-266, ext 273.

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