Helping the Helpers - Therapy for First Responders
In our current culture, it is not unusual for those actively working to help others, whether via law enforcement or in the emergency medical field, or elsewhere, to be the last people to walk through my door. It often happens that a person has had to hit rock bottom or have a family member insist they seek treatment before they reach out to schedule a session. There are a few reasons that this is the case, and those reasons are complex and woven into the fabric of first responder culture; however, the most common tend to be:
- a feeling that you should be able to handle the stress associated with your profession
- that being in therapy signifies you are weak or incapable
- fear that others will discover that you are in treatment and it will impact your work life and relationships
In addition to these, the mechanism allowing you to continue showing up to work, often a compartmentalization, means that the emotions and feelings associated with the work stress and/or secondary trauma are sequestered and therefore the consequences can sometimes only be seen by those around you. It is less often disruption at your work itself that are the source for concern, but rather in your personal and familial relationships, in your coping strategies outside of work (such as excess alcohol or drug use, aggression outside the work environment, avoidance of others/isolation, and many others), and in how you feel overall in your day-to-day life.
In my office, we work from the beginning to establish a secure space and relationship to combat these obstacles. Understanding confidentiality and how therapeutic privilege protects your information is a key aspect of my work with first responders, as is the exploration of the need to be strong and steadfast and how therapy is consistent with that self-concept rather than contrary to it. As individuals each of us manage our stress and traumatic responses differently, which means that how your work is impacting you may be vastly different from that of your peers and that experience is no less valid. It is not uncommon in my therapy with first responders for us to take the time in the first few sessions to ensure you feel confident in understanding the privacy of our sessions and secure in the knowledge that what you share will not find a way out of our time together, before the disclosure of your story and experiences.
If you have specific questions about confidentiality, are unsure whether a loved one/colleague/partner needs help, or have general questions about my work with first responders, let's find a time to touch base by phone and I will do what I can to provide support and answer all questions.
First Responder Specific Resources
Serve & Protect 24/7 Confidential Hotline (Law Enforcement)
Fire/EMS Confidential Helpline
Safe Call Now 24/7 Confidential Hotline (All public safety and emergency services personnel and their families)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Additionally, any Colorado emergency responder can text "BADGE" to 741741 for free, immediate, completely confidential assistance. Text with a trained Crisis Counselor regarding any crisis: work-related, personal, substance use, depression, romantic, financial…This is a free service available 24/7 to Colorado Emergency Responders.