He said it was the worst call he had ever experienced. But it was also the best moment of Mike’s* career when help arrived to help him cope. Without warning, this firefighter was involved in a fatal traffic accident while responding to a medical aid. As Mike says, “I was helpless, there was no room to avoid the accident.”
His relief came in the form of a mental health specialist who met him at the station within two hours. Her critical incident stress debriefing in the chaotic aftermath helped Mike and his crew manage their response to the accident, followed by a series of counseling sessions with another licensed clinical psychologist.
Today Mike remarks, “No one ever believes they may need counseling, but I can guarantee that we all need to understand its value before an event happens. I had never heard of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR before. I can honestly say that this method helped me process the most traumatic event of my life. I am able to talk about that day without fear.”
EMDR is often used to treat post traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD.
Fortunately, counseling has become less taboo. Over recent years, more law enforcement and other public safety are moving away from the attitude of, “I just have to suck it up and deal with it,” knowing hidden emotions can surface later. These repressed feelings may present as anger, isolation and self-medication — such as addiction to alcohol or drugs.
According to Nancy Bohl-Penrod, Ph.D., director of The Counseling Team International, the development of Public Safety Peer Support programs have opened the discussion on mental health. “Those trained in peer support, can truly assist their colleagues in time of need.”
Peer Support programs provide a safe, effective way for first responders to express concerns to colleagues and obtain empathy and understanding. These troubled first responders know that their peer support-trained co-workers will not judge them and keep their confidence.
As effective as peer support programs are, there comes a time when Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) need to intervene. As Dr. Bohl-Penrod explains, “First responders may go to a colleague before going to a mental health specialist, but at least the Peer Support Program gets them help in the first stages of their emotional crisis. Then, they can turn to an EAP for the more in-depth professional counseling they need.”
If you would like more information on Peer Support Training or Employee Assistance Services, please call The Counseling Team International at 1-800-222-9691.