As a profession we are doing a better job of talking about the importance of physical, emotional and mental wellness and providing access to services for people who may be struggling with processing the trauma they are too often exposed to. Having the services and resources is important. Letting people know what resources are available and how to access them is important. Giving permission to use those resources is critically important.
You might be thinking that if you have resources and tell people about them then permission is implied. For some it is. Others need to be given permission. How do you give permission? One way is through stories.
Stories are how humans have shared information and learned throughout time. We share stories of successes, we share stories of overcoming failure, mistakes and setbacks, we share stories of people who have performed heroically and prevailed in violent encounters and we share stories of officers who lives were lost in violent encounters all so that we can pass on the lessons from those experiences. Stories engage the imagination and help people to imagine themselves in the story helping them to learn, grow and be prepared for and inspired to action.
When you tell stories of highly respected men and women in the profession who struggled with an operational stress injury or struggled with cumulative career traumatic stress and who sought help to allow them to move through the trauma and experienced post traumatic growth you give permission to others to also seek the help they need. When you have people from your agency who struggled, sought help and experienced growth as a result of that help tell their story, it gives other people who are struggling permission to get help. When you share stories of people who get an annual “Checkup from the neck up” as a cleansing and preventative strategy, you give others permission to do the same.
There is a lot of talk about PTSD in the law enforcement profession and those conversations are helping to break down the stigma attached to the diagnosis so officers suffering with PTSD can get the help they need. There are still however, a number of law enforcement professionals who either do not want that label, or feel they should not have PTSD as they have never had to take a life in the line of duty or have never had someone try to kill them, or have never been the first responder to a mass casualty incident. This is the reason many agencies are now adopting the term Operational Stress Injury (OSI) and explaining that what the individual may be experiencing is an injury which, like a physical injury they may experience on the job needs to be treated. This change in language and explanation can help give people permission.
Since I read Dr. Stephanie Conn’s book Increasing Resilience in Police and Emergency Personnel and interviewed her in the spring of 2018 for the Excellence in Training Academy I have been talking about Secondary Traumatic Stress (aka Cumulative Career Traumatic Stress) as a way of giving people permission. This is how Stephanie describes STS / CCTS in her book:
“STS refers to a set of psychological symptoms that mimic PTSD but, unlike the singular critical incident that tends to accompany PTSD, STS occurs when a police officer is continuously exposed to the suffering and traumatization of others.”
For many officers the explanation of the cumulative effects of a career of being exposed to other people’s pain, suffering and trauma makes complete sense. As a result the suggestion that it would be helpful to develop positive strategies to deal with these cumulative effects also makes sense as does the explanation of getting the help they need if these effects have built to the point of negatively affecting their wellness, their relationships and their job performance. As part of this explanation I often share stories of officers who experienced STS / CCTS and got the help they needed to be able to move through these challenges and experience growth as a result. This is simply another strategy to give people permission.
As trainers part of your role is to continue to find ways to give the men and women in our profession permission to utilize the resources available to them to help enhance their overall wellness allowing them to thrive in their careers as law enforcement professionals.
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