First Responders/Military

Some Observations...

In my work with Emergency Responders and Military Veterans, I have noticed a common reluctance to ask for and accept help.  As professional helpers/protectors it can be difficult to see yourself as one who might also need help. This is part of being human... sometimes we are the helpers... sometimes we are the ones who need help... and sometimes we can be in both roles in our lives at the same time.  

The fact that your training has conditioned you - through the use of repeated simulations of a variety of situations - to be able to move beyond the typical responses to trauma (i.e., fight, flight, freeze or submit) into action, does not change the personal reactions you are left with following traumatic situations.  

As one of my clients, a veteran military sniper, has often said, "They taught me how to kill, but they never taught me how to live with it."

A Multiple Choice Question for You…

In the course of your work duties, you break your foot. You notice that the pain is excruciating and your foot cannot bear your weight. You: 

a) refuse to seek professional/medical treatment because you believe you should be able to deal with the injury yourself

b) become angry with anyone who notices that you are hopping/limping and suggests you get professional care for your injury 

c) try to ignore and deny the pain while hopping/limping through your career and personal life 

d) obtain appropriate professional/medical assessment and treatment services to treat your injury in order to reduce your pain and help you work toward recovery 

e) a, b, and c 

What if the injury were different… What if you experienced post-traumatic stress disorder instead?  Would your answer change? If so, why?

As emergency workers, police officers, correctional officers, or members of the military, the fact of the matter is that your work requires you to venture into the valley of the shadow of death on a daily basis, to do your work.

Our society is spared from being overtaken by the valley, because of the work you do.  (If you doubt this, please consider what would happen in our society if for just one day all of the emergency workers, correctional officers, and soldiers refused to go to work....)  You are a warrior protector in this world.  A light in the darkness.  Hope in chaos.  Comfort in despair.

With that said, it is unacceptable that you, who place yourselves in harm's way for the sake of the rest of us, and who choose to protect and take care of us during the worst and most frightening moments in our lives, might suffer from PTSD as a result of your work.  You deserve better. Even protectors and helpers need help and support at times.  There is no shame in this.  In seeking out professional help, I recommend that you find a therapist or counsellor who has specialized training in working with trauma and offers a trauma-focused CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) approach and/or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy - both of which have been proven to be effective treatments for PTSD.  

Typical trauma symptoms among first responders/military members suffering from PTSD might include:

  • hypervigilance (i.e., inability to relax and always on the lookout for potential threats even in safe settings)
  • irritability, anger, frustration, fear, despair, shame and/or feelings of guilt
  • social withdrawal
  • insomnia 
  • loss of appetite
  • struggle with trying to make sense of the trauma and in trying to finding meaning and purpose after it
  • ​visual flashbacks
  • alcohol and/or other substance abuse (in order to self-medicate and manage the pain)​