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Therapy For First Responders

Is Your Job Adversely Impacting Your Mental And Emotional Health?

Are you a First Responder working in the field of emergency medicine or criminal justice?

Has your job exposed you to disturbing, traumatic, or even life-threatening situations?

Yet do you have a hard time understanding or expressing your emotions out of a desire to remain stoic, resilient, and in control?

As someone who bears witness to critical situations on a daily basis, you may have a hard time “clocking out” even when the workday is over. With your work-life balance chronically out of whack, you may wonder if there is actually space for you and your emotions in your everyday life. 

Even if you manage to get on a regular, manageable work schedule, stress and worry are still keeping you up at night. Often sleep-deprived, you may feel like there is no energy left for your relationships, hobbies, or self-care—the emotional heaviness of your profession is simply too heavy to shoulder.

Your Relationships Are Probably Where The Stressful Nature Of Your Job Shows Up The Most

As you numb or withdraw from your emotions out of a sense of self-preservation, your partner and/or family members may have begun telling you that you seem cold, distant, and aloof. You may have difficulty tempering your stress response at home, resulting in feelings of anger, agitation, or hyperawareness. Your partner may implore you to calm down when you aren’t at work, but it’s hard to move away from constantly being in rescue mode. 

Feeling as though no one outside of work could possibly understand the pressure you’re under, you may turn inward or numb and distract yourself via substance use, affairs, and other unhealthy behaviors. The truth is that you are probably avoiding uncomfortable feelings, which inevitably causes you to disconnect from yourself and those around you. Furthermore, if you’re struggling to turn off your threat response during “off” hours, staying relaxed and present might seem impossible.

Whether you are the partner or family member of a First Responder or a First Responder yourself, you experience unique occupational stressors. In wanting to maintain a stronger sense of balance and peace in your life, you may be in search of a skilled, experienced therapist who understands the risks, demands, and traumas associated with your job. In individual or couples counseling for First Responders, I will create space for all of your emotions, offering valuable coping and stress management skills along the way.

 

First Responders Face Unique Occupational Hazards

First Responders—which include police officers, firefighters, EMTs, dispatchers, and crime scene investigators, among others—have notoriously risky jobs. However, the biggest risk associated with these jobs is not the risk of being called to a life-threatening situation but rather the mental health issues that develop from unprocessed trauma. 

It’s estimated that police officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty, and that symptoms of depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are five times more common among these populations. A staggering 85 percent of First Responders report mental health symptoms—vastly disproportionate to the rest of the population.¹

Work-related trauma is not the only consequence of these high-stress, high-pressure professions. Many marriages and relationships become casualties of untreated occupational stress, with First Responders experiencing a 60 to 75 percent divorce rate.² (By comparison, the national average for divorce remains at around 50 percent.) Between long, inconsistent hours, high rates of infidelity, and the overall emotional toll involved in these critical professions, it can be hard for First Responders to maintain happy, healthy marriages. 

Yet, there has not been a strong, structured means of support for First Responders to manage their mental health and relationships. Gendered norms around masculinity and toughness prevent many in the field to avoid seeking help out of fear of appearing weak or incompetent. And many feel like their jobs might be jeopardized if they set boundaries in service of their mental health. For significant others of First Responders, in particular, there is pressure to manage all of the responsibilities at home in an effort to ease the demands placed on their partners. 

Therapy is an opportunity for anyone feeling the effects of this profession—whether you’re a First Responder or partner of one—to feel meaningfully supported on the path to healing and harmony. 

Individual & Couples Therapy For First Responders

couple in therapy sessionBecause the therapeutic process is highly tailored to meet the needs of each client in therapy for First Responders, I will make space for your specific pain points and treatment goals. I work with couples, partners of First Responders, and individual First Responders themselves in treatment, whether they’re experiencing burnout, relationship dysfunction, or symptoms of mental health issues and PTSD. 

My Approach

Depending on your treatment goals, I will adjust my approach to address surface-level symptoms, untangle deeply held trauma, or a combination of both. Before diving into your emotions and experiences, I will make sure you have a solid grasp of what trauma is and how it impacts the brain. From there, I am likely to use a combination of trauma-informed and behavioral methods, including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), among others, to help rewire your nervous system, stress response, and allow you to get back in touch with yourself. 

For couples specifically, therapy will aim to increase intimacy, communication, and connection between you and your partner. We will do this by engaging elements of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), which will allow you to further understand your emotions and attachment style, thereby facilitating newfound awareness and mutual understanding of one another. 

No matter if you’re the partner of a First Responder or a First Responder yourself, counseling gives you a chance to work through your feelings, increase assertiveness around your boundaries, and feel like your needs are being met in a real, lasting way. As a First Responder, your profession does not afford you many opportunities for peace, but therapy can be your gateway to a more meaningful, fulfilled, and healed existence.

 

Still Unsure If Counseling For First Responders Will Help You?

If I attend therapy, my workplace will judge me, think I am “crazy,” or take me off important calls.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law requiring national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge. This essentially means that you are guaranteed to patient privacy, even for mental health counseling. 

Furthermore, therapy might help you to do your job better. By processing the tough feelings associated with your job as a First Responder, you can better respond to and cope with stressful situations as you demonstrate heightened emotional regulation and stress management.

As a First Responder, I don’t have time for therapy.

Given my background as a therapist who specializes in counseling for First Responders, I completely understand that you may have some scheduling constraints. In early therapy sessions, we can discuss about how to best fit counseling into your busy schedule and what to do if an unpredictable situation prevents you from being able to come to a session.

Additionally, because I offer online counseling options, you can meet me from anywhere at any time. Scheduling our sessions virtually will free up time that would otherwise be spent on a commute and afford you more flexibility overall. 

My partner is not the same person they were before becoming a First Responder—I’m worried that they’ll never come back and that couples counseling can’t help us.

Whether we are using therapy sessions to enhance resilience or help your partner navigate the emotional complexities of their job, counseling is an active, skills-based endeavor that can help them reconnect to their old selves—and you—in the process. I will work with both of you to develop stronger communication and emotional awareness so that you can feel more like a team, even when work stressors impact your relationship dynamic. 

Find Peace Amidst Work-Related Chaos

 

If your profession as a First Responder has led to relationship conflict or symptoms of anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD, therapy offers couples and individuals a chance to explore and process tough emotions. You can find out more about my approach to therapy by scheduling a free, 15-minute consultation.