Sponsored Content: A new approach to times of struggle
Going from post-traumatic stress disorder to post-traumatic growth
Our nation’s law enforcement officers are struggling. Many officers are questioning whether they want to continue on in their chosen profession. Others are struggling under the weight of personal and professional stressors. From an officer safety and wellness perspective, the response has been to continue expanding upon trainings that focus on educating officers about the symptoms of PTSD and how to achieve a measure of resilience.
It is in that spirit that a new, comprehensive, effective, and transformative approach to the well-being of officers (and their families) is needed. Such an approach must be guided by four key principles:
- Balance the narrative: We must talk about Post-traumatic Growth, in addition to PTSD.
- Normalize struggle: The current message leads officers to think their service leads to inevitable suffering and brokenness. This needs to change.
- Integrate wellness into training: It is critical that we integrate wellness into training in the same form and fashion, and with the same regularity, as any other critical skill set.
- Institutionalize wellness: Integrate wellness into the entire life cycle of a law enforcement officer’s career.
Balancing the narrative
The current focus of mental health efforts tends to be on educating law enforcement officers about the warning signs of PTSD or related mental health issues that include suicide. The logic is that by educating officers about PTSD, their symptoms and struggles can be normalized and they may be more willing to seek out traditional forms of mental health. In practice, however, such efforts are not working.
The struggles of law enforcement officers are real. Some do, in fact, have PTSD. But the dominant narrative is creating a world where far too many fear that PTSD is an inevitability, and that what they have to look forward to is a diminished existence, where they are forced to medically retire from the most significant aspect of their lives.
The essence of what must change is best captured in the words of Captain Tim Adams, a 51-year veteran of law enforcement, “Post-traumatic Stress (PTS) is a reality in this line of work. The combination of personal and professional stressors over time is bound to leave an individual with some struggles. The question, however, is whether you want the “D” or the “G” at that end of that phrase.”
The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers know what PTSD is. Unfortunately, far too few have ever heard of PTG or Post-traumatic Growth.
Post-traumatic Growth is an empirical framework that documents how times of deep struggle can catalyze growth and transformation. The recognition that times of struggle can serve as the gateway to a life of passion, purpose, and service is not new. It dates back to the beginning of civilization, and is best captured by Nietzsche’s quote: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”
When people are able to go through a process of exploration of their experiences through the lens of deeper relationship, personal strength, spiritual and existential change, appreciation for life, and new possibilities, they are able to analyze their experience through a lens of potential, not one of brokenness. This process brings profound meaning and value to the officer and consequently purpose, meaning, and joy is facilitated even in the face of traumatic stress.
Anyone who has spent more than a few days in the law enforcement world (or knows anyone in it) knows that the lifestyle absolutely changes you. You know you cannot prevent traumatic experiences. Exposure to horrific traumas and tragedies and the darker side of human nature is bound to cause you to reconsider what you believe about yourself, other people, and the world.
The goal therefore is not to encourage people to bounce back or prevent the impact of exposure to trauma, but rather to work to make sense of these experiences in a way that enriches their lives and helps them grow. That is what Post-traumatic Growth is all about, and the proven framework of PTG provides a roadmap for doing just that.
Integrating PTG, wellness training into standard training
For far too long time, there has been an artificial divide in the law enforcement community. This divide is between readiness and wellness. As long as an officer was capable of doing the job, their wellness was not important.
On this front, we believe it imperative that we prioritize notions of wellness at the same level as those around readiness. That’s because the more well an officer is, the better able they will be to do their job. Notions of wellness include sleep, activity, nutrition, personal growth, and spirituality. This cannot be a check-the-box exercise, or an adjunct. It must be part of the core skill set for doing the job – just like physical fitness, weapons training or situational analysis.
Institutionalizing life cycle training
The vast majority of law enforcement officers are lifers. That means they will dedicate a large chunk (20 years plus) of their professional lives to being a police officer and serving their community. It is critical that we consider notions of officer wellness in that spirit. To that end, we must institutionalize PTG-based training approaches from the start of their careers – in the academy and post-academy period. And we must ensure that both officers and leaders (from FTOs to supervisors at all levels) are well versed in notions of PTG, struggle, and growth.
Calling on leadership
At the heart of this new, innovative, effective, and transformative approach is leadership. The first job of a leader should be to take care of their people. This is not just about making sure they are trained and equipped properly; it must include mental health. This means moving beyond to PTSD to PTG.
To learn more about the Struggle Well Program, check out the resources at www.firstnet.com/healthandwellness
Dr. Anna Fitch Courie, DNP, RN, PHNA-BC, is director of Responder Wellness for the FirstNet Program at AT&T, a nurse, Army wife, former university faculty and author. Dr. Courie has worked for over 20 years in the health care profession including bone marrow transplant, intensive care, public health, and health promotion practice. She holds a Bachelor’s in Nursing from Clemson University; a Master’s in Nursing Education from the University of Wyoming; and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from Ohio State University. Dr. Courie’s area of expertise is integration of public health strategy across disparate organizations to achieve health improvement goals.
Mr. Josh Goldberg has served as the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Boulder Crest Institute for Post-traumatic Growth since January 2018. In this role, Josh is responsible for leading the development, delivery, study, and scaling of Post-traumatic Growth-based programs for times of struggle. This includes developing and scaling Boulder Crest's transformative Warrior PATHH program (for combat veterans and first responders) to nine teams in eight states, and the creation of the First Responder Initiative, helping first responders in seven states and across the federal government. Over the past three years, Josh has taught more than 30,000 people how to Struggle Well.