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Beyond the Uniform: Therapy for First Responders

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

Can you hear the sound of a siren from a mile away?

Does your ideal summer night involve sitting outside on an apparatus bumper people-watching?

Is your closet primarily filled with t-shirts that have your organization's emblem in comparison to your regular clothes?

If any of these sound like you, you might be a first responder!

Being a first responder is a calling. You sacrifice sleep, safety, and serenity. In situations where others run out, you rush in. We literally could not live without you.

First responders bear a heavy burden that few people can fully understand. However, just because you carry it all so well, doesn’t mean the burden isn’t heavy.

Being a first responder is a demanding profession. The nature of your work exposes you to stressful situations on a regular basis, which can take a toll on your mental well-being.

The stats may tell the story, but with proper support your life can tell a better tale.

Let's talk about the importance of therapy for first responders and how caring for your mental health can help you live a happier and healthier life.

My Experience with First Responders

I have a deep, personal, and firsthand understanding of the mental health needs of first responders. Not only because I am a licensed mental health counselor, but also because I’m the sister of a firefighter… and the daughter of a firefighter…and the granddaughter of a firefighter and military veteran.

I have lived through the long nights with my dad being away at the station. As a child, I can remember simultaneously being afraid he might not return home the next morning but also being so proud that I lived with a real life superhero.

That’s why I’ve taken the initiative to engage in multiple training experiences - from attending a Clinician Awareness Program, participating in full-blown simulations, to going on 12-hour ride-alongs.

While I can never walk a mile in your boots, I have donned full turnout gear and crawled through a smoke-filled “firebox” in the middle of the Florida summer just to try and gain a glimpse of your unique job stressors.

The life of a first responder is not for me. My lane is next to yours, helping you process the trauma you’ve absorbed as you’ve put your life on the line to serve your community.

Hope for First Responders Through Counseling

You have a tribe - your family at home and at the station. Brothers and sisters in arms…And us.

With the right support and guidance, your brain can gain the “muscle memory” it needs to process the trauma you experience in a way that empowers you to approach your life wholeheartedly.

What if you could fully engage with your work – and be fully present at home?

What if you could be honest about how your work impacts you – and grow in health?

You deserve to live your best life. To be engaged with your friends, family, and neighbors. To be the best version of yourself for your coworkers and community.

You are worth it. We are here to help you walk in the flourishing you’re designed for.

Mental Health and First Responders

Your mental health is just as important as your physical well-being. Did you know first responders suffer from more mental health issues than the general public?

First responders have a significantly higher substance use and abuse rate and experience higher rates of depression, PTSD, and suicidal ideation than the average population. What’s even more alarming - Firefighters and Law Enforcement Officers are more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty.

The warning signs of mental health struggles vary from person to person, but may include sleep difficulties, easily annoyed or irritable, feeling on edge, trouble concentrating, or avoiding social activities.

Repeatedly facing crises and putting your life at risk on a single shift is an objectively traumatic experience. This would naturally create challenges in your brain through neurological remapping.

Contrary to what some people may say, witnessing tragedy and being unaffected is NOT possible.

Our brains have an amazing capacity to survive. When we encounter a threatening event, part of our brain goes “offline” so that the more visceral, emotional, instinctive compartments can take over. You want this process to happen.

If a car swerves in front of you on the highway, you don’t want to be stuck thinking through all the scenarios to get out of the way. You need to react.

When you’re a firefighter and hear the alarm sound, you only have about a minute to put on your bunker gear and get on the road. You need to react instinctively. Lives depend on it.

In time, though, especially with repeat exposure, the neurological pathways formed in your brain that enable you to respond quickly – fight or flight – can become easily triggered. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. There are still subtle, overlooked threats that first responders face that have nothing to do with being the first to respond on a scene.

First Responders Shouldn’t Have to Process Trauma Alone

Shame and stigma can taunt first responders, leading them to wrongly believe that recognizing and admitting mental health struggles is a sign of weakness.

Emotions are a normal part of the human experience.

Stuffing or ignoring your emotions is not helpful. It may feel like finding the bottom of a bottle is a safer and easier way to decompress after a stressful shift rather than talking to someone about what you’re experiencing.

However, seeking therapy is a sign of strength and self-care. Discussing your mental health concerns openly with trusted peers or supervisors can help break down barriers and encourage others to seek help as well.

Building a support network within your profession can make a significant difference in your mental health journey. Peer support groups or online communities can be valuable resources for connecting with others who share similar experiences.

No one should have to process their trauma alone. You wouldn’t respond to a call on your own; why should you have to recover from the experience on your own?

No one can “out-think” trauma. Trauma takes up residence in your brain and is happy to overstay its welcome. It’s just silly to think first responders shouldn’t be emotionally impacted by witnessing horrific events.

There is no shame in being emotionally disturbed by seeing what first responders see - especially when exposed to multiple, repeated traumatic events during your shift.

It would be alarming if you did NOT have anything to work through after seeing what you do.

Furthermore, some people have the perception that seeking help for their mental health may have a negative impact on their careers.

Even if that were true (though it’s typically often not) your emotional and mental health is paramount. Not only for your ability to do your job, but also to engage in the life that you and your loved ones deserve.

Here’s the truth. A diagnosis is not a destination. It’s not an identity. It indicates an area of woundedness that rightfully requires some tenderness and attention.

Admitting wounds, pain, fear, and concern is not weakness. It’s strength! And it’s a crucial step on your path of healing.

Counseling Services Designed for First Responders

Not all therapeutic models are created equal. You deserve the best support available. You don’t hold anything back when you rush in to save a life. We are committed to giving you our best as well.

We take a scientifically proven and experientially confirmed approach to processing trauma. We practice Accelerated Resolution Therapy and Brain Spotting.

Sharing your trauma with a therapist can be helpful. However, if the trauma is not processed appropriately, you may only relive your trauma and reinforce the neural pathways that cause you to be triggered when you ought not to be.

The goal is to take your traumatic experiences, store them appropriately, and create new neurological pathways so that your mind and body can respond healthily.

Therapy is an essential part of your mental health journey, but it's equally important to establish self-care practices to maintain your well-being.

Engage in activities that bring you joy, such as exercise, hobbies, spending time with loved ones, or engaging in mindfulness and relaxation techniques.

Prioritizing self-care can enhance the effectiveness of therapy and help build resilience.

Counseling for First Responders: Start Today!

At Life Transformation Counseling, our team of highly qualified and compassionate therapists are here to guide you on your path to healing.

We have the training and experience you need to thrive. Don’t hold back. Don’t be afraid. Don’t let any more time or health slip through your fingers.

Take the first step in living the life you deserve.Today. Just reach out. Your journey toward health and wholeness can start now!

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