Therapy is my Therapy
A mental health professional, and a professional trying to become mentally healthy, get real about what happens in that 50-minute hour.

Walking wounded - First Responders & therapy

Understanding the Psychological Challenges of First Responders

This discussion goes into the unique psychological challenges first responders face, touching on their need for specialized therapists who understand their lived experiences. Tanya reads a listener comment that reveals first responders often find their occupational trauma difficult to explain, and how minor incidents can often be more distressing than major disasters.

Therapy can help them manage their stress and professional trauma, even if the therapist hasn't lived the same experiences, as therapists can empathize and offer coping mechanisms. The importance of addressing personal life stresses, described as a 'bucket of burdens,' is highlighted, emphasizing the need for functional coping skills to maintain their mental health and perform their work effectively.

  • (00:00) Introduction to First Responders' Compassion
  • (00:17) Challenges of Therapy for First Responders
  • (00:50) First Responders' Unique Perspective
  • (01:19) The Role of Therapists in First Responders' Lives
  • (02:24) The Impact of the Job on First Responders' Lives
  • (03:18) The Importance of Support in Other Life Areas
  • (04:18) Understanding the Bucket Metaphor
  • (05:10) Strategies to Empty the Bucket

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Speaker A:

Hi, everyone. Today's bonus episode talks about the difficulties police, military, EMT, and other first responders face in regards to seeking mental health support. Enjoy the episode. First responder, fire, military, police they tend to be exceptionally compassionate because you don't go into these things ideally, you don't go into these things not giving a shit about your fellow man or woman. So the people that I know tend to have a very tender heart, but then also experience a lot of things. And I had asked someone what aspects of first responder work is a challenge to address with a therapist and it does seem to be a common thread is a lot of people are concerned, exhausted. Insert the adjective of the notion of having to explain it to a therapist who may not have lived that life, may not have specialized in that area, and it may be an impediment to someone going to therapy because they may have limited resources. So I'm going to read what this individual wrote. So we medics, police, fire, military, have a super skewed view of what is normal. The awful, abusive, messed up 10% of our society is our 90% to 100%, and the things people think bug us often don't. Car crashes and people dying in front of us? No problem. We train for that. The low acuity calls. Acuity calls are often the most traumatic for us. My most traumatic calls haven't been the big, bad gory ones. They've been small ones. A chain of clues leading us to suspect child abuse, death notifications on calls where we never even did any resuscitative interventions, et cetera. Trying to explain that to a therapist who doesn't specialize in first responder and military personnel is a whole session in and of itself.

Speaker B:

Yeah, and I think that's absolutely right, that if you're working with someone who doesn't specialize in that or doesn't have experience with that, it is going to be a lot harder for them to understand as quickly as you'd like what it is that you're dealing with, especially if you don't have the skills to communicate that. And so there's two parts of it. The one part is there are tons of therapists who specialize in that, and there are therapists who have been EMTs, cops, military, firefighters, all of those things who have the base level of understanding because they've been through it and understand the language and what it's like without them having to explain it. And so if that's accessible to you, I think that's probably your best bet. And the other side of it is that the whole gig of being a therapist is that I need to be able to hold space for you and have compassion and empathy for what you're going through without having been through it myself. Because even if I have been through it myself, it's not the same experience as yours. So on that end of it, if it's not accessible to find a therapist who specializes in it or who has been through it, then a good therapist will be able to make you feel seen and heard and to help you process how it's impacting you now. And also, like we've talked about before, it doesn't always need to be going back and explaining all of the trauma that's happened. Sometimes it's just focusing on how to cope with it now or things you can do that are going to make it easier to get through that process because it's not like a thing you're choosing when it's your job. So that's something where you're exposing yourself to repeated trauma basically and to the point where you get desensitized to it. Like you said of, yeah, the big car crashes and things like that maybe aren't as impactful because you've seen them a thousand times. There's so much to it and I think it depends answer is that if you can find someone who specializes in that or who has experience with that, that is probably going to be the easiest route to you getting into therapy. And you might find once you're in it, that the issues that you really want to work on have nothing to do with your job. It might be that the reason you are struggling with the things at your job is because there's other things in your life that are making that harder so you don't have any energy to deal with that being exposed to any kind of physical or emotional pain. And again, being the person who is showing up on someone's worst day every time with every person is just hard. And so it makes sense that you want someone who's really going to get it on a deeper level.

Speaker A:

You said a lot of things that my friend Seblovois Corroborated in regards to how from his research when he was working as Sergeant Major for the British Columbia RCMPs. While there are things that happen on the job that are indeed stressful, if not traumatic, it is imperative that they examine what happens after situation. How everyone regards the individual who went through that. And he used a bucket. Metaphor where it's not simply what happens on the job. It is your kid is sick or you're behind on your mortgage and all these other life events that will fill that bucket. And it is crucial that they have support for those areas. Therapy can be for other things. It doesn't have to be for exactly what happens on the job because like you said, you may want someone who is specialized in your field and that makes sense. You don't want to have to explain everything. But the things that happen outside those tend to be human experiences. And while a therapist may not understand perfectly, they will work with you and do their best to understand. A good therapist will do the legwork, they will listen to you. They'll ask you what your goals are because you may not always be able to acquire that specialist that perfectly suits your needs, so you have to build a rapport with them. My therapist, I try to not know much about my therapist in terms of boundaries, but from what I gather, she's a very Zen, Buddhist, monk, musical kind of lady. You look at her and my initial thoughts are, what the hell are we going to talk about? How is she going to be able to help me? Is she going to just be soft and granola all the time? And I had all these assumptions, and even though she may not understand exactly what I go through, she can understand what pain feels like, what trauma often looks and presents like. She can understand happiness and all the experiences that we've talked about. There is a human component, there is a threat, and you can connect and work through it. And while it may need some fine tuning over time, you find your rhythm.

Speaker B:

When you're talking about with the first responders. And it's the bucket metaphor, it's really helpful because when you work in a helping profession, you start your day with half a bucket. It's already half full. You have to save half of it because you know it's going to get full because of what you're dealing with. And so the other stuff that happens in your life with family, friends, relationships, kids, keeping your house organized, those are things that for people who don't work jobs like that, they might have so much extra energy and space in their bucket for it that it's not going to feel as heavy. But for someone who is all day dealing with really hard stuff, having to see things that people aren't supposed to see and be constantly experiencing that level of crisis, even if it's not your own crisis, you're a part of that. It's really heavy. And even if I don't know what is in your bucket, even if I don't have the same things filling mine, I can hold it with you for that period of time. And I can also help you find ways to empty the bucket. So to say, right, how can we make the other things in your life more functional for you so that when you do go to work, you don't feel like you're overflowing the second you get there? How can we make it so that you communicate better with your friends and your family and your partner? So that if you need space or boundaries, you know how to say that. You know how to ask for that and coping skills that you can do so that when you get home or when you're on your way to a shift, you can get your nervous system to a regulated space so that you're not taking up more energy trying to calm yourself down when it's happening. And so I think that is something that is helpful regardless of what your issue is, because it's just going to take small moments throughout your day and hopefully make it so that it's not adding to your plate. But we're finding things to subtract to it so the bucket is a little less heavy.

Speaker A:

And that concludes this episode of therapy is my therapy. If you enjoyed today's episode, please consider subscribing to our podcast so you never miss an update. Once again, thanks for tuning in. The content discussed on this podcast is for educational and entertainment purposes only and does not act as a replacement for Therapy. Although we may share tools that have worked for us and talk about symptoms that we've experienced, it is not meant to be used for diagnostic purposes and does not constitute medical advice.