After the Webinar: Critical Incident Stress Management for ACOs. Q&A with Adam Leath

Webinar presenter Adam Leath answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Critical Incident Stress Management for ACOs. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: We have an Animal Protection Officer in British Columbia asking, do you know of CISM teams in Canada? Or should we just contact the police detachment and fire services to determine who they use? 

Adam Leath: That’s a great question. And it is very jurisdiction-specific. So, what I would highly suggest that you do is to reach out to your fellow first responding agencies. Many counties and cities and provinces all have separate CISM teams just for location purposes. It’s a little more challenging for them to travel long distances, especially if it’s on short notice. So, we want to make sure that the individuals who you’re working with are accessible to those that are experiencing critical incident stress. So that’s where I would most likely refer you to. I personally don’t have a direct relationship with a CISM team in Canada. Although, I would love to hear about it, and we’d love to provide any sort of resource.


Audience Question: Can these courses that you referenced be taken in Canada? 

Adam Leath: Yes, they can and there is both an in-person and a virtual-blended model through the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. So, I provided that information in the GoToWebinar toolbar, they are available, and, again, I highly recommend it. We’re talking about highly published individuals who have worked with CISM especially Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell, who himself was a first responder before getting his Ph.D. and starting the Mitchell model for CISM. So, I would highly recommend reaching out directly to them. And or, the local CISM team in your community. These are not the only programs, these are certainly the most recognizable and most published organizations and models, but there are others. So, as long as you’re connecting yourself with the appropriate resources in your community, you should be on the right path.


Audience Question: Is there any kind of training for family members? So, family members of animal welfare professionals who may not understand why sometimes we’d rather seek support from our peers or other people within the profession? Sometimes friends and even family. They mean well, but they just don’t understand. 

Adam Leath: It’s such a serious problem because it’s very alienating like we talked about in class. How are you going to explain some of these situations to someone who has never experienced that before? It’s almost impossible. So, in terms of training for family, what we’d like to do in our CISM team, we oftentimes, depending upon the level of involvement, might even involve certain individuals from the family. Not necessarily be in the debriefing or the defusing, but they will be involved in the resources. So, the individual who was involved in the debriefing or the defusing is that first responder, that person who’s had direct interaction with the incident. And we provide them with resources for their family. And then, certainly, one-on-ones, when they seek mental health intervention or any type of treatment or therapy, would be really where the family becomes one-on-one block step with that individual, should they need that type of support. But I understand your question correctly. I’m not sure that’s what you’re directing your question to. I think you’re probably looking for, you know, what sort of general exposure type of training might exist for our family members. And I can’t say that I immediately can recall there being an exposure-type training for family members because it would be really challenging. I think to try to encompass all that animal welfare professionals do. And ACOs are doing out there every single day. The work of first responders is what makes our communities thrive. And I’m not really sure that there could be, at least in my mind, a training that could even encompass all that you experience on a day-to-day basis.


Audience Question: Does your agency typically train with other agencies in your area to practice responding to major incidents, such as an apartment fire, or a natural disaster? And if we aren’t being looped in, how do we get other agencies to think of us in terms of practicing for those incidents? 

Adam Leath: That’s a great question and we have found there’s also typically within many of our surrounding agencies, even CISM teams within the department, for instance, the Sheriff’s office here has a CISM team. They are not part of our Department of Public Protection, but we do typically conduct debriefings and defusings together. Especially if individuals were involved from both public protection and the sheriff’s office. So, yes, we do share resources and do train. On our most recent training with Dr. Mitchell, we actually had members from those partnering agencies train alongside us directly with Dr. Mitchell. So, I would highly encourage, again, collaboration is key in so many ways, but that we’re training together and we’re responding together. And let’s face it, it’s one of these critical incidents that happen to your community. It’s difficult for any community to actually be fully prepared for how that’s going to affect the individuals, those responders, and the community. So, there’s never going to be enough resources, and I think that the sooner that we start planning for these types of instances, the better prepared we’re going to be when it strikes, and it happens to us.


Audience Question: Adam, I know you’ve got a lot of experience from both ASPCA, as well as through NACA, so, you might be able to answer this question. Do animal welfare and control agencies typically have an EAP or do they have a peer support program like we hear about on the law enforcement side? Do they have those, also? 

Adam Leath: It’s another really important question, and the EAP is one of the most recommended resources from our CISM team. So, for those who are not familiar, the EAP is the Employee Assistance Program, and they do provide a great deal of resources on the mental health side, and we do make a number of referrals. And a lot of times, it is to the degree that’s necessary. EAP provides that resource. It may not necessarily be more intensive psychotherapy, or mental health intervention, that may not even be necessary. So, EAP is a lot of times a resource that’s available to many city and county agencies, so if you are a municipal animal control, you likely could connect with this resource through your Human Resources department. If you are not and you’re part of a non-profit organization, it may not be that you have direct access to an EAP, but certainly, if you are part of a city or a county, EAP is a way of life and should be something that is available. In most counties and cities, it is something that is available through Human Resources.


Audience Question: Point of clarification, in terms of terms or definitions, how is CISM different from compassion fatigue, are these terms interchangeable, or what’s the difference? 

Adam Leath: So, for CISM, we’re talking about the intervention or the mitigation of serious stress based upon an extraordinary situation that took place at work. When we’re talking about compassion fatigue, we’re talking about repeated exposure to the same type of, so euthanasia is what we’re talking a lot about. So, euthanasia for an individual, the first few times is extremely challenging for anyone to cope and manage and work their way through. Over a period of time that can fatigue their ability to feel compassion. So that’s why we’ll refer to compassion fatigue. We’re talking about how much an employee in animal welfare has of themselves to continue to give before it’s hard for them to be as compassionate as they once were. For CISM, we’re talking about a specific incident, that a lot of individuals have responded to, that was outside of the norm. That caused pretty significant stress or has the potential to create significant stress in the lives of those that responded.


Audience Question: What is it about those 12 hours that’s been set for defusing. It seems like that might be awfully difficult to be able to respond to everyone so quickly, so can you tell us about that 12-hour mark? 

Adam Leath: So, I would highly encourage you to go back and look at the Mitchell Model. It will probably make a little more sense, and I think in practice, it makes even more sense. But the reason why we limit that 12 hours in that initial defusing is because, in the defusing, we’re doing something a little different than what we’re doing in the debriefing. In defusing, we’re literally looking for stabilizing of a situation. We’re looking to immediately get in front of those that saw what they saw, did what they did, and provide them, with at least some level of stabilization. Here are some resources, here are some of the things you’re likely to experience. Here’s what you should probably make sure that you are aware. Make sure your family’s looking out for those types of things, and that’s typically in the first 12 hours. If we can’t do that in the first 12 hours, then we’re looking at a debriefing. So that’s the more in-depth providing of resources, the full exploration of what took place, those best practices, what we learn, the types of questions that we ask, and the framework in which we asked those questions are geared toward the recovery phase and geared toward integration back into the workplace with an effective coping strategy. That is what the debriefing is focused on. Whereas the defusing is literally trying to stabilize what would otherwise be a pretty traumatic incident.


Audience Question: If an institution is resistant to providing resources or funding such a team, how can we advocate to change their minds? How do we get the boss to get on board? 

Adam Leath: I think a lot of times, bosses may not see the ripple effect. Well, we’re talking about CISM, we’re talking about addressing a core issue that affects all of us upstream. Bosses, however, don’t always like to think about things upstream. They typically are forced to respond to the biggest fire, which happens to be something after it’s already happened, or after it’s, you know, right in front of them, and they have to respond to it. So, I would encourage you to look at things like your turnover rate. I would be looking at things like exit interviews by employees who leave. I would look at the use of personnel time or time off work. If there are any significant changes in those things, it’s already affecting the organization, the individual who’s at the top just may not be aware of it. So, while it may seem like you’re infusing resources, it has such a huge ripple effect downstream. If we can mitigate the effects that some of these serious stressful events take place on our employees, we do notice a palpable difference in the use of sick time, we notice a palpable difference in those that turn to controlled substances or alcohol or negative coping strategies that have ripple effects on themselves, even their family or their job. If they continue to use a negative coping strategy for long enough, we’re dealing with someone who may not be employed any longer. So, I would highly encourage you to be looking at some of those types of statistics to see whether or not it’s already having an effect. And certainly, you know that it’s having that effect because there’s really no resources being provided on the front end.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Critical Incident Stress Management for ACOs. 


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