Webinar presenter Amy Morgan answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Pre-Prevention: Staying Ahead of the Struggle. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Law-Enforcement Chaplains are a unique resource. Even if your agency doesn’t have one, another agency may have a chaplain that would be willing to help. Chaplains also have a Statutory Confidentiality Arrangement. If you’re not sure where to start, contact the International Conference of Police Chaplains. Amy, what has been your experience.
Amy Morgan: Peer Support is another one. Some agencies have Peer Support as well. You can go to them in-crisis but it’s best to go to people before your crisis happens. Build that relationship with either a counselor, a chaplain or a Peer Support Person, or whoever it is. If you build a relationship along the way and you’re continuing to just go to counseling and work through things as they come. When you do have a crisis, you have that rapport. You have that trust and they know already how you’re dealing with things and what you’ve had leading up to that. I think that was a fantastic idea. I’m glad that it was suggested.
Audience Question: Do all agencies have Peer Support Programs? What do you do if your agency doesn’t have a Peer Support Program?
Amy Morgan: Not all agencies do. It’s a fairly new thing in the last 10 years. But it’s growing. It’s becoming more acceptable. I work with one, in particular, I’m just going to put a plugin here for the Warrior’s Rest Foundation. The Warrior’s Rest Foundation builds Peer Support Teams all over the country. I know them personally. They’re fantastic. No, there are agencies that don’t have Peer Support Teams in place but everyone should because that is your first line of who to go to. They’re not counselors. They’re trained to be on the frontlines and to connect you to the ongoing resources fantastically to get immediate help.
Audience Question: Have you been a police officer? I know you’ve worked tremendously with agencies in-depth and hand-in-hand. Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Have you been a cop?
Amy Morgan: I have not been a police officer or a first responder. I get this question a lot and these are like, “Why do you care?” I just do. I actually worked at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation as their Training Officer, Training Coordinator. I was working through my Masters in Counseling at the same time. Thinking I wanted to be a counselor and realized when I started doing that I didn’t like the ongoing maintenance of marital counseling. I did Suicide Interventions and Crisis Interventions, that was kind of my thing. But I got to become friends with the agents at the bureau. The ICAC Unit particularly the Internet Crimes Against Children, crime scene agents would come back describing the crime scene, the horrible things that they’ve seen. I thought they were completely inappropriate because they would make jokes about them and I didn’t get it. I tried to teach how to be structured with your time and different things. I really didn’t get them. I started to learn and as I started hearing about the Internet Crimes Against Children and how they had to watch the videos of child porn trying to figure out where the child was just by, “Was there an airplane going by? How close was it and what was the traffic like?” All things so they can track down that house and go rescue the kid and arrest the person. I started just thinking, “These people need help. They need similar help.” This was so far 10 years ago. Because I was there creating training anyway on different things, I created a class on Suicide Prevention and Intervention first and realized that this was things they desperately needed. And there were questions about, can you create one on PTSD? I got into it that way by getting to know them personally. Since then, I’ve done everything I can to learn and to network in and become friends with. I never thought I would say that all my friends are cops but that is kind of the situation now. I’ve just tried to learn about them and do genuinely care, and I do genuinely want to help. Because I don’t like the regular marital counseling, I joke about it. I say like “I don’t want to hear about Marriage People coming to me going, ‘they’re leaving their white towels on the bathroom floor.’ And I’m like, “I don’t care.” I don’t want to say I don’t care about people but that’s a problem people fight about it. I do better with Crisis Intervention and Trauma. That’s my specialty. Suicide prevention, suicide intervention and those sort of things. Law enforcement and first responders, anybody in the social justice System see difficult, difficult things and they see things that we as human beings are not supposed to see. And the see them regularly. Ongoing. I genuinely want to help more with that. That’s a long answer for the “Were you a cop?”
Audience Question: What do you do when there are multiple areas in your life that kind of needs some work? How do you pick one to work around first or does it have to be a one-thing-at-a-time approach? Can you actually address multiple things at the same time? Or is it more practical to do one thing at a time?
Amy Morgan: That’s an individual question. Some people can multitask better. Some people need to focus on one thing at a time. That’s just going to be based on who you are and how you approach anything. If you had to clean your house would you just start cleaning and keep going until it’s done or would you be like, “I am going to dust then I’m going to vacuum.” It’s just the personality. The first thing you have to do would be to make that list. So at least you would know and then prioritize the list. These are my biggest problems and these are the ones that are draining me the fastest. Obviously, picture it like a physical wound. You have a gunshot wound, and then you have a papercut. The papercut is going to be the easiest one to fix but is it really the one you should do first? You should do them at a point that would have the most impact and help you the most. If you want to do them one by one. Layout those plans. Prioritize. You may have to be flexible. You may have to switch it up, switch back and forth because you may have two things that are really weighing you down. A lot of times let’s say you have five things and that the top four are related in some ways. So if you fix one and three it will have an effect possibly on two and four. Make a list and prioritize first, and start from there.
Audience Question: Do you have a system that you use? Do you it in a journal? Do you use an Excel Spreadsheet? Do you have a framework for tracking?
Amy Morgan: I’m laughing because I’m like the most structured person I’ve ever met. I’m extremely self-aware. Too much so really, I’m an over-thinker because I do want to have self-awareness. I don’t journal but I believe in journaling. I think it’s extremely helpful and beneficial. I’ll promote it all day long. If that works for you. I think what we kind of do is pick what works for you. If I say, “Keep a calendar.” And you’re doing it and you’re like, “This isn’t helping.” Don’t do it. Find something that works for you. If you don’t know what works for you yet, try a few things. An Excel Spreadsheet, if that’s your jam then do that. I would probably put formulas on it before long, it would create more stress for me. I love gratitude journals because they’re positive and if you write something positive every day it turns your brain chemistry positive. If you focus on positives it changes your brain chemistry to positive. I like that idea. But you can also if you need a journal to vent then do that. But you want to balance it. You don’t want to just vent but then you’d be focusing on the negative. It helps to get it out. It helps to talk to people about it. But you don’t want it to be your focus. You don’t want to just repetitively say and read negative. Vent out the negative and then go towards positive. Gratitude or goals or whatever it is that’s positive. Use whatever works for you. Lean towards the positive. Acknowledge the negative so you can fix it. Lean towards positives and goals and fixing.
Audience Question: It reminded of an analogy that you’ve used before. The one with the books. Can you share that story again?
Amy Morgan: Sure. I was actually trying to decide whether I should use that in this webinar or not? Everyone was sick of my book analogy. If you hold up your arms in front of you like a forklift and you will have someone put things on your arms and you’re going to hold them. And they’re going to put books on your arms. And a book for every single stressor in your life. Something that’s a light book for me might feel like a heavy book to you, for instance. Or somebody else’s, vice versa. You put these weights on your arms and the goal is just to carry around a couple or a few so that you can still function and you can still walk around and you’re not weighed down and it’s not hurting you. But as we go through life, if we don’t take care of those books, those stressors as we put them on our arms they start to get heavy and they start to add up. As they build and they build and they build and they add up in your arms they start to affect you. Your arms are going to get weak and shaky and tired. Your back’s going to hurt. You’re going to start focusing on the books and you will no longer be aware or care about anything outside those books. If someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, I have a solution for this book.” You don’t care and you don’t hear it because you have thirty books. Or they say, “You have thirty horrible things going on in your life right now but think of this positive.” You don’t have the ability at that point. When someone gets those books and carrying them around for far too long, a lot of weight and they’re not able to take them off and give themselves reprieve and rest and restoration. They’re just carrying that weight and carrying that weight. That’s when you get to that continuous downward spiral of negative where you can’t find yourself. You can’t find a way out. You want to take the point of this, this pre-prevention is to, “Oh okay, I have a book. I have two books. Now I have three books. I need to take a one-off.” My goal is to maintain two major life stressors at a time and no more. And so just keep trying to take care of those books. That’s why I said write them down and face them because we tend to just shove things and shove things and shove things and all of a sudden we’re overwhelmed and we don’t know how we got that way. If you can keep it happening. If you can see that building and adding up because you’re writing down those things and setting goals for them then you’re removing them one by one and you’re keeping your load light.
Audience Question: Can one’s optimism or ability to hope improve or is it like a muscle that can get stronger? Or is optimism and hope just part of our natural disposition and personality?
Amy Morgan: A little of both. I don’t have any science to back this up so I can’t just cite some reference behind me. If you just look at people around you, some people are innately more positive and optimistic than others. We all know we all have innate personalities. But I very much believe in that change in your brain chemistry. I talk about this to law enforcement persons and first responders all the time. The more you take in that negative it starts to mess up your brain chemistry. It starts to make those connections not connect like they’re supposed to which could lead to depression and all sorts of other things. You want to keep your brain chemistry positive and you can do that by saturating yourself with positive. There are some people who are more prone to the negative approach and some people are more prone to the positive approach but you have a say in it. Which I think is fantastic. You have a say in this. The more positive you take in the more your brain is going to default to positive thinking and hope, hopeful optimism. The more you take in negative which law enforcement, first responders and social workers, everything along that line of someone’s difficult life. The more you take in that negative the more it drives you towards that negative and mess up that brain chemistry so that things are not connecting in a positive way and your default thinking becomes negative and cynical. So you can train it, you can do it. Our brain chemistry, part of it is genetics. We can do a lot of things with depression and that sort of thing can run in the families. But you have a say in it. A brisk walk releases positive brain chemicals and helps you feel more optimistic in the moment.
Audience Question: If you can’t fix something how do you accept it? [Host Comment] Boy, this reminds me of that one saying, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” That’s really tough. How do you accept it?
Amy Morgan: It is hard. I was talking about changing things and making plans and stuff. I did mention briefly, “Some things you can’t change and you have to find the best way possible to deal with it.” There are things in life that we just have to deal with. And some of them are super hard things. They’re not like, “Well, I have to deal with that one. I guess I just have to keep going.” Somethings are really, really hard. I’m not going to deny that. I’m not going to say, “If you just have a positive outlook.” Life is really hard sometimes. Some people do really experience these really, really difficult things in their life and you just have to counterbalance. When I say “counterbalance”, you don’t want an even amount of negative and positive. You want to throw into your life as much possible positive. You’re basically trying to drown out that negative and make it a smaller part in the pie. You only have some many pieces in this pie, so much space in this pie, right now it may be taking up 90 percent of your pie because of bad horrible thing. That’s totally life and totally possible. What you want to do is start diminishing that and start adding positives so that negative take up less space. Somethings take up a lot of space. I think of things like the loss of a child and all of these things. There’s nothing in me that is going to say just think of the positive. There are things that realistically are just really, really hard. So you just want to integrate as much positive and to make that slice of the pie feel less impactful over the whole picture.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Pre-Prevention: Staying Ahead of the Struggle.