Webinar presenter Amy Morgan answered a number of your questions after her presentation, The Trauma of First Response to Cruelty. Here are a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Amy, you noted that as first responders, we care. How do we still care, and not allow the situations we’re walking into to disturb us or traumatize us?
Amy Morgan: This is a really great question because it shows a desire to still care, but also the need to protect yourself from the bad stuff. The short answer is.. you can’t keep the situations from disturbing or traumatizing you – they will do that to you, and that is the normal response to those situations. The fact that you care is what allows you to handle those situations appropriately. It’s after you leave the situation that you need to do the self-care, the healing, the balancing out that negative with a bunch of positive. A lot of it is also mental preparation – know, and expect, when you go to work that you will see some really horrible stuff and interact with some really difficult people. By doing all of the self-care to start your days out in a place of positivity as far as your own health and strength, you’ll be able to deal with everything you deal with as it comes. Remember it will get to you, and so when you’re away from work you need to do all the things that will balance it out. You may be wanting to find a way to enter the situation without it disturbing you, but remember… that’s not a normal response. You can not react at the time, but you’re taking all of that scene in, through all of your senses. You can’t block that. You can just recover from it and heal from it, and keep yourself as strong as possible between each one so that new ones don’t tear you down quite as far.
Audience Question: Do you have books that can help first responders?
Amy Morgan: “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement” by Kevin M. Gilmartin, Ph.D. would be the very first one I would recommend to you.
And you can find a long list of options on Amazon – use this link and you will see a bunch of options.
Be sure and find books by PTSD or trauma experts that have experience with first responder issues. Those are going to be the ones who “get” what you go through.
Audience Question: You talked about first responders using mental health services after experiencing a trauma. What would you consider to be a reasonable level of mental health help – given the volume things we see in a given shift? Once a month? Once a quarter? Once a year?
Amy Morgan: I think this is going to be different for every person and every situation; the real point is to go get help. Talk to someone who can help with healing. Take away that feeling of going through everything alone. Do make sure to find a counselor or therapist (or other resource) that “gets” what you do on the job, as not just every counselor handles first responder type situations. Also, know that your resource should be an ongoing process. Going to a therapist once may make you feel better that day, but the resilience effort needs to be ongoing, just like taking care of your physical health. You don’t eat carrots and kale for a day and say you’re now healthy, and not pay attention to your health anymore.
Audience Question: Some types of traumatic events affect me more than others (ie: like the difference between a bad car accident vs responding to a domestic violence scene.) Why is that? Is that ‘bad’ or ‘wrong?’
Amy Morgan: Everyone brings their own experiences, opinions, ideas, and history into a new scene, and so everyone is going to respond differently. Neither is right or wrong. And, as you’ve probably learned, two people who respond differently can approach a scene and balance each other out. If one is struggling and the other isn’t as much, then that’s a great team because, at a different scene, it may be reversed. You have to know yourself, know what kinds of incidents really bother you more, and get more help after you experience those.
Audience Question: Hi Amy, as a supervisor of staff dealing with Child Cruelty and Abuse incidents how far should I push the offer of wellness assistance if the staff member responds saying that “I’m fine”?
Amy Morgan: There are a lot of layers to this – if the staff member trusts the supervisor, they’re more likely to go or to admit a need. If the staff member feels they “have “ to be tough, they’re less likely to say they need help. But some people really don’t know how to go for help, or how to admit that something was tough, and that’s a challenge all by itself. I’d say keep trying, don’t give up asking if someone wants to talk to someone. Or, offer a completely different resource. Try starting with small steps. A lot of peer support groups are forming, and so maybe having a group come in that can form a peer support team might be a good place to start. Or just get another peer to encourage this one to go for help. Try different approaches, try different resource opportunities. Just never give up. They may be “fine” this time, and after the next incident potentially welcome the suggestion, but only if you ask.
Audience Question: Will repeating the offer make the staff member believe there is something wrong when in fact they might have excellent internal or external coping mechanisms. (meditation, sports for example)
Amy Morgan: If you aren’t sad, and I keep asking you if you’re sad, will that make you sad? Probably not. But it may make you say, “I’m tired,” and then I can offer help for your sleep issues. Some people do have strong coping mechanisms in place, and that’s awesome – encourage them to keep those up. Different things work for different people. The real goal is just to make sure everyone does have positive coping tools to help them through.
Audience Question: Is post-traumatic stress debriefing still a recommended approach for helping personnel deal with stressful situations?
Amy Morgan: Absolutely – debriefing in every form is good, because it opens the line of communication, it allows for emotions/reactions to situations, and it leaves an opening for those involved to get further help after the debriefing. Always mention potential reactions (that long list of trauma responses), and always offer multiple types of resources so every person can pick what might work best for them. Debriefing properly brings people together, helps get issues out in the open, and makes it okay to talk about the situations rather than ignore them.
Audience Question: Is it weird that, after being at work, I can’t watch “traumatic” or horrible events on TV or movies?
Amy Morgan: It’s not weird at all – you’ve seen enough. Watching events on TV that remind you of real incidents you’ve seen on the job is potentially going to have the same effects on you as any other post-traumatic stress trigger. It’s a reminder of the reality, and you become unable to really separate “it’s on tv” from “your workday.” Avoid anything that adds extra trauma and stress to your already heavy exposure to it.