Cumulative Trauma: The Covert Enemy of First Responders

Cumulative Trauma: The Covert Enemy of First Responders
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1 Module 1
Recorded on: 2020-07-14
Unit 1 Slide Deck: Cumulative Trauma
Unit 2 Transcript: Cumulative Trauma
Unit 3 Workbook: Cumulative Trauma
Unit 4 Recording: Cumulative Trauma

Trauma is typically associated with extreme life-altering experiences. However, the concept of cumulative trauma is quite different from this. As the term suggests, it happens in a slow, repeated, and constant manner but accumulated through time. And that is what makes it dangerous as the traumatization seeps through slowly, changing an individual’s perception and behaviors subtly but cumulatively.

Dr. Grant McDougall joins Justice Clearinghouse to shed light on cumulative trauma as it impacts the law enforcement and public safety profession. Dr. McDougall is a licensed mental health counselor, a national board-certified counselor, and is the owner of Southeastern Counseling and Consultation in Gainesville, Florida. He serves law enforcement agencies by providing mental health support through trainings, critical incident debriefings, counseling, and assessments, among others. He is also a recognized speaker in this field and is a board member of the National Sheriff’s Association’s Psychological Section.

Specifics of this webinar include:

  • A glimpse into how a job in law enforcement changes a person.
  • What are stress and trauma, how these manifest in first responders and law enforcement officers, and the two types of trauma we may be exposed to in our lives.
  • What critical incidents are, and how these can potentially cause trauma.
  • Developing procedures or policies involving critical incidents and addressing the potential trauma within the workforce.
  • The critical incidents that may put law enforcement and first responders at the ‘high-risk list’ that we must be wary about.
  • The varying levels of susceptibility of individuals to critical incidents, the different coping mechanisms, the absence of fool-proof predictors of susceptibility, and the lack of supporting evidence correlating susceptibility to emotional strength or mental stability.
  • Differentiating Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  • Cumulative trauma: How it goes undetected, how it creates biological changes, its causes, and its outcomes.
  • The most common issues of depression and anxiety that transpire in first responder communities.
    • Statistics that highlight the prevalence of anxiety and depression in law enforcement.
    • How these may be treated if addressed immediately.
    • How stigma and fear prevent law enforcement from seeking help and treatment.
    • The potential outcomes of anxiety and depression when not addressed immediately.
  • The three-pronged approach to address cumulative trauma through awareness and outreach, comprehensive training, and cultural overhaul within law enforcement and first responder organizations.

Questions raised by the audience were about:

  • How COVID-19 can impact cumulative trauma, negative behavioral addictions, and substance abuse.
  • Providing support to someone with PTSD.
  • How politics may be affecting law enforcement operations which creates stress for the officers.
  • How probation and parole may likewise be impacted with trauma as they scope of their role broadens.
  • Measuring an individual’s resilience to traumatic events.



Audience Comments

  • “Excellent current information about first responder officers who have such a daunting task these days.” — Y. K.
  • “Dr. McDougall is THE SERGEANT AT ARMS for “All” trauma, anxiety, depression and mental illness concerns. The BRASS ought to HIRE this man NOW. This is not a nice to have, rather – Dr. McDougall is a NEED TO HAVE!” — Leo
  • “This webinar helped me to identify cumulative trauma and access if there were moments in my career that I experienced cumulative trauma and was unaware of what I was experiencing.” — Yolanda
  • “I do not work in Law Enforcement, but this webinar was very helpful. It puts in perspective the level of Trauma Officers face on a daily basis and it would appear that the mental support is lacking.” — Valerie
  • “He broke things down so simplistically, one of the better trainings I have had on the subject and it makes me realize that the organization (child welfare) I work in needs more of this training and implementations surrounding this topic.” — Tracey
  • “The Webinar was great across the board.- All valuable information. However, the detailed difference in PTSD and its impact on family and the need for them to be included in the role of support and in training is good to hear, especially, the officers that deal with sex offenders, domestic violence, gangs, and drug dealers.” — Dawn
  • “I enjoyed the simplicity of explaining the cumulative trauma. Thank you for offering this training and thank Dr. McDougall. Excellent presentation.” — Shawn
  • “I like the idea of looking at cumulative trauma as medical/biological rather than psychological. A very interesting point and one that I think helps fight against any stigma or stereotype of needing to seek help.” — Nikki
  • “Dr. McDougall’s great knowledge and vocabulary to use when assessing the current state of our agency. These are things any employee can ask/bring attention to so that we can address these issues in our workplace and indeed make it safer and more productive.” — Patrick
  • “Awesome speaker, great information on this very neglected topic. Really enjoyed it!” — Nathalie
  • “Dr. McDougall spoke accurately on cumulative trauma. I especially appreciate his explanation and differentiation of PTS and PTSD, and his honesty regarding resilience.” — Frank
  • “I appreciated the continued reminder that it’s a cultural shift and proactivity that will improve the health of first responders/officers. It can be said, but putting that into action is essential for ALL personnel in that field. Also, it was eye-opening as family is an integral part of an individual and training them as well as supervisors (INFORMAL & FORMAL) can help to create better responses to cumulative trauma for those who are in the world that are expected to “survive” & “be tough/strong.” THANKS.” — Heather
  • “Wonderful webinar. Our agency has a very high turnover rate and very little to no training offered or required. I look forward to sharing this information with the administration and supervisors.”  — Hannah


Additional Resources
3 years ago
After the Webinar: Cumulative Trauma. Q&A with Dr. Grant McDougall
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