First Responders Trauma or PTSD
First responders such as police officers, firefighters, EMT’s, paramedics, peace officers, medical personnel, veterinarians, and even social workers are often subjected to emotionally unsettling experiences that can develop into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD can lead to symptoms such as severe anxiety, flashbacks, uncontrollable thoughts, and nightmares. Some individuals manage to cope with these experiences on a short-term basis but if left undiagnosed and untreated, the symptoms of PTSD are likely to worsen. Sometimes individuals develop problematic coping mechanisms such as gambling, drug/alcohol use, or other self-destructive behaviours. Difficulties with emotional regulation can develop which can impact relationships with family, friends, and coworkers.
First responders are frequently exposed to highly stressful events in the course of their routine duties. Some of the specific situations that increase one’s vulnerability to traumatic stress include:
- Lack of control over the volume of emergency calls
- The relentlessness of the ongoing routine of responding to calls regardless of how disturbing or traumatic the previous call may have been
- Repetition of experiences within the service for a long time (stress is cumulative)
- Experiencing unrelenting situations and feelings of helplessness due to overwhelming demands (these can include situations such as prolonged or failed rescue)
- Grief due to a partner being killed or seriously injured in the line of duty, suicide of a peer, or losing a patient or client
- Experiencing the death of a child in the line of duty
- Responding to a call for a victim who is known to the responder
- Working without the support of administration or being questioned on one’s actions in an investigation
Symptoms & signs of trauma/PTSD in first responders
- Flashbacks to the situation/s
- Feelings of powerlessness
- Inability to move forward
- Survivor’s guilt
- Inappropriate use of alcohol or other substances (self-medicating)
- Self-destructive behaviours (problem gambling, excessive porn use, gaming, etc.)
- Thoughts of suicide
- Explosive outbursts of anger
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Feeling disconnected from loved ones or friends
- Avoiding people, places, or events that might remind you of the trauma you experienced as a first responder
When is it time to get help?
People may be able to recover from short term stress through the utilization of their own coping mechanisms along with the support of friends and family. Significant distress that lasts longer than three months indicates chronic PTSD and should be attended to. Symptoms that start six months following an incident are classified as delayed onset PTSD and require treatment due to its complex nature.
If you, or someone you know is considering suicide, oris in a dangerous or life-threatening situation, please call 911 or proceed to your nearest emergency room.
For immediate help outside of our office hours, throughout Alberta, please call 211 or one of the following distress lines:
- Edmonton: The Crisis Centre call 780 482 HELP (4357)
- Greater Edmonton region: Rural Distress Line at 1-800-232-7288.
- Calgary: 403 266 HELP (4357)
Trauma/PTSD in first responders treatment methods
There are several effective treatment methods for dealing with trauma or PTSD. Your therapist will discuss with you the best options for your individual circumstance. Some treatment methods that are typically successful in treating PTSD include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach to treatment that focuses on how people’s thoughts, emotions, and beliefs influence their behaviour and how they perceive themselves.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an approach that works to help the brain process information, memories, sounds, and feelings in a way that makes them be seen in
- Narrative therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses narratives and/or client’s personal stories to help people separate themselves from their problems, believing that the person isn’t the problem; the problem is the problem.
- Exposure therapy is a form of treatment where your therapist will create a safe environment where they expose you to the triggers you may fear or try to avoid in an effort to decrease your anxiety towards that trigger.
- Virtual reality assisted therapy (VRAT) is a computer-based system that allows a user to experience a sense of presence in a computer-generated or video presented three-dimensional environment. It’s a form of therapy that utilizes the immersive experience that VR technology provides to support individuals who experience anxiety related to common fears or phobias.
- Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a treatment method that’s similar to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) but emphasizes building skills to manage stress, emotional response and regulation, mental health issues, and the psycho-social aspects of relationship building.
- Hypnosis and hypnotherapy can allow clients to travel deeper into the unconscious or subconscious to look at and work with issues and ideas perhaps inaccessible otherwise. It’s like guided daydreaming: a form of relaxed concentration.
- rTMS is an effective, research-backed, non-invasive process in which a focused magnetic field stimulates under-active brain cells, activates them to work more efficiently and transforms lives through symptom reduction. rTMS can be particularly effective when used to treat severe depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, OCD, chronic pain, migraines, post concussion symptoms, and burnout that has not fully responded to conventional treatments (medication/therapy).
What will I get out of treatment with Insight Psychological?
You do not have to (and shouldn’t) process trauma alone. You can feel better. We can help you to work through traumatic experiences you’ve encountered and find healthy and effective methods for coping.
Insight Psychological has specially trained therapists for dealing with both PTSD in first responders and trauma. Please call us to learn more information or to book an appointment.