Psychologists providing trauma, work and relationship counselling to WA Police
. . . tough guys [cops] fear being ‘shrunk,’ having a notion of the psychotherapy experience as akin to brain-washing, a humiliating, infantilizing experience in which they lie on a couch and sob about their toilet training. . . the idea of needing “mental help” implies weakness, cowardice, and lack of ability to do the job.
—Laurence Miller (1995, p. 596, police psychologist)
Being a police officer is a tough job. There is a tremendous risk that police take in their pursuit of justice and protecting the public. You put yourself in harm’s way and carry the threat of physical harm with you at all times. All though police are more resilient than the general population, they are still human beings.
Day to day dangers are not the only source of stress that you may face as a police officer:
- You might feel frustrated by changes in policies that are meant to save the department money or put you at risk or hamstring your ability to serve the community.
- You might feel dismayed by the fickleness of the criminal justice system and the dysfunction that comes with it. E.g., you could work hard on a case to bring it to trial then have the person released for factors outside of your control.
- You could be struggling with relationships at work that could impacting on your home life.
- You could be tired of seeing people at their worst, victims of abuse or assault, families of loved ones who have died or the untreated severely mentally ill.
- Your police role could be causing stress at home with your family or your stress at home could be impacting on your job.
Over 60% of police officers with mental health issues don’t seek help. For the most part this could be that there is an expectation that you are supposed to be stronger than the rest of the civilians on account of your mandate to protect and serve the public. Some people see seeking help as a sign of weakness or lack of professional competency.
Instead of getting help police officers employ defence mechanisms such as repression, displacement, isolation of feelings, and humour (callous or crass type of humour) to shun the debilitating impact of trauma and stress. While these techniques might provide momentary relief they are not effective in the long term.
The reality is that as a police officer you have a responsibility to be as mentally strong as you can be by being as mentally healthy as you can be. Owning up to your problems and getting them sorted is a sign of strength not weakness.
The effects of stress and trauma
Trauma can take a toll over time. Just like a glass of water may not feel heavy when you pick it up for a drink, holding for a period of an hour or more can have an accumulative effect on you. Over time, the effects of trauma can disrupt your health, family and career. It can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Some of the PTSD symptoms include:
- repeated thoughts or memories of the event;
- dreams or nightmares;
- intense emotions at thoughts or reminders of what happened;
- efforts to avoid thinking about it, as well as to avoid people, places, or situations that might be reminders;
- changes in your sense of who you are, or in how you see the world around you;
- trouble in relationships;
- impulsive or self-destructive behaviour; and
- difficulty with different emotions, such as depression, anxiety, anger, shame, and guilt.
How can psychologists help police officers address trauma and other life stressors?
You can access our experienced therapists and relationship counsellors. We have experience in depression, anxiety, stress, PTSD family and relationship issues and more.
Trauma related depression or PTSD can be effectively treated with trauma focused therapy. Eye-movement desensitisation reprocessing therapy or exposure therapy is a very effective way to overcome trauma and or PTSD symptoms. In one study by Tolin and Foa (1999) exposure treatment for a police officer exposed to multiple traumatic events over his career for 5 90 minute sessions resulted in a reduction in PTSD symptoms, reduced trauma-related guilt and improved depressive symptoms. Berking et al. (2010) reported that police officers who completed emotion-regulation training managed to better accept and tolerate negative emotions and support themselves when faced with challenging situations.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can effectively treat PTSD.
Our psychologists are trained in relationship and family counselling that can help you and your family resolve conflict, breaches of trust, intimacy, parenting, blended families struggles and more.
Can you just use medication for PTSD?
The World Health Organization WHO warns against only prescribing medication with no supportive therapy services for PTSD treatment. Before you accept medication for depression or anxiety be sure that it is not PTSD related and better treated with trauma-related therapy. Medications can cause substance use issues when used as primary treatment regardless of whether or not they are prescribed by health professionals. However many of the therapy options for trauma can be integrated with treatment for substance use and addiction.
Do you have to pay to see your psychologists?
If you’re a WA police officer you can access funded sessions with our Applecross Psychologists. Police Force Regulations 1979 ref 1306 states that if an injury results from duty they will cover costs but it also in the Industrial agreement clause 38 to pay for non-work related medical expenses.
All you need to do is to pay for your session on the day and we can issue a receipt with the codes you need to claim a reimbursement.