PTSD (or PTSI or PTS) affects about 6% of the population. Considering the dangerous and emergent job conditions of first responders, this is magnified to around 30%. Some facts according to NAMI:
- 35% of police officers suffer from PTSD
- 18-24% of dispatchers suffer from PTSD
- 15-24% of fire fighter suffer from PTSD
- 37% of fire and EMS professionals have contemplated suicide
- Fire fighters and police officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty
- In 2019, 228 police officers died by suicide
These facts fueled the coming documentary, PTSD 911, coming soon once funding is completed. (Donations can be made at Fund the First.) Also, these facts are not new.
With a growing number of first responders suffering and the lack or difficulty of receiving services, the problem has only gotten worse over the years. Add in COVID and we currently have our worst suicide rate this country has seen since World War II. The mental health stigma is not getting better fast enough despite awareness efforts. It may have a lot to do with the fact that people just don’t know what to do. This cycle leads to many hurt areas in one’s life as it affects all kinds of relationships, marriages, jobs, and family.
While PTSD often drags a one-time event into ongoing trauma for a person, for first responders, it can be much worse. Not only can the trauma be added onto by call after call, but the support response can be anything from ice cold to nothing at all. Some first responders report being fired for even asking for help or suffering poor treatment on the job once speaking up. The options they’re given (if superiors are attempting to be supportive) can range from psychiatry recommendations to a day or two off. Some departments, like the Tewksbury Police Department, have started working with a local equestrian farm called Strongwater Farm which uses therapy with horses to rehabilitate people with all kinds of mental and physical needs.
Seeking help within the medical world is often the first avenue suggested, but it’s seldom easily achieved. You need to consider your insurance and what may or may not be covered. You need to find a provider in the network and someone who’s taking new patients. The wait list for many therapists and psychiatrists is long and some people simply can’t wait for weeks when contemplating suicide or even dealing with depression. While meds may be the answer for some, it’s not the ultimate problem solver. We need our first responders to be well and on their feet from the inside out. There’s another solution that can help with that.
Life Coaching as a Solution
While psychology is necessary for some PTSD sufferers (and should not be discounted), life coaching offers another approach. In coaching, the answers come from inside the client (who we call the coaching partner). We say coaching partner because both coach and coaching partner are equally part of the treatment. The coach asks questions, stays curious, and reflects back what the coaching partner is saying or how they are reacting.
Solutions are not told to the client. Rather, the coaching allows the conversation to lead the coaching partner to their own solution and then holds them accountable. The accountability part truly jives with first responders who have been trained to fulfill responsibility. Having the solution come from the coaching partner instead of a therapist is a bonus too. The coaching partner will be more motivated to complete the task and stay goal focused because it’s their own goal.
Life Coaching with PTSD
Life coaching is not a medical profession but a support system. (Some cases require more and a good coach will refer a coaching partner to another professional if that’s the case. After all, we want the best for you!) But what about PTSD you may wonder. Many coaches are Trauma-Informed Coaches, meaning that they have been trained to recognize and work with those with trauma histories.
Trauma Informed Coaches anchor their work in the present, not the past. They focus on the client’s current life and how trauma is affecting them today. Their aim is to utilize coaching strategies to help their client build up their strengths, healthy beliefs, and positive coping strategies rather than just extinguishing “negative” behaviors and beliefs.Brittany Piper, October 2021
A trauma coach’s job includes brainstorming with the clients, providing them with the information, and examining potential decisions. Therapists may sometimes need to intervene to a deeper level to direct care. A coach never takes that much control of the client’s life. Trauma coaches guide and encourage the clients but they never command direction.Sai Blackbyrn, April 2022
When is it Time?
You may wonder what the markers are for deciding on a life coach. When is it time? Who is it for? The answer is now! The answer is everyone! Absolutely everyone can benefit from coaching. From small stress over shifts and shift partners to major trauma, there’s no wrong time to start. One shouldn’t wait to be diagnosed with cancer to quit smoking, or to start trying to fix one’s marriage only after a spouse leaves. Of course, it’s never too late to start, but how much better is it to start now, before things get bad? First responders see trauma. It’s their job to respond on everyone’s worst day. They will see and experience bad things, but they don’t have to harbor it and they don’t have to ignore the effects.
Coaching is good for everyone, but for some it’s vital. Those at greater risk for injury (gymnasts, hockey players, mountain bikers) tend to have physical therapists or other medical staff they keep in touch with. Shouldn’t our first responders even more so be in touch with coaches to help with their risk for mental health concerns?