The first to respond; the last
to seek help.
First responders are exposed to various traumas, disasters, and disturbing events. Some of the events take more of a toll than others. The accumulation of distressing events can be a heavy burden to carry. We have developed a program to help first responders learn how to overcome and manage the burden that inherently comes with their jobs. It introduces interventions that will decrease the risk of burnout and extend the longevity of a person’s career, while decreasing the physical symptoms, relational issues, and mental overload that is too often included in the life of a first responder.
Trauma affects how the brain functions. It can physically change the brain and make people feel that they are not themselves any longer.
Activities that were once simple and automatic become difficult and feel downright impossible. Fortunately, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is very effective for this.
EMDR is an evidenced based therapy that has been endorsed by the World Health Organization, the American Psychiatric Association, the Veteran’s Association, the U.S. Department of Defense, and a host of other organizations. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.
When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. Following successful EMDR a person no longer relives the images, sights, and sounds when the event is brought to mind.
57,180 officers were victims of line-of-duty assaults.
A recent UAMS study speculates that 25% of first responders may experience PTSD or depression.
Of the 4,022 emergency medical service providers who responded, 86% said they had experienced a critical stressor. Two out of three said they did not get help (JEMS 2015).
In a survey NBC Bay Area distributed to California firefighters, 70 percent revealed they had trouble sleeping, 64 percent were easily angered or withdrawn and 31 percent developed a substance abuse issue.
The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA) estimates that approximately ONLY 40% of firefighter suicides are reported. If these estimates are accurate, the actual number of 2017 suicides would be approximately equal to 257, which is more than twice the number of firefighters who died in the line of duty.
How this worked for me...
Krista Haugen, a flight nurse, quoted in the EMS World Journal stated, “When I went to EMDR, I noticed an immediate change. It’s just releasing this mass of emotion and then it’s gone. It’s so strange. The discomfort is gone,” says Haugen, who decided to offload both the helicopter crash and all the other ghosts of patients past. Haugen says other therapies she tried in the past weren’t remotely as helpful as EMDR. "EMDR brings more of an analytical perspective to the trauma and it kind of strips the emotions so when you think of it, it doesn’t produce a physiologic response of fight-or-flight” (www.emsworld.com/article/218851/emdr-hidden-gem-ptsd-treatment).
As a licensed counselor and a past EMT, Nikki Penn has focused her career on treating first responders. She earned her master’s degree from Arkansas State University. She is a specialized law enforcement instructor, is dually licensed in Arkansas and New York, and has taught at different EMS training programs, the Arkansas Fire Convention, the Arkansas EMT Conference, PESI, and many fire departments across her state. She responds to departments in crisis after critical incidents, suicides, or other traumatic events occur. Nikki is a certified EMDR-therapist and consultant that has developed a nationally recognized curriculum which she uses to train other therapists world-wide to be culturally competent in their work with first responders. She is involved in the Ladies’ Auxiliary and has been married for 28 years to a firefighter who is now the fire chief of their hometown.