The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress
Gary G. Felt, M.A., M.H.C.
In just over the past decade it has become common knowledge that law enforcement personnel, along with other emergency services workers, are a population highly prone to suffering with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
As a direct result of their work, there is regular involvement with traumatic events over the course of their entire careers. This is especially true for those of us working in the field of critical incident stress management. For those individuals in law enforcement, however, who generally entered into their careers as physically and mentally "strong," highly idealistic, and caring people, PTSD is often quite baffling. Moreover, it is a concept that is hard to accept by those who are following the mantra "to protect and serve."
Understanding the needs of this unique population, highly prone to PTSD, is imperative for mental health professionals attempting to assist survivors with healing and moving beyond this disorder.
Beyond the obvious, such as a shooting, what events are "generally outside the range of usual human experience" that might contribute to the potential development of PTSD? Among many, consider continually being called upon to make split-second, sometimes "life or death" decisions that, in many cases, have no favorable resolution. Consider facing a weapon in the hands of a criminal who would kill you if given a chance. Moreover, consider involvement with fights, foot chases, vehicle pursuits, physical injuries and/or death of a fellow officer. Imagine having to deal with hostage situations, undercover work, dangerous drug busts or other raids or handling injury or fatal accidents. How about having to manage in-progress crime calls, shift-work, disasters (especially those man-made), the never-ending procession of people being injured, mutilated or killed and having to become "accustomed" to seeing, smelling, feeling and hearing the blood, gore, pain and suffering associated with crime scenes and victims including battered and abused children. Finally, think about what it would be like to have made an error on the job and be criticized or worse, face investigation, disciplinary action or criminal prosecution.
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