Promoting Emotional Resilience

Promoting Emotional Resilience

Police officers across the nation experience high stress situations on a daily basis in the field.  Traumatic scenes of car crashes, deaths, shootings, overdoses, and a seemingly endless list of circumstances, leave lasting images imprinted on officers’ memories. Recently, the Dallas shootings and events across the nation bring an even more challenging time of high stress to the law enforcement profession.  Dr. Kevin Gilmartin discusses emotional survival and does an excellent job of pointing out the effects of stress on officers physically and mentally throughout a career if left unchecked.  There are numerous motivational speakers and books on dealing with stress and the lasting impact over a lifetime on officers’ professional and personal lives.  The question is, what are we doing to prepare police officers to cope with these high-stress and traumatic situations before they happen?  

“Promoting Emotional Resilience” by Ronald Smith and James Ascough, released in 2016, is an excellent resource book based upon empirical studies and provides a step-by-step guide for delivering a research supported, stress management and emotional regulation program.  The authors’ concept of conditioning officers to have emotion-focused coping mechanisms in place before the events occur will assist emotional self-regulation in times of high stress and trauma.  
“Emotional resilience is defined as the ability to engage in overt and/or covert emotion self-regulation behaviors that allow the person to minimize negative affects in the face of stressful life events,” Smith and Ascough explain in the book.  

The program, titled Cognitive-Affective Stress Management Training, is discussed in detail by the doctors and provides a treatment regimen or preventive program to enhance stress resilience and reduce future impact on the person mentally.   This book becomes very technical and was written for clinical professionals treating patients with stress-related issues, but it can be used by others coaching individuals with high stress or dysfunctional fear.  

The authors relate the training as a skill, just as practice makes officers more proficient in firearms, defensive tactics and driving, the use and practice of stress-management skills will make officers more resilient in times of high stress.  In this concept, the application of the program’s basics would assist in police departments’ preparation of officers in emotional resilience.  CASMT uses relaxation training, mindfulness, acceptance-based strategies and scenario training combined in a six-step process.  The simple techniques of deep abdominal breathing in place of shallow chest breaths, word association to focus the mind, social structuring and mindfulness in attributing the proper importance on the stressful situations, are methods provided in the program.

Stressful or traumatic events in the law enforcement profession can leave an officer with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, which may result in dramatic actions by the individual, if proper care is not provided.  Stress and trauma cannot be eliminated from the profession, but personal resourcefulness and resilience can be increased by officers.  Increasing emotional resilience is key to enhancing physical, social and psychological well-being in an occupation intertwined with stressful life events.  Police departments and training should be proactive in preventing the effects of stress on officers, and instead of officers becoming survivors, prevent it from becoming a problem to begin with.  “Promoting Emotional Resilience” provides a good program to implement and practice today to prevent the problems and lasting effects of stress tomorrow.

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