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Some second thoughts for first responders

It's been seven years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, mental health clinicians who have worked with law enforcement personnel and other first responders have learned that some of their conclusions from previous disaster scenarios have been on the mark, while others have required reconsideration.

Condensed and summarized, here are some lessons learned:

  • People are different. Each person responds to a traumatic event with their own individual constellation of vulnerabilities and resiliencies, and not everyone who fails to shows the "standard" recovery pattern is behaving pathologically. Know yourself and know when to get help.

  • Strategies are different. This is the corollary to the above. Some people need no help to recover from a traumatic critical incident, some need more help, and most require a few collegial or professional nudges in the right direction to get them back on an even emotional keel.

  • Be proactive. First, for responders, don’t wait for stresses and symptoms to pile up and become unmanageable; get help when you feel you need it. In most cases, earlier intervention usually means less overall intervention needed. Second, for interveners, don’t wait for your customers to come to you; encourage public safety agencies to seek out members who need help and support them in getting it.

  • Learn from it. In my courses, I like to use the abbreviation ITTS, for "It’s the training, stupid!" Another favorite catch-phrase is the 20/20/20 rule, or “20/20 hindsight = 20/20 insight = 20/20 foresight.” Any way you put it, the idea is to turn a toxic experience into something positive by learning something from it that you can use next time and pass on to others.


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