Building a culture of resiliency from the top down

The Resilience Train-the-Trainer Program provides police leaders with the tools to effectively address the pressure and trauma that officers face on the job


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By Michael Genovese, MD, JD

Every day, police officers, firefighters and EMS providers run toward the dangers everyone else runs from. In doing so, they are not only susceptible to physical harm, but also to significant trauma and long-lasting mental health impacts. Officers and first responders’ risk for behavioral health issues and addiction is exponentially higher due to the traumas they face every day.

In 2016, the FBI National Academy Associates (FBINAA) partnered with Acadia Healthcare on an Officer Safety & Wellness Initiative that aims to help first responders across the country adopt strategies to withstand, recover and grow in the face of stressors.

Out of the initiative came the Comprehensive Officer Resilience Train-the-Trainer Program for law enforcement leadership, which aims to equip public safety leaders with the tools to change the culture within their organization surrounding behavioral health issues.

The program focuses on police leaders because cultural change has to start at the top. Hundreds of department leaders have been through this program and, in turn, thousands of officers are being trained across the country. The goal of this initiative is to promote an environment that supports the well-being of first responders, leading to better performance and safer communities.

About the Comprehensive Officer Resilience Train-the-Trainer Program

The Comprehensive Officer Resilience Train-the-Trainer Program is a free, three-day training program with training sessions held nationwide.

The program teaches officers about the biology of trauma to ensure they understand post-traumatic stress for what it is: a brain injury – not a failure of character.

Science has proven that repeated trauma alters the neural pathways, injuring the brain. These post-traumatic stress injuries are linked to startling, yet often unreported, rates of mental health illness. If left untreated, this can manifest as substance use disorders or worse, possibly leading to death by suicide. To build resilience, officers need the tools to effectively address the pressure and trauma that comes with the job in order to prevent further injury.

Research shows that resilient people are not as negatively impacted by adverse events, and when they do experience an adverse event, they recover faster and are more likely to experience post-event growth. The Comprehensive Officer Resilience Train-the-Trainer Program measures officer resiliency across four domains:

  • Mental: The ability to effectively cope with unique mental stressors and challenges;
  • Physical: The ability to adopt and sustain healthy behaviors needed to enhance health and wellbeing;
  • Social: The ability to engage in healthy social networks that promote overall wellbeing and optimal relationships;
  • Spiritual: The ability to strengthen a set of beliefs, principles, or values that sustain an individual’s sense of wellbeing and purpose.

These domains are areas of a person’s life that capture the totality of how he or she experiences and relates to others and themselves. Fitness across these four domains will lead to a more resilient individual.

The program defines resilience and teaches officers about the importance of gratitude, goal setting, critical thinking and mindfulness. Instructors work their way through the four domains, providing examples for ways officers can strengthen their bodies physically and mentally. The schedule concludes with lessons on interpersonal problem solving and active listening.

With a train-the-trainer model, the program focuses on educating department leadership. More than 300 officers have been trained to date.

Police officers and first responders experience more trauma in a month than most people do in a lifetime, yet many aren’t getting the help they need largely because of the stigma surrounding mental health and the fear that their badges – and thereby, their identities – will be taken away if they ask for help.

Our hope is that through education, we can improve our response to trauma and, in turn, lessen the impact.

For information on future programming or to inquire about setting up a training for first responders and/or emergency department personnel, contact Joseph Collins at jvcpublicsafetyconsultants@gmail.com.


About the author

Michael Genovese, MD, JD, is a clinical psychiatrist, addiction specialist and the chief medical officer of Acadia Healthcare. Acadia operates a network of 585 behavioral health facilities with approximately 18,000 beds in 40 states, the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico. Dr. Genovese is also the medical director of the Officer Safety and Wellness Committee of the FBI National Academy Associates (FBINAA), helping to equip first responders with the tools they need to withstand, recover and grow following repeated trauma.

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