I am determined to make a possitive thing out of what I experienced. Everyone told me the job would change him, I didn't believe them, but it did and I became a statistic. I wish to develop a guide for police officers and their families with tools dealing with post traumatic stress after years of service as a first responder. After 20 to 30 year careers they do change!
“Certain personality types are drawn to police and military work because such a role is compatible with their strengths, abilities, interests, and needs”. Police types are significantly more introvert, sensing, and thinking, like routine, are patient with details, and unemotional according to the MBTI (Myers Briggs Yype Indicator Test) (Hanewicz,1978). The four dimensions of the test are extraversion-introversion (EI), sensing-intuition (SN), thinking-feeling (TF), and judging-perceiving (JP).
During this type of a career officers are exposed to traumatic events, which can sometimes even be addicting (Violanti, 1997). This can increase the need for exciting and dangerous activities in their off duty life, which can lead to social problems such as anxiety, depression, and worry (Violanti1,1997). They spend their entire career training for the worse, which generally leaves them suspicious of everyone according to Violanti,(1997).
The highs of adrenalin are like an opiod you encounter when you are exposed to traumatic events, but are then followed by extreme downers like the boredom of everyday life (Kolb 1984). Studies by Segal, Hunter, and Segal, (1976) have noticed an increase in these long term exposures to trauma may lead to homicide, suicide, and suspicious accidents. Horowitz, (1986), attributed this to a post traumatic character disorder which can alter the family life considerably. We need to find overall programs to make a difference in the social programs for post traumatic distress.
“Leaving their peer groups of protection and similarity is not easy; Police officers have developed bonds of dependence, secrecy, and mutual trust” (Violanti, 1997). This separation could enhance symptoms of post traumatic stress, because it is essential to keep support up. This connectedness is what they are missing in the family unit. It was shown in the study by Solomon, Milulineer, Fried, and Wosner, (1987) that married soldiers (our street soldiers too) suffered from more PTSD because of added pressures of marriage and family. This could also drain them as they deal with the pressures and add another element of lack of energy to the mix. Families don’t see the trauma they only see the effects of that trauma and how the officer or soldier reacts to it, therefore these two different worlds collide and can’t understand each other. Communication and trust is avoided and families suffer.
A recent Dallas Texas Police department recognized the rate of divorces in this field and came up with a program called the “Law Enforcement Healthy Marriage and Family Project”. It noticed that first responders face challenges in social relationships due to chronic stress and irregular work hours (Westphal 2009). Even with this information it has been studied that the domestic stress they are under will affect their job performance aggravating anger and distancing themselves from social relationships. The chief of the department set up this program in 2005 with training programs, seminars and retreats for officers and family members. They used a needs assessment of social issues from the subjects and the families and developed a program that is making a difference.
A topic that became interesting to this group was family culture versus law enforcement culture and leads to the real impact of “The Job” on family life (Wesrtphal 2009). This program has led to other departments looking into similar opportunities of such education. This might even lead into programs that offer an exchange among civilians and trust for others outside of the unit. We need this in LAPD.
Traumatic experiences are sometimes overwhelming and come with an emotional reaction of shock or denial. Historically it has been a learning experience for people to accept and deal with the changes socially. We are a country at war that will have to deal with issues of trauma as our veterans come home. They could be unpredictable, aggravated, moody, anxious, withdrawn, confused, and unfocused with physical implications of sweating, heart palpitations, headaches, nausea, and chest pain. These symptoms can last a long time and we will need support groups, time, and knowledge to help soldiers deal with trauma as our families and other first responders will also.
Other resources in place are through the American Red Cross, Post-Traumatic Gazette, International society for Traumatic stress studies, and The National Organization for victim’s assistance. Some other treatments for Traumatic Stress are to cry, talk, exercise, meditate, even write your feelings down, and maintain a healthy lifestyle and sleep habits. For some severe cases there are medications such as antidepressants or Benzodiazepines for the treatment of post traumatic stress. Early intervention is the key However, larger controlled trials and long-term follow-up studies are needed to fully address the efficacy and effectiveness of psychotherapeutic, psychopharmacological, psycho educational, and supportive interventions in reducing initial distress, as well as in improving social and occupational functioning (Levin,1989,2001,2003,2004).
Hopefully stories like the one on Tuesday May 12th 2009 of an Army sergeant accused of killing five fellow soldiers in Iraq after reportedly being treated poorly at the stress center to transition out of active duty can be avoided. He just couldn’t understand life without the military and had a history of family violence. These are the developments of his external environment molding his behavior. Certain personality theories like that of B.F.Skinner, an American psychologist from 1904 to 1990, show how the environment shapes us. In this theory response is due to conditioning (Weiten,2008).
It takes a certain personality to become a police officer, so it also takes a certain personality to deal with the social issues and consequences of post traumatic stress management. The connection of culture and personality has spurred further research in search of the concepts that work best in society. It can relate to how cultures react to terrorism and how they relate to stress and anxiety according to Pyzczynski,Solomon, and Greenberg (Weiten, 2008). The personality can lead to a better understanding and focus how to manage our response to terror (Weiten, 2008).
A different prospective would be a personality development in a humanistic approach. This approach would argue that people can rise above their primal urges and control themselves (Weiten, 2008). People can look and react to emotions on a conscious level differing from Skinner’s belief of behaviorism. This is more of an evolutionary prospective that can offer insight into helping victims of post traumatic distress by learning and developing a way to deal with it. In a humanistic approach you rely on the self. In Carl Roger’s theory ( 1951), experiences that threaten personal views of themselves cause anxiety (Weiten, 2008). In combat and life threatening situations the humanist theory would look at your perception of how it turned out to your self concept and depending on how that clashes with your beliefs it would cause you more anxiety and more of a likely hood to post traumatic stress.
Whether the biological or learned perspective is used in understanding post traumatic stress it is a social issue facing first responders today. It is imperative that we increase education and find ways to incorporate the family unit in the process with open communication for all to benefit. I know all of my friends could've used it before the divorce and during to difuse the violence and the issues associated to the loss of control in the family.
Segal,J.Hunter,E.J.&Segal,Z(1976).Universal consequences of captivity: Stress reactions among divergent populations of prisoners of war and their families. InternationalJournal of Social science,28,593-609.
Solomon,Z.,Mikulineer,M.,ried,B& Wosner,Y. (1987). Family characteristics and post traumatic stress disorder: A followup of Israeli combat stress reaction casualties. Family process,26,383-394.
Westphal,G. (2009). Law enforcement Healthy Marriage and family project. The Police Chief magazine.
Levin,P.(1989,2001,2003,2004). Common Responses to Trauma & Coping strategies.
Kolb,L.C. (1984) The Post- traumatic disorders of combat; A subgroup of with Conditioned emotional response. Military Medicine,149,237-243.
Weiten,W.(2008,2005).Psychology Themes & Variations. 7Th Edition. Wadsworth Centage learning,350-361
Violanti,J. (1997). Residuals of Police Occupational Trauma. The Australasian Journal of Disaster and trauma Studies. Volume: 1997-3
Hanewicz, W.B.(1978) Crime & Delinquency,Vol 24(2).Us: Sage publications.