Surviving the Job: Understanding and Supporting First Responders

Police and other first responders need to be prepared for any scenario; they see and come into situations that many of us cannot imagine. First responders see people at their worst, most vulnerable and need to take special care of themselves to manage the emotional rollercoaster that comes with the job. I have worked with several police and first responder in my career and have recently found the work of Dr. Kevin Gilmartin, a clinical psychologist and former law enforcement officer. While his book, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, is geared towards police, I think there is plenty of worthwhile information for all first responders and those who love and live with first responders.

Dr. Gilmartin walks readers through the career of an officer from “idealistic rook to cynical veteran.” He discusses the changes that can take place in an officer as their world view is shifted from continuously seeing and managing the worst sides of humanity. Dr. Gilmartin emphasizes how important survival training is to an officer, but speculates that many training programs don’t talk about emotional survival and are therefore not providing officers with the skills needed to transition from work to home life.

Dr. Gilmartin explains how in order to stay safe officers go into a state of high alertness or hypervigilance. This state can feel like a rush, with officers often feeling alive and energetic while they are on duty. This state can’t be maintained and once off duty, many officers find themselves falling into a state of feeling detached, depleted, and apathetic. Once readers understand what is happening in the body, Dr. Gilmartin presents several strategies for combatting this hypervigilance rollercoaster.

While each officer is different, this book won’t speak to the experiences of all first responders. Pick and choose what fits for you or your loved ones. It provides a good starting point for understanding some of the physiological changes that happen to a first responder and provides hope that officers don’t need to get swallowed up by the job.

Danielle

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