As the law enforcement culture continues to de-stigmatize mental health and officers are more willing to seek assistance, there is also growing education within the mental health field around the treatment of law enforcement officers.
As a licensed professional counselor and the spouse of a law enforcement officer, I believe it is imperative to discuss the process in searching and agreeing on the counselor an officer will choose.
As a clinician with the Arkansas Law Enforcement Assistance Program, I have seen the need to assist officers following a Post Critical Incident Seminar in choosing a qualified professional counselor.
This article will offer some guidance on how to start the search for a counselor and choosing the one that best suits that officer’s needs.
A licensed professional counselor’s education is imperative to laying a foundation, much like an officer’s training at the academy. After time on the job and experiences, officers will often find themselves drawn to a specialized unit: K-9, SWAT, CID, etc. Therapists are no different in that way.
Therapists are drawn to specific populations to serve such as sexual abuse, domestic violence, grief, or working with first responders. For example, you are not going to call the bomb squad to work a traffic accident in the same way you would not call upon just any therapist to work with law enforcement.
Just because a therapist has letters and credentials behind his/her name, does not necessarily qualify him/her to sit with a law enforcement officer and work through PTSD, Critical Incident Stress, Acute Stress Disorder, etc.
Often, Employee Assistance Programs are limited in the number of visits covered or the officer may not have felt comfortable. Sometimes an officer may feel like he/she did not make progress following the conclusion of the allotted sessions.
An officer may want and need to continue with treatment. The search to find the right therapist can be overwhelming once officer has made the decision to seek or continue treatment. Where do you look? How do you know this person is qualified? Will it be confidential? What should you expect?
A few tips on searching for a therapist and where to begin:
If an officer does not have the ability or desire to seek the recommendation from the department or of a fellow officer, PsychologyToday.com is a comprehensive directory of therapists, psychiatrists and treatment facilities. It is a reliable resource and great place to start in the search for a licensed professional counselor.
This site helps to narrow down therapists in a specific city/town and identifies their specialty area of practice. Also, an officer that lives in a smaller community may feel more comfortable seeking a therapist in a neighboring town/city and this resource can assist with this as well.
Ask if they accept your insurance or health saving account payment and always ask about a sliding scale fee if you do not want to use your insurance. Many therapists who work with first responders understand the financial constraints of this profession and are willing to adjust their fee. Ask if they offer a free consultation, if not inquire about the initial session fee.
Ask what the cancellation policy is. Therapists who work within the law enforcement culture understand the demands of the job and the unpredictability of the schedule. You should not be financially penalized if you are called out on a scene or a call lasts longer than anticipated.
Google map the office location. Is there a discreet process in your arrival at the office and what is the parking situation should you be in a marked unit? Are there multiple exits? Will you be asked to sit in a waiting area with other people? The last thing you would want is to be waiting in a lobby with someone you have encountered while on the job.
Ask questions about their license and credentials. Ask in what capacity they have worked with law enforcement officers and how long have they been providing their service to law enforcement and in what capacity.
Just because a therapist worked with an officer in marriage counseling does not necessarily qualify them to work with those who are suffering from Critical Incident Stress. Marriage issues are only one of many symptoms of CIS. Ask about their understanding of police culture. It is not helpful, and it is not your job to educate your therapist on police culture.
Many law enforcement officers and veterans have and continue to find success with the therapeutic technique EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing). EMDR is a therapeutic approach that can assist an officer who has experienced a traumatic event or multiple events find a way to cope and adjust with distressing memories. Ask if they are EMDR trained or certified if you are seeking this approach, not every therapist has this in their toolbox.
Lastly, if you are not comfortable within the first session, trust your intuition and keep searching. The relationship between a therapist and his/her client is imperative to the success of counseling. Building trust between the therapist and officer will take time, but this article is a starting point to building that foundation.
Finding the right therapist is a lot like online shopping. It may look great in the picture and the description meets your needs but once it arrives it may be a horrible fit and you realize description was misleading.
You are not going to keep the piece of clothing; you are going to return it. The same goes for your therapist, keep searching and shopping.
Don’t quit therapy, quit the therapist until you find your best fit.
Written by Kasie Dawson
Kasie Dawson has a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from John Brown University and has been working in the mental health field since 2012. Kasie Dawson is experienced with treating depression, anxiety, trauma, behavioral disorders, and other adjustment issues in adolescents and adults. In addition, Kasie is a clinical treatment provider for ARLEAP (Arkansas Law Enforcement Assistance Program) which focuses on mental health and responses to critical incidents for First Responders in the state of Arkansas. Together, Kasie and her husband Greg (VP ARLEAP), who has been a law enforcement officer for over 20 years, also work with law enforcement marriages and relationships navigating post critical incident stress as well as daily challenges LE marriages face. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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