Holistic Healing for First Responders

By The Fix staff 06/03/21
Treatment for occupational-related trauma should incorporate the mind, body, and emotions.
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Paramedics with a patient on a stretcher being loaded into an ambulance

No matter what your job is, it likely has a big impact on your life. Most of us spend at least 40 hours a week working, and our jobs become intertwined with our identities. But what happens when the same job that you love and are passionate about also brings you harm?

This is commonly the case with first responders. Police officers, military personnel and EMTs commonly come face-to-face with situations that most of us would run from. Over time, encountering these situations can take a mental toll. It’s hard to put an exact number on trauma, since experts disagree about the definition of trauma. However, it’s widely acknowledged that police and military professionals experience trauma at higher rates than the general population.

What is occupational trauma?

Occupational trauma is trauma that occurs within the setting of someone’s work. As with all trauma, there’s no one-size-fits-all definition, or simple explanation of what can trigger trauma. A situation that might be traumatic for one individual might not develop trauma in their colleagues. In other situations, a seemingly minor circumstance might ignite trauma.

Certain occupations are exposed to more events that can create trauma. Police, military and EMTs regularly encounter death, abuse and individuals that have been traumatized themselves. It’s not surprising that many people in these occupations begin suffering a mental toll. Often, this manifests as PTSD.

At the same time, these occupations come with a unique culture, which sometimes makes it difficult to talk about mental health or seek treatment for trauma. A robust occupational trauma program is able to address an individual’s trauma and understand the context that it has occurred within.

What happens during treatment for occupational trauma?

The treatment for occupational trauma isn’t wholly different from treatment for other forms of PTSD. At Sunshine Coast Health Centre in British Columbia, treatment for occupational trauma is focused on helping people cope with symptoms, while creating a personally meaningful life. The program is designed to align with an individual’s values and beliefs.

The PTSD program at Sunshine Coast includes scientifically-backed treatments like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), one-on-one talk therapy and Somatic Therapy. However, it also incorporates treatments that are particularly important for first responders, including exploring compassion fatigue and resilience techniques.

Occupational trauma programs also focus on healthy coping mechanisms. Too often, people with PTSD turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with their trauma, and become addicted. At Sunshine Coast, the occupational trauma program removes any shame around addiction, and helps address the root cause of substance abuse so that people can go on to live healthy and sober lives.

What is somatic therapy?

Recently, Sunshine Coast Health Center expanded its PTSD program to include somatic therapy. This approach encourages people to release tension held in their body, as part of processing the trauma in their minds. 

The approach is led by Davis Briscoe, a somatic counselor with a background in massage therapy. Briscoe facilitates Sunshine Coast’s OSI (occupational stress injury) and Trauma Group in order to bring somatic therapy to people who have job-related trauma.

“We’re excited for him to blend his experience in somatic counseling into the group therapy for clients and alumni with PTSD, occupational trauma, and other trauma experiences,” said Casey Jordan, chief marketing officer at Sunshine Coast. “We are constantly improving our trauma and PTSD treatment programs.”

Police, military, and healthcare workers regularly step into situations that most other people avoid. When that takes a toll, they deserve to have treatment that fits their beliefs and alights with how they find meaning in their life. An occupational trauma program can help achieve that.

Sunshine Coast Health Centre is a non 12-step drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in British Columbia. Learn more here.

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