Law enforcement family stress: When counseling counts
Thursday, October 09, 2014
Police culture still struggles with acknowledging the serious effects that long-term exposure to traumatic events has on an officer's mental and physical health. These events can be harmful even for officers who have displayed resilience during their careers.
Without agencies removing the stigma of officers coming forward who need professional mental healthcare, officers are left to deal with the effects of stress and depression on their own. This can easily transfer to the officers' families as well.
Many officers never develop constructive stress management coping strategies during their career that could help them find balance and perspective. This lack of coping skills can lead to career burnout, divorce and depression.
There are even fewer stress management or mental health programs available for law enforcement families who also deal with the stressors of their spouse's profession brought into their homes from the job.
Some notable stressors that law enforcement spouses have reported:
- Rotating shifts and keeping the house dark and quiet while the rest of the family is on opposite schedules
- Officer is becoming too cynical and makes meaningful conversation impossible
- Feeling of loneliness from the long hours at work and part-time work
- Law enforcement children being teased or bullied because they have a law enforcement parent
- Officer never relaxing and unwinding between shifts
- Excessive drinking when off-duty
- Making all the family decisions alone
- The children's fear for the safety of their law enforcement parent
- Experiencing a law enforcement death (knowing the officer, their spouse and children)
- Officer's inability or willingness to express feelings to his/her spouse
- Firearms in the house around children and their friends
- Spending too much off time with other officers rather than spouse and children
- Too much shop talk, or in some cases too little and shutting the spouse out
Seeking help for stress management and developing coping skills is not a weakness for officers or their families. It can bring the officer and his/her spouse closer and can make the family "police strong."
In the case of Jaffee v. Redmond, the Supreme Court ruling created psychotherapist-patient privilege in which a patient's rights and privileges were considered confidential and that the therapist could not be compelled to offer testimony about a police officer's specific diagnoses or treatment.
There are limitations to confidentiality, and anyone seeking counseling should get the limitations and privilege in writing from the licensed therapist before beginning sessions and care. Licensed mental health professionals can help the individual officer and law enforcement family develop coping skills and strategies for dealing with a profession that exposes officers to trauma and danger as a normal part of their duties.
Learning to live healthy includes your mental health. Taking care of your loved ones is a healthy choice that can benefit the entire law enforcement family and bring them closer as a family unit.
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