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Helping First Responders Withstand Traumatic Experiences

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 78 Issue: 9 Dated: September 2009 Pages: 1-4
Jan Heglund
Date Published
September 2009
4 pages
This article describes the features of the West Coast Post-Trauma Retreat (WCPR), a nonprofit residential program for emergency responders who are suffering from severe critical-incident stress related to their work experiences.
The WCPR, which launched its services in 2001, provides retreats every month. The program involves skilled and experienced clinical and peer staff specifically trained in trauma recovery. Staff include licensed clinicians, chaplains, and peer support members from law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical services. The program's goal is to help working professionals and retirees regain control over their lives with a new perspective on stress and how to cope with it. WCPR also provides assistance for spouses and significant others. All retreats are held in a peaceful, private location. Clients arrive on Sunday afternoon. Each client is matched with a clinician, who works individually with the client at various times over the course of the program. The week is precisely scheduled, with each day's activities beginning at 8 a.m. and ending at 10 p.m. In addition to the clinical work, an in-house educational component is provided. An Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, selected videos, and chapel services are offered. A psychiatrist discusses medication and the nature and treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As the week progresses, the process of walking clients through their traumatic experiences and family histories may cause their anxiety and discomfort levels to rise. Staff continually remind clients to "trust the process" that leads to healing. The assurance of confidentiality is regularly offered. On the last day, clients spend time together while the team conducts a debriefing on what has occurred during the week. Each client is assigned a peer and a clinician for drafting and monitoring 90-day plans.