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Prevention of Traumatic Stress in Law Enforcement Personnel: A Cursory Look at the Roles of Peer Support and Critical Incident Stress Management

NCJ Number
Forensic Examiner Volume: 16 Issue: 3 Dated: Fall 2007 Pages: 16-20
Richard L. Levenson Jr., Psy.D.
Date Published
5 pages
This article proposes the use of trained peer-support officers and critical incident stress management (CISM) as means of preventing traumatic stress in law enforcement personnel.
Since law enforcement officers are typically resistant to interventions by persons outside of the profession, it makes sense to train mental-health paraprofessionals from within the department as one effective means of treating stress-affected officers. These officers are called peer-support officers (PSOs). PSOs are on call to provide mental health critical care to officers who reach out to them. They are trained in crisis-intervention assessment and techniques and remain under the supervision of a licensed clinician. Having PSOs conduct preliminary assessment and provide peer counseling to fellow officers has the benefit of ensuring that officers under stress will be talking to someone who understands the traumatic experiences of policing; and for officers who require intervention with a mental health professional, PSOs can provide reassurance to a fellow officer that the professional is trained and capable of working with police officers. CISM is another means of reducing police officer stress. Everly and Mitchell (1999) describe CISM as a “comprehensive, integrated, multicomponent continuum approach to crisis intervention.” It is designed to mitigate the severe psychological distress occasioned by involvement in some traumatic event or situation. CISM is part of a multifaceted program of crisis intervention techniques that include, but are not limited to, one-on-one and group debriefings. The CISM is considered to be emotional first-aid. It is not psychotherapy. Critical incident stress debriefing is a seven-phase process that consists of introduction, fact, thoughts, reactions, symptoms, teaching, and reentry. These phases are led by a PSO, with the exception of the teaching phase, which is conducted by a mental-health professional who is a regular member of the CISM team. 18 references