Being a first responder is a stressful job. While all jobs have their unique stressors, those who work in the first responder and law enforcement fields (and their families!) have a different set of needs than those working in a typical corporate setting. That’s why an Employee Assistance Program—or EAP for police officers has a different set of requirements.
Law Enforcement/Police Employee Assistance Program
Challenges when it comes to police officers and their EAP utilization
There is often a culture in law enforcement that causes officers to hesitate to use the services provided to them. Police officers and first responders may see themselves as independent or feel that there is a need to always be in emotional control. They may think that asking for help is a sign of weakness. This can cause law enforcement officers to feel reluctant to seek professional help, even when they really need it.
Having an EAP that’s specifically designed for first responders can help solve these issues. If participants feel that their counselors truly understand the nature of their work and that they are in tune with their particular needs, they may feel more comfortable. It can also help if the program is clear about its confidentiality and makes sure that participants have direct access to the services -- no awkward conversation with their supervisor is needed.
What makes a Police Employee Assistance Program Unique?
Certified Therapists Must
- Be familiar with Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM)—For EAP participants who need care due to being involved in a critical incident, therapists must be familiar with CISM consultations and debriefings.
- Have first responder-specific training—Counselors should have experience, training, and certificates in Officer Suicide Prevention, Stress Management for Law Enforcement and Critical Incident Management.
- Be familiar with the job—Counselors for law enforcement must have a good understanding of the particular needs of their clients. This understanding allows a better appreciation of the occupational issues present for first responders and the ability to create actionable plans that will actually work!
What is a Critical Incident?
The definition of a critical incident can vary, but in general, it means an experience that causes emotional and psychological trauma. These types of incidents must be addressed so that first responder can healthily process their feelings. If left unaddressed, they may lead to additional stress, mental health issues, and regular work and home life interruptions.
Examples of first responders and law enforcement critical incidents involve:
- The use of deadly force
- The death or injury of civilians
- A catastrophic disaster
- Death of a child
Certified therapists trained to identify the signs of emotional and psychological trauma are often called Peer Support Officers, and they can help manage stress and mental health strains that may occur after a critical incident.
Learn more: Employee Assistance Program Frequently Asked Questions
Substance Abuse and an Average Police Employee Assistance Program
Police officers have a challenging job to do, and sometimes the stress can be too much. They may resort to coping mechanisms that aren’t very healthy, such as drugs and alcohol. Some studies have shown that one out of every four police officers have an alcohol or drug abuse issue. Substance use issues are estimated to range between 20% and 30% for police officers -- which is relatively high, especially when compared to under 10% in the general population. For many people, group therapy is the most effective treatment for alcoholism or substance abuse, which can be successful for law enforcement and police officers.
Substance Abuse Assistance
Substance abuse among officers is often a coping mechanism for the stress of the job. Studies show a connection exists between careers with a lot of stress and substance abuse. For first responders, job stress includes life or death scenarios -- something most of us don’t have to consider in our day-to-day lives. Long-term high-stress jobs can build up over time, even developing into PTSD. If these mental health issues aren’t addressed, officers may attempt to self-medicate with substances, leading to substance abuse issues.
This means police deserve a solid EAP that brings them the mental health support they need in just the way they need it. So why is utilization so bad among police officers? One issue is that there’s a history of EAP services being used in connection with disciplinary actions -- leading to a negative association for many police officers. Add to that the fact that your traditional EAP already has a low average utilization rate (of only 4.5 percent!), and it isn’t surprising that use is so low among police officers.
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