The Importance of Responding with Resilience

Kate Pieper is a colleague from California who specializes in working with First Responders and trauma. She is CISM and EMDR certified, Kate also conducts resiliency training with California Highway Patrol as well as seeing law enforcement and first responders in her office. With her experience and knowledge, she is aware of what the law enforcement community experiences. 

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Kate Pieper is a colleague from California who specializes in working with First Responders and trauma. She is CISM and EMDR certified, Kate also conducts resiliency training with California Highway Patrol as well as seeing law enforcement and first responders in her office. With her experience and knowledge, she is aware of what the law enforcement community experiences.

Her experience lends a helping hand to the cadets of the California Highway Patrol, Sergeants, first-line supervisors, and dispatchers. In the academy, Kate instructs a two-day program on resiliency to prepare the cadets for real-life duties within the career. Officers who have been on the job 10-20 years, express their wishes of wanting the same training early on in their careers.

Why her passion for First Responders?

For Kate, it all started during a conference for 300 wildland firefighters. In preparation for the conference, Kate researched the impact of trauma and resiliency on firefighters and was able to connect her findings with what her Dad experienced as a WWII veteran. There was a familiarity with both professions. Her awareness of the need for resiliency training grew because of additional family connections. Kate’s father in law is a retired LAPD detective in the Hollywood division. She has firsthand knowledge of how the law enforcement culture can affect families. During her reading Kevin Gilmartin’s book, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement: A Guide for Officers and their Families, she noted that her husband’s family and their dynamics started to make sense to her. Kate’s daughter became a firefighter, so during the conference, she spoke with passion about the idea of staying resilient for the sake of the families. We all are a better culture across the world because of it.

Resiliency in First Responders

“What happens to us becomes part of us. Real people do not bounce back from hard experiences, they find healthy ways to integrate them into their lives. In time, people find that great calamity met with great spirit can create great strength”- Eric Brighton.

Resiliency is not about just bouncing back. You do not bounce back from the trauma that law enforcement officers have been through. You do not bounce back from the trauma that first responders have experienced.  The trauma must be integrated. The incident will change you, but it can change you for the better and it can give you a strength that families and individuals that don’t go through those situations don’t experience how strong they really can be. Kate believes there needs to be a focus on developing skills for families on how to communicate with each other and how to normalize feelings after incidents and critical events. She said that we need to find ways on how to live in a way that everyone is living to the fullest.

One of the things Kate talked about is the concept of integrating. A lot of times when I work with people, they say they compartmentalize situations to cope with them which is the exact opposite of resiliency. This doesn’t just happen to first responders but happens to anyone that experiences any type of trauma throughout their lives. When we try to compartmentalize, we push people away but when we integrate it, we think about how the experience can change what we are doing. Resiliency is about moving forward in a positive way.

An example of integrating resilience into your family is breaking down what happened in a critical incident. This frees people from the shame that may accompany their experience. Perfectionism in the first responder community is a big part of the culture. So, when an incident does occur, we need to help the first responder reprocess what happened and break them from their shame. The most important thing is making sure you are connected to people in and out of your community. We need to learn the value of the connection and how it dissipates shame. By sharing experiences, it can decrease isolated thoughts about traumatic events and critical incidents. Debriefings are important as well because people can walk out of the debrief and think “oh well I feel that way too” and “I got something from this.” When tragedy happens, we are used to taking people meals as a way to comfort but want to give them their privacy. What we should be doing, is forcing the idea of “instead of moving away, move in.” We need to know how people are doing and stay connected with them along the way.

Warning signs for First Responder resilience

  1. Isolation: Research shows us that one thing that will prevent burnout and compassion fatigue is having a connection to other people. We need to be aware when we see first responders start to isolate, they separate themselves in a realm of them vs us. We can prevent isolation by staying involved in a community where we are around others who aren’t part of the first responder culture.

  2. Cynicism and anger: Often, the first responder will mask their trauma with cynicism and anger. We need to have a way to communicate with them that says, “how was the shift this time?” When our first responder comes home after a critical incident, the family knows nothing about the situation. All they know and see is that mom/dad didn’t want to talk. Without this type of communication, first responders will start to change and become more isolated and more cynical.

Tips for First Responder resilience

Resiliency is your responsibility. Once you can manage your resiliency, you can start to manage resiliency as a couple.

  1. Have daily gratitude!

  2. Develop a habit of meditating for five minutes. You can meditate on your own or find apps on your phone to help you start the practice. Research is incredible in showing that the more you meditate, the less cynical you are and your executive function becomes stronger. Kate meditates by setting a timer for five minutes on her phone and stares at a tree while thinking of the word inspire or peace. She keeps it simple. You have to find what meditative practice works for you.  My husband and I like to sit on the back porch and watch the grass grow or listen to the birds. A lot of officers I work with are familiar with tactical breathing. That can be meditative. An app I recommend is the Calm app because it walks you through step by step on how to have a meditative process.

These two main practices are like brushing and flossing your teeth but brushing and flossing your mind.

All it takes is 10 minutes a day and someone can have resiliency in their lives and start the practice that will help them mentally recover. It combats the fact that law enforcement officers are often swimming through tough “shit” and not trying to get it on them.

How can spouses influence resiliency in First Responders?

As a spouse, you need to individually practice resiliency. If our officer is involved in a traumatic event, we can experience trauma from that and need to learn resiliency as well. Spouses must practice these skills to stay mentally sane and combat the anxieties of their career. Be the leader and suggest these practices are incorporated into your family’s daily routine. Doing these skills together can create a foundation to integrate into your lives. Don’t forget to brush and floss you and your first responders’ mind!

Practice resiliency with daily gratitude and meditation.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

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The Importance of Responding with Resilience

Kate Pieper is a colleague from California who specializes in working with First Responders and trauma. She is CISM and EMDR certified, Kate also conducts resiliency training with California Highway Patrol as well as seeing law enforcement and first responders in her office. With her experience and knowledge, she is aware of what the law enforcement community experiences. 

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