First Responders Program Trains Clinicians to Treat Police and Public Safety Officers

The United States faces a critical challenge in combating the injustice and racism at the core of a police violence epidemic. Recognizing the complexity of this national problem, the Wright Institute Clinical Psychology Program has launched a focus area specifically to teach clinicians how to work with the unique trauma experienced every day by members of police forces, fire departments and other groups that respond to emergencies.

“There is a lot of concern about police brutality, but nobody thinks it would be a good idea to get rid of all police. They serve an integral role in our society,” said Dr. Gilbert Newman, Dean of the Wright Institute. “We want to provide them with other resources to help them cope with what they are going through.”

The first responders focus area includes five courses, which are open not only to Wright Institute students but also to other members of the Bay Area community who work with first responders. “This is the first time we have offered courses to both our graduate students and to non-matriculated community members,” Newman said. “We’re hoping that MFTs, LCSWs, working psychologists and police or fire department officials who want to know more about this sign up.”

Dr. Mark Kamena, co-author of Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know and a lead clinician for the West Coast Posttrauma Retreat, has partnered with Wright Institute faculty to shape the curriculum. The program covers trauma interventions for first responders, as well as a course teaching psychologists how to assess first responders fitness for employment and to assess trauma and other mental health issues that might affect first responders’ judgment in the field.

The classes, offered as electives, are already popular among students.

“I wanted to better understand these populations,” said second-year Psy.D. student Bette Maisel. “For instance, I wanted to know how they deal with the amount of stress and trauma they encounter in the workplace and what their cultural norms are. It's important for clinicians to learn many perspectives on trauma and resilience factors.”

Daniel Sager, also a second-year Psy.D. student, views these courses as directly related to his professional goals. “This specialty offers several diverse career paths, affording mental health professionals many different job options—which is ideal for someone like me who enjoys variety in their work life,” he said.

While Newman views the current courses as novel and important, he added that one piece of the curriculum still in development is the aspect addressing bigger-picture social issues.

“We are in a very serious dialogue with each other about how to infuse cultural competence and sensitivity into this,” Newman said.

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