Author: Jessica Terrizzi
Published: Jul 26 2021
Last Edit: Jul 26 2021
(5 min read)
Resilience training has become a popular tool in facilitating well-being within high-risk occupations, especially law enforcement. A quick google search brings up information on several resilience programs targeted towards police officers, including those offered by SAMHSA and the IACP. Individuals within these careers are frequently exposed to intense stressors and trauma, which has a detrimental influence on their mental health and can lead to both burn out and compassion fatigue. Weltman (2014) indicates that resilience is difficult for police officers specifically due to the emotional and physical demands of their jobs. As stated by Becker-Blease (2017), exposure to these stressful experiences not only has a negative impact on the individual, but can have long lasting effects on systems as a whole. For this reason, it’s important that efforts are made to encourage resilience within these types of professions through methods such as resilience training.
Resilience is defined by the American Psychological Association as the process and outcome of effectively adapting to experiences within one’s life that are considered difficult or challenging. A simple way to think of resilience is the ability to “bounce back” after a stressful experience. While it may seem simple, resilience is a complex process that involves mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility, as well as an ability to adapt to demands that are both internal and external. Resilience is beneficial as it can serve as a protective factor, or something that promotes mental health (Lee et al., 2016; Kalisch et al., 2019), in addition to helping individuals cope with stressors when they arise. As stated by Kalisch et al. (2019), resilience can help to reduce the development of psychological disorders, such as anxiety, after experiencing a stressful situation. Therefore, a common goal of psychological intervention, especially within positive psychology, is to encourage resilience and to teach individuals ways to develop this skill.
As mentioned in the police wellness post and the police and the media post, police officers encounter significant trauma and ridicule throughout their careers, which ultimately affects their well-being. Police officers face significant threats to their mental health due to the variety of stressors that they experience while on the job, and ultimately need an understanding of positive ways to cope with this. As a result, programs to enhance resiliency within this population are widely used, and evidence shows that they are an effective resource for police officers. These trainings come in several different forms and target a variety of domains including physical, mental, spiritual, financial and social skills (Elkins, 2021; FBI National Academy Associates [FBINAA], n.d.) Some empirically tested resilience trainings focus on teaching mindfulness skills, such as stress reduction and relaxation exercises (Christopher et al., 2018; Arnetz et al. 2013), while some involve methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (Joyce et al., 2018), and others are based on PTSD prevention (Brassington & Lomas, 2020).
Resilience is defined as by the American Psychological Association as the process and outcome of effectively adapting to experiences within one’s life that are considered difficult or challenging.
Resilience is influential in one’s mental health, as focusing on increasing resilience can have positive outcomes for depression and overall well-being across many populations (Winblad et al., 2016; Lou et al., 2021; Larijani & Garmaroudi, 2018). Forbes and Fikretoglu (2018) reviewed several studies to determine the effectiveness of resilience training programs and found that these interventions are most effective among three populations, one of which being the police. In fact, 72% of studies within this review suggest that resilience training in police departments is beneficial. Resilience training has a multitude of benefits for police officers, including increased job performance, increased ability to adapt, lower aggression levels, and reduction in symptoms of stress (Arnetz, 2009; Weltman, 2014; Christopher et al., 2018; McCraty & Atkinson, 2012). Weltman (2014) also discovered improvements in the personal lives of police officers following their participation in resilience training, and officers in this study reported using resilience skills in their own experiences.
Anderson et al. (2015) indicate that police departments should utilize resilience training programs that are based on empirical evidence, and should be targeted towards police officer needs in specific. As such, the Cummings Foundation is partnering with the Headington institute and incorporating resilience training within their own wellness program. This training is based on a “train the trainer” model, in which officers will be trained to teach their peers about ways to facilitate resilience. The training that is being used by the Cummings Foundation focuses on 7 primary domains: emotion regulation, behavioral regulation, adaptive engagement, physical fitness, sense of purpose, life appreciation, and spirituality. Officers who participate in this training will be provided with lessons and exercises regarding each of these facets, with the ultimate purpose of increasing their resilience.
Building resiliency within police departments is a multifaceted process that takes time; however, it is evident that this process is worth the outcome. Through providing this resource to law enforcement personnel, they hopefully will develop the skills and tools necessary to cope with the significant number of stressors that they face on the job. An important point brought up by Spence (2017), though, is that resilience is not just something that needs to be facilitated within individual officers, it is something that needs to be taken seriously within the department as a whole. Papazoglou and Anderson (2014) suggest that an effective way to do this is through encouraging police departments to emphasize the importance of mental health, and to recognize the value of officers taking care of themselves psychologically.
This post does not provide medical or clinical advice and is no substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is intended for informational purposes only. Visitors who access the post and rely on its content do so at their own risk. This post represents the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. If you are feeling lost or hopeless, or someone you know is feeling lost or hopeless, call the national suicide prevention hotline at (800) 273-8255.
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Jessica Terrizzi, M.A.
Ph.D Student in Counseling Psychology
Jess is a 4th year doctoral student at the University of Akron. She has a strong interest in law enforcement due to her family’s extensive background in policework. Through experiences with family and friends who are in this field, Jess has recognized a need for applying psychology to law enforcement through both research and the development of wellness programs. Jess also has an interest in researching both masculinity and trauma, and plans on working with police officers in the clinical setting.