It is common for public safety personnel (PSP) to be exposed to stressful and possibly psychologically traumatic events in their daily work life. Training programs for PSP focus on exposing recruits to simulated high-stress scenarios so they can learn to manage and control their physical, mental, and emotional reactions to stress. Training often encourages recruits to suppress or minimize their emotional responses. The emphasis on being stoic and following protocol without emotion is helpful on the job, but may affect their ability to maintain good mental health if stoicism continues into a PSP’s personal life.
Outline of alternative training strategies
The authors of the study propose a model of functional disconnection and reconnection (FD/FR) that can be incorporated into early training programs for recruits to potentially reduce the effects of traumatic stress. PSP would be taught five strategies that allow them to disconnect from their personal persona when on the job and reconnect when off shift.
The five strategies are:
- Awareness. PSP are taught how to self-monitor and enhance awareness of their physical, mental, and emotional state as they prepare to disconnect or reconnect.
- Naming. PSP are given language to identify what they are thinking and feeling so they can identify if they are being affected by distorted thought patterns.
- Tracking. PSP are taught techniques to monitor different states of physical, mental, and emotional arousal. The training also teaches them how to decrease arousal.
- Ritual. PSP are taught to engage in purposeful activities to get ready for, or decompress from, a work shift. The chosen ritual becomes a cue to shift mind and body from the state of disconnection or reconnection.
- Assess. This strategy teaches PSP to understand that their responses and reactions will change over time. PSP may need to engage more with disconnection or reconnection, depending on their current circumstances.
The idea of this model of training is to move away from a focus on controlling emotional reactions, as is seen in the traditional stoic approach. FD/FR training recognizes that stoicism is necessary on the job but not in a PSP’s personal life. The training aims to give PSP members strategies to transition between their work and their personal life.
The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for the current research summary.
McElheran. M. & Stelnicki, A. (2021). Functional disconnection and reconnection: An alternative strategy to stoicism in public safety personal. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 12:1. https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2020.1869399
Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Reviewed & edited by Barootes, B, McElheran, M. & Stelnicki, A.