Posttraumatic Stress for First Responders

Acadia Healthcare is proud to serve police officers, firefighters, and other first responders whose lives have been impacted by trauma. To support this effort, Acadia’s Treatment Placement Specialists® team is committed to identifying the focused solutions that will promote long-term healing from substance use disorders, posttraumatic stress, and other trauma-related health concerns.

Trauma Experienced in the Field

Firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and other first responders often encounter life-threatening situations and other traumatic events in the course of their professional duties. In some cases, exposure to trauma can lead to the development of posttraumatic stress, or PTS. This injury can develop in the aftermath of occurrences that you directly experienced, witnessed, or learned the details of later.

Recognizing the Signs

The first step in dealing with posttraumatic stress is realizing that a problem exists. This is not as simple as it may sound because this injury can impact different people in different ways.

In general, the following are among the more common signs that you or a colleague may be struggling with posttraumatic stress:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks (feeling as though you are reliving the traumatic event)
  • Problems remembering the event, or an unwillingness to discuss it
  • Changing your behavior to avoid people, places, or situations that remind you of the event
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling as though you are always in danger
  • Withdrawing from family and friends

Ending the Silence

Recognizing the existence of posttraumatic stress is an important first step. But that step must be followed by seeking and receiving effective care. For some first responders, this can present a challenge.

On the positive side, as trained observers, first responders are uniquely prepared to identify problems. As professionals who are skilled at taking decisive actions to neutralize threats and promote safety, they are clearly capable of getting help.

However, first responders are also dedicated professionals who focus on the well-being of others. They take great pride in having the strength to do such demanding and essential work, and they embody the value of “service before self.” While noble and valuable, these qualities can be counterproductive when dealing with posttraumatic stress or other effects of trauma.

This cannot be overstated: PTS is not a sign of weakness, nor is it evidence that you or one of your colleagues lacks the fortitude that is necessary to serve as a first responder. Military heroes, decorated first responders, and devoted public servants are among the millions of people who have developed posttraumatic stress.

If you broke your leg, you’d get it fixed so you could get back to your job.

If you were diagnosed with cancer, you’d get the best possible treatment so that you could enjoy many more years with your family, friends, and colleagues.

If you developed an injury from trauma experienced in the field, why would you do anything less than get the help you need to resume the life you deserve?

Our Services

Acadia Healthcare has dedicated liaisons who have been trained to assess cases of first responders who need help. We understand the needs of public safety officers and the importance of confidentiality. Our services for first responders include the following:

  • Access to a national network of programs for trauma, mental health issues, and addiction
  • Vetting of local programs
  • Guidance to patient/program matching
  • Communication to appropriate groups while patient is in treatment (such as EAPs, unions, and referring partners)
  • Planning for continuing care

Getting Help

Once you’ve identified the problem and acknowledged the need for help, the next step is to find the type and level of treatment that is best for you. This is where Acadia Healthcare and our Treatment Placement Specialists® team can work with you to find the ideal program.

Depending upon your specific needs, treatment options may include inpatient care, residential programming, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs, and traditional outpatient services.

Within each level of care, you may participate in the following types of therapy:

  • Individual therapy – These one-on-one meetings place you with a trained professional who can help you process your experiences and manage your symptoms.
  • Group therapy – These sessions allow you to learn from the experiences and insights of others while also sharing your thoughts and receiving feedback from an experienced counselor or therapist. Many programs offer focused groups for first responders, military members, or other professionals who are regularly exposed to trauma.
  • Family therapy – This type of therapy, and related support services, can help you reconnect with loved ones, heal rifts that may have developed as a result of your PTS, and learn to function as a more supportive and cohesive unit.
  • Experiential therapies – These interactive, hands-on experiences emphasize the mind-body connection and provide you with new ways to express and address your emotions.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing – Also known as EMDR, this is a specialized form of treatment that has proved to be particularly effective at helping individuals who have been experiencing the effects of trauma.

No one level of treatment or type of care is perfect for every first responder who has been living with the effects of trauma. When you partner with TPS, we’ll chart out the path that’s right for you.

Our National Placement Services
  • Children's Behavioral Solutions
  • Military & Family Support Services
  • Treatment Placement Specialists

Our National Affiliations & Organizations
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
  • National Association for Behavioral Healthcare
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)
  • The Jason Foundation
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval