Friday, September 2, 2016

Aiding Officers to Overcome Trauma

After Ector County Sheriff Lt. Steven McNeill was shot in the head in a standoff with a domestic terrorist in West Odessa in September 2010, he wanted to get back to work and return to “normal.”

“During the incident, I was focused and clear and knew what I needed to do,” said McNeill, one of two officers shot during a siege at a remote compound. “But later, when the adrenaline wore off and the reality sunk in, you realize ‘I almost died out there.’ I was lucky, but it was more emotional then. The reality set in about just how severe it was, and it was emotional to talk about.”

Not only was McNeill impacted by the incident, but so too were those around him. Even after his recovery, his wife still thought he would die and continued to mentally prepare herself to be a widow and single parent. Other officers involved in the shooting were haunted by images of their two felled colleagues or the barrage of bullets fired during the siege.

“Physically you survive, but you still have the emotional scars to deal with,” McNeill said.

To help officers affected by highly traumatic event in the field, such as colleagues who are injured or killed, officer-involved shootings, suicides, accident scenes, or natural disasters, the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas launched the Post Critical Incident Seminar in 2012. The program is open to first responders and their family members who may be experiencing difficulty coping with the aftermath of a critical incident.

“The overall goal of the PCIS is to turn vulnerability into strength through learning, as well as utilizing and offering peer support,” said James Senegal, Director of Professional Development for LEMIT.

In partnership with South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia , and Ohio, the hallmark of this program is peer-led support by officers from Texas and across the nation who have been through the program. It is not intended to be the initial debriefing held immediately after the incident, but rather is designed for officers who continue to be plagued by traumatic incident months or years after the occurrence.

In addition to small and large group discussions and personal experiences, the program provides education on trauma, patterns of resolution, and field tested coping strategies to promote recovery and resilience. It also offers a comprehensive, integrative psychotherapy approach called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which helps to resolve the trauma caused by the event.

“This is an experiential workshop for officers who have ‘been there,” said Senegal. “Despite the best support immediately after an incident, there can be lasting effects. Going through a critical incident is like crossing a fence, with no opportunity to jump back.”

The next session of PCIS will be held on Sept. 21-23 in Huntsville. For more information on the program, contact Tiaya Ellis at (936) 294-4461 or by email at