Mental health professionals, peer counselors, chaplains, EAP personnel, and other support providers play a unique and challenging role in the public safety and military sectors.

The men and women of public safety and the military put their lives on the line for the benefit of their communities and their country. This work exposes them to trauma and pain. In order to remain able to serve and help others, public safety and military personnel often seek the guidance and healing available through counseling and spiritual support. When this occurs, support providers must be there to "rescue the rescuer."

Providing support to public safety personnel and their families can be difficult during normal, everyday situations. However, this can be compounded when a disaster or other large-scale traumatic incident occurs. Similar to how responders and their families can become overwhelmed during times of disaster, so too can the stress levels and coping mechanisms of the support providers themselves.

When a disaster occurs, support providers face trauma because they relate to the incident, the rescuers, and all of the victims involved. Often, they are at the scene of the event itself. But even if they are not present at the scene, listening to the vivid stories and experiences by the rescuers gives support providers with their own level of secondary trauma, which also needs relief.

As part of the public safety community, support providers must shore up their own resilience in order to continue providing critical support services to those on the front lines. From our work with support providers, the following tips for coping are valuable lessons learned from 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina:

Some Helpful Tips For Support Providers
  1. Stay involved in a network of chaplains, counselors or other providers from surrounding jurisdictions or departments with whom YOU can talk through your feelings and gain support following a critical incident. Don't underestimate the power of secondary trauma, because it can lead to burnout.
  2. 2. Practice what you preach! If you recommend certain stress reduction techniques to those you provide counsel, then follow it yourself! Not only will it improve your stress management, but it is good modeling for those around you to see you exercising, eating well and creating opportunities to laugh, have fun, and relax.
  3. Recognize those times when you need to take a break. Getting rest for yourself and your own family away from the "call to duty" can be refreshing and also help avoid burnout. Sometimes these breaks may need to be lengthy and include finding professional support for your self in order to deal with mounting levels of trauma and stress. Know the warning signs for stress, anxiety, and depression, and don't hesitate to seek help as needed.
  4. Keep an eye on coworkers as well. Just like responders, it can be difficult for support providers to recognize when they need help themselves. If you feel a fellow provider could use some assistance, don't be afraid to tell him or her about your concerns.