How Does a First Responder Select the Right Counselor? Guest Post by Amy Morgan
Date:Tuesday December 8, 2020
If you’re a First Responder, the thought of going to see a counselor may seem to you like a really bad idea.
So many things may go through your mind:
1) There’s no way this person can possibly “get” me and everything I would bring into counseling;
2) I just don’t want to re-live all those experiences again by talking about them;
3) The counselor will be shocked, traumatized, or offended by the stories I have in my head;
4) What will people think?.. coworkers, supervisors, family/friends;
5) I really feel like I should just be able to handle this by myself;
6) and a variety of many others.
Finding the RIGHT counselor shouldn’t be one additional concern that you have on your mind, but when finding a counselor for First Responders, it’s a make-or-break decision. If you go to a counselor who you feel doesn’t “get” you, or if the counseling relationship doesn’t seem to work for any reason, instead of trying a different counselor, you’re most likely to just say, “I tried counseling and it didn’t work,” and not go again. What this means is that you’re depriving yourself of the opportunity to make yourself healthy, resilient, and better at your job and at life.
So, how do you find that counselor who does “get” you, and who knows exactly what to expect when working with First Responders? I’ve put together a list of questions and criteria here to help navigate this search.
1. Ask your peer support coordinator which counselors they know and trust; many peer support teams have built relationships with counselors that have proven themselves when working with First Responders.
2. Make an appointment for an interview phone-call with a counselor, and ask some really important questions before ever going.
a. How many responders has the counselor worked with in the past, and for how many years? A counselor may say they’ve worked with responders, but if only 1% of their clients are responders, their claimed experience is technically correct, but maybe not reliably helpful.
b. Does the counselor have training so as to be “culturally competent,” meaning that they have learned the quirks and culture of the First Responder world? (A certification to request they have is the Certified First Responder Counselor (CFRC), which teaches counselors the unique culture, and trauma, of a First Responder.)
3. Call a First-Responder-specific crisis line (i.e. Copline) and ask them for counselor recommendations.
4. Utilize tele-health options which could allow you to see a counselor in your state, or who is licensed to practice in your state, but who may be comfortably outside of your local community — this provides the security of some anonymity within your surrounding area by being able to go to a counselor you won’t run into at the grocery store.
5. Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to find the right counselor, because your peers and coworkers will have already vetted counselors for you, through their own experiences. Ask the people you trust the most, and let them provide those resources that worked for them.
Some words of advice — a) Just because a counselor has/had a family member who is/was a First Responder doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be the best counselor — as a responder, you know how much you hold back and keep protected from your family members; b) A counselor does not have to have been a First Responder in a previous career in order to understand you; the right training and/or experience, combined with good counseling practice, will make the best counselor; c) Just because a counselor specializes in trauma does not mean they’ll “get” you — they must also know First Responder culture, so be sure and look for responder-specific knowledge; and d) Trust your Gut. If you don’t feel like a counselor is right for you, keep looking. The counseling relationship is just that — a relationship — and it needs to fit you, so don’t give up, keep looking, and find the one who will be your career-long resource.
Most importantly — find a counselor. You owe it to yourself to take really, really good care of your mental health and your overall well-being. Having a counselor on your side, who learns more about you over time, can be the strongest asset when you go through a challenging incident and need somewhere to unpack it.
Last but not least — Thank you for everything you do.
Amy Morgan, MSC, CFRC(D), TECC-LEO
Founder/CEO of Academy Hour & Certified First Responder Counselor