S4 E8: Mental Health is Health: The Need for Services

Episode 8: Mental Health is Health: The Need for Services

Melissa Petersen, a practicing Marriage and Family Therapist, joins us to discuss her experience as a Wildland Firefighter, along with her passion for supporting the mental health of first responders. She shares how she has seen the first responder culture change with regards to mental health over the course of her career, along with how she hopes to see mental health evolve in the future. In addition, we discuss one of her favorite treatment modalities. 

Melissa Petersen

Melissa Petersen is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in private practice in Reno, Nevada, who works with individuals, families, couples, children, teens, and groups. Melissa specializes in working with first responders and families of first responders. Melissa is a former BLM wildland firefighter and is married to a wildland firefighter.

Melissa is nationally-certified in the use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy to treat PTSD, critical incidents, and complex trauma. Melissa is contracted with the U.S. Forest Service to provide mental health services for agency trainings and critical incidents. She is also the staff clinician for the Northern Nevada Youth Firesetter Intervention Program.

Key terms: EMDR, first responders, critical incidents, stress, burnout, mental health, stigma

This episode features the song “My Tribe” by Ketsa, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

Episode Transcript

CASAT Podcast Network.

Hello and welcome to season four of CASAT Conversations.

I am your host Heather Haslem.

This season we will explore the impact of trauma on those who work in human services.

You’ll hear from researchers, authors and people with lived experience.

We hope you enjoyed today’s conversation.

Today we are joined by Melissa Petersen.

Melissa is a marriage and family therapist.

She specializes in treating trauma in individuals and first responders through EMDR therapy, attachment focused therapy, and a family systems approach.

Welcome Melissa, We are happy to have you here today.

Thank you.

Good morning heather morning, Have you be here?

So as we get started, please share with us about yourself and the work that you do.

Thank you.

Yeah, as you said, I’m a marriage and family therapist licensed in Nevada.

I work in private practice here in reno.

Um I’ve been in private practice at my current location since the beginning of 2019.

Um I got into being a therapist as a second career and so I um you know, I had a whole, I had a whole career before I came to therapy.

Um the focus today is, you know, my experience as a wildland firefighter and so I’ll kind of touch on that.

I work seasonally during my college undergraduate years um on wild land firefighting engines.

I worked in dispatch.

Um this was through a federal agency here in Nevada and so I really loved it.

It was really, really challenging.

Um I grew up in a rural area and a lot of us um myself included grew up on ranches and so um ranch kids are ideally suited to go into wildland firefighting because it’s a really, it’s a really challenging job and we were already used to working really hard for a long hours.

So um I had friends and family members who went into a fire after high school and as a summer job it pays great, it’s a great opportunity to travel and make awesome connections with other people.

You spend a lot of time together over a season and so you really get to know your crewmates and And then I would go back to school in the, over the school semesters and then come home and fight fire for the summer.

So it was, it was really great and you know, that’s how I met my husband and um he’s still in fire and so fire has just been um a main part of my life, I have a front row seat to all the conversations of what’s going on in the fire world all the time for the last 20 years.

So I feel really strongly about helping that profession in my new profession, right?

So I just saw a lot of areas of need, where it could be improved mental health, self care, you know, de stigmatizing um the need to talk about things that are challenging and difficult in the fire profession and so I’m so delighted that part of my job now is to work with first responders because I feel like I’m giving back to that that community that I love so much.

That’s so cool.

And um I’m curious how you’ve seen the culture change over the course of your career, It has changed and I’m really excited about the changes that I’m seeing.

And you know, this is just my opinion of course, in my perspective, you know, 20 years ago it was different and now in the last five years there’s been a big shift or pushed or it’s, you know, talking about mental health and educating the fire crews about, you know, it’s okay to struggle when you experience something really traumatic or challenging and let’s figure out a way to talk about it ahead of time so that when those things happen, um we’re already set up to to know how to deal with it.

And so, you know, many years ago, the culture was just basically um you know, tough, tough uh male mostly culture and there’s not a lot of room for weakness or softness or taking time off to work on your mental health.

Um you know, it’s all first responder professions have an element of um needing to be tough and focused in the moment so that you can respond to emergencies, right?

And that is a crucial part of the job.

It’s absolutely crucial to be able to stay level headed in the face of emergency situations.

That’s why we, you know, we see emergency room doctors, they’re not they’re not freaking out, they’re not panicking, they’re just slow and steady and focused and problem solving.

And so when you can remain calm and focused, you have access to those parts of your brain that can problem solve and think clearly.

And so being able to be um non emotional is very important for the job.

The the place where it’s a challenge is in the softer side of things, right?

Going back home to your family, um meeting up with a co worker who’s struggling.

Can you can you be, you know, supportive and maybe a little softer to somebody who’s having a hard time.

So, you know, the culture has shifted from suck it up, be tough, rub some dirt in it.

Just keep going to Yeah, there’s a place for that and if something happens, let’s talk it through, right?

Let’s debrief, let’s check on each other.

Let’s see if um if somebody’s struggling, let’s call them and see what they’re doing, see how they’re doing what can we do, Hey, let’s get together.


And so there’s kind of just this this lovely movement that’s happening of let’s help each other out instead of being competitive.

Um you know, one upping toughness.


So it sounds like it’s really becoming more collaborative and supportive in the place.


And and it’s a systemic change that has to happen, right and systemic changes don’t happen quickly.

And so um it’s been a lot of really dedicated work by, um, some people who feel really passionate about it to start enacting some of these changes and it has to start at the management level because if managers are saying, you know, no, you don’t get a day off.

Yeah, that sucked.

But get back to it.

You know, if managers are saying that, then that doesn’t allow for, you know, that kind of reparative work that maybe the crews need.

And you mentioned, you’ve had a front row seat really over the last 20 years.

Um, and that you’ve been seeing changes.

And I’m curious like in an ideal world, what are some of the changes or what is?

Um, yeah, what does that look like in your mind?

Well, I think there’s, you know, as I said, it’s a systemic issue on many levels and at the top level is, you know, congressional, um, needs right.

We need some support in, in the Washington office area, right?

For better pay, better, um, health care, You know, health insurance, things like that for seasonal firefighters.

So up to now they don’t seasonal employees and this is just for wild on fire.

And I’m just speaking to that in this part.

Um, they generally don’t have health insurance because they’re not full time employees.

And so when they leave for the summer, they, if they’re struggling and they need to maybe go find a therapist.

They don’t have insurance to do that unless they have maybe a parent or somebody who has them on their insurance, but it’s um, there’s a need at that level, right, better pay better benefits, um, a better home life balance, right?

Where it’s okay to take some time off, it’s okay to, you know, take a day off when it’s your son’s, you know, eighth birthday and and he wants his dad, they’re right or he wants his mom there.

So, um, at that management level, if managers can start, you know, having that effect trickled down that yes, it’s we need to help each other and protect our people so that they come back so that they come back year after year.

And that’s another hard part about the job is um, there’s a lot of burnout and this is across all first responder professions, there’s just incredible burnout.

And so, um, you know, hopefully over time the move will start shifting towards, you know, that mental health is health, right?

It’s just part of our health and establishing with the therapist as you would establish with a primary care provider is, you know, a great option.

So that when when something happens, you already have someone in place to talk to, right?

And something will happen that is the nature of first responders jobs, something will always happen.

There, there will always be something.

And so hopefully de stigmatizing mental health and, you know, getting more therapist trained to work with first responders is really, really crucial also, so that there’s just more available, there’s not enough therapists right now to meet the need.

So when, you know, we are encouraging all these first responders to go to therapy and then they’ve run into all kinds of roadblocks in trying to find somebody who knows what they do.

So, just that need for better mental health from both sides.

I really love this idea of establishing with a mental health provider, just like you would with a primary care provider that we that mental health is a core component of our health and not seeing it as just like in the event of I’m, you know, experiencing some sort of mental challenge breakdown illness, um but really being proactive about it and um maintaining it over time versus like when something terrible happens.


And this is a challenge in the first responder community, right?

Because um part of their training is to keep it together, right?

And so they keep it together, They keep it together year after year after year event after event.

And then what happens, what I see is something happens that for whatever reason, it tips them over the edge and then they start experiencing some, you know, post traumatic stress symptoms, some just some difficulties, sleeplessness, mood changes, irritability, um difficulty re engaging in their work.

And so then they seek help when it gets so bad that it it feels like they might not be able to do their job and that’s that’s not the place where we want to be trying to find somebody to trust and to open up to, right?

Because because they’re probably already feeling like there’s something wrong with them or that they’re weak because they need help.


So if we just look at it from the other side of, hey, let’s see who my person is.

Let’s figure out who this is gonna be my guy, my girl, right?

And and start getting to know them and let them get to know you.

And then when something happens, this is so much easier.

It’s so much easier.

Then you just go and you sit and you talk about it.

They already know what you’re talking about.

They already know what kind of work you do.

There’s not all the time spent explaining and creating that foundation.

It’s already created and then you can just sort of dive in to what’s happening in that moment.

Mm That’s in my ideal world.

That’s what I wish everyone would do.

You don’t have to be sick to go to therapy, right?

I have all kinds of clients with all kinds of things that are bothering them and it’s not all, you know, a terrible thing that has happened sometimes.

It’s, hey, I’m not feeling, you know, satisfied in my job.

We talk about that, right.

That’s not, that’s not a sickness that’s just figuring out, you know, how you wanna handle your life.

You can go to therapy for that.

Most of a lot of my career has been focused in chronic disease management.

And so um you know, it takes a long time to get diagnosed with a chronic disease.

It’s many years of life happening behaviors, habits, etcetera.

Um to get diagnosed with a chronic condition and it’s it’s similar in some ways.

Um whereas if we can um do some preventative work um throughout right, then that lowers your risk of heart disease etcetera and similar.

I’m guessing exactly that they’re so parallel.

Just what you explained.

Yeah, exactly.

And you know, the struggle here is that um a lot of people don’t see it in themselves that that’s happening, right, that that burnout or cumulative stress has been happening and it’s increasing, right?

It’s like the the um put the frog in the pot of you know, cold water and then turn the heat on right.

You just don’t notice it until it’s too late, right?

And so we don’t want to have that happen.

We wanna, you know, if if um first responders are getting feedback from their loved ones about like, gosh, you seem a little cranky lately, you seem a little impatient um doesn’t seem like you’re enjoying your job lately.

Those are some like clues hey something’s happening here, something’s happening.

And so just having um you know that self awareness to notice that something’s up and then having the courage and and um you know, curiosity to to go seek some somebody to talk to and see what’s going on.


Why do you think that burnout?

I think you said that it’s increasing.

So why do you think that burnout is increasing?


Well, if we look at what we’ve all been through the last couple of years, you know, with the pandemic, that it’s just it has been traumatic on everyone in the world, right at different levels, and um when we look at first responders, they they didn’t get to work from home during that time.

They didn’t have time off.

In fact, they were busier than than ever, you know, our medical community and um and things like that.

So it’s burnout is just ripe right now, It is just happening all around in all professions in the therapy profession as well.

Right, therapists were hit hard over the last couple of years um trying to help everyone and we can’t we can’t take on everyone that calls are, we just don’t have the hours in the day for everyone.

And so, you know, therapists also fell into that first responder category during the pandemic, and I think about what’s been happening in our world, just as far as everything being politicized um and the Blue Lives matters.

Black Lives matters and the stressors on law enforcement during these last couple of years.

I mean, there’s so many factors at play.

Absolutely, and, you know, to circle back and return to my soapbox, what a great time to seek therapy, right?

What a great time.

This is, you know, unprecedented time in all of our lives.

And if it feels like it’s hard to handle, it’s because it is, it’s because it’s hard what’s happening and so why not go find somebody that you jive with and, you know, have some conversations?

And it doesn’t mean you have to go every week, It could be like once a month, once every couple of months, do a check in, have somebody give you a little feedback about it seems like you’re kind of tapped out, or jeez, seems like you’re handling things a lot better than last time we talked, you know, that’s really useful information for people.

So, I mean, of course I’m biased, I think therapy is great, and I think everybody should do it because it it just helps people have a little more awareness of how they’re doing, right, helps them to check in on their own, you know, what their bodies doing, what their brain is doing, how they’re interacting with loved ones, and I just want to highlight what you said about someone you jive with, right?

Because um I think there’s this misconception that you can’t shop around for therapists, you know, and so I’ve worked with some therapists, like if you don’t like them, ghost them.

Like it’s no big deal, we do not take it.

And, you know, as therapists, we know that there’s some clients that we just don’t match with, we know that some someone else has a specialty or you know, a niche that would work just perfectly with this person.

And so it’s fine to change.

It’s fine and you know, especially in the first responder community.

So in general, they often don’t seek therapy.

Okay, So we’ll just start there like I’m generalizing, but often therapy is kind of a last resort.

So if they do come and then they get matched up with somebody who doesn’t know anything about first responder culture or lifestyle or the impacts of the job on their family life or what they actually are doing for their job, then that person, that client is going to spend half the time explaining what a hotshot crew is, what a helicopter repel crew is.

You know, like what all these terms mean so that they can just have a conversation and that takes up too much time and it’s too much effort to do that.

And so we just, we need more therapists who understand the culture and are excited to work with first responders.

They’re such a cool group of people and really fun and energetic and really passionate about the work that they do.

And so, um, and they’re very often very motivated to get better, right?

So that they can return to work or feel better, get back to what what they want to be doing.

And so finding a good match is so important, so important.


That cultural competence I’ve heard from a couple of first responders who had seen therapist who weren’t culturally competent, um that they felt like they were overwhelming or having to console their therapist based on the stories they were sharing and how detrimental that was to their own care.

And so that need for cultural competence is critical just in getting, you know, in supporting them effectively.

Mm hmm.

And you bring out such a great point heather that if the client feels like they have to protect the therapist from these really heavy stories that is not helpful to the client, it’s just not.

And so having some training or learning, you know, doing some research on the therapist side about what does it mean?

What kind of things are they going to say?

Right, if you have a law enforcement client, they’re going to talk about their weapon and they’re going to talk about officer involved shootings and they’re going to talk about bodies and fatalities that they were first on scene to write.

And so therapists really, really it’s so crucial that they are able to sit with that and not become overwhelmed by it.

And so because okay, a first responder might come in, let’s say it’s law enforcement might come in and they might start by saying some little tidbits, right?

See how that lands, see if it’s overwhelming to the therapists, right?

And over time they’re gonna share more and more if it if it feels like the therapist can handle it.

And so they’re testing also because this is part of their job.

So they go and see really traumatic disturbing things often and they don’t want to share that with their family, right?

So they go home, they keep that to themselves because they don’t want to upset their their partner or spouse or roommate kids.

And so they just keep it internal.

And then if at work, no one’s talking about it either, what do you do with those visuals?

What do you do with those stories?


And over the years, those things just build up and build up.

And so being able to say all the details if you need to to a therapist is gonna help.

But these things don’t build up over time well.

And I think it’s incumbent on the therapist, you know, to recognize like, I don’t have a capacity to hear these things.

And so then it’s like, I don’t work with first responders and that’s okay because there are people that have that capacity.

And so it’s like, okay, who and who within my community can I refer to?

Who wants to work and here and who has the I can’t think of a better word other than capacity to sit with what there’s the stories they’re sharing, right?

And you know, part of the beauty of finding a therapist who has some background and the first responder field.

Is that okay?

So for example, I, you know, my first experiences working in fire, I absorbed that mentality, right?

Of just be tough, we gotta go, right, you just show up to what you’re sent to and whether you are nervous or scared or it looks terrible, you still have to just do it.

And so um that creates this ability to just kind of compartmentalize right?

And first responders are excellent, excellent at that, which is great.

So when I went through my graduate school training, you know, learning to sit with people’s disturbing stories as part of the training, right?

We learned how to do that.

And and over time we have our own skills as therapists on how to sit with disturbing stories and what we do to take care of ourselves.

And so for me, because I do have knowledge and visuals and I’ve heard all kinds of stories just before, I was ever a therapist about, you know, what can happen on a fire line, what can happen, you know, in an EMS Position.

I feel like there’s not a lot that can shock me at this point.

And so, you know, finding a therapist who who has some of those abilities is really, really helpful because then I can just sit with them when they say, and then I had to shoot them right?

Or um I came up on on the fire and it was in an airplane with passengers, right?

And and they were burned.

So those are things that, that have happened, right?

And I know about stories like that and I have heard the details and I think just over time it’s less and less shocking as a therapist to hear these stories and I would rather be the place where they can come and say all the terrible things and have it stay right there in that office and then they don’t have to figure out how to live with that and keep it in their head when they go home to their kids or their spouse.

Well, the other piece I hear in that is the ability to track just non judgment, right?

Like if your views about the world and morals and ethics, you know, if that could get sticky at times when you’re hearing different stories.

And so I feel like that’s something as a therapist doing the work you do?

I would imagine that you’re pretty self aware about.


And that’s part of the training of being a therapist, right?

Is noticing where your your biases are and where you’re maybe feeling a little judgmental or you know, things like that.

It’s the therapist responsibility to work on that in their own time.

So that that doesn’t come into the therapy session.

So really you have ongoing work throughout your career, it sounds like that you’re confronted with.

So what do you, what are your practices for caring for yourself and for identifying when you’re experiencing that judgment or bias?


Well I think ongoing frequent consultation with colleagues is absolutely crucial to maintaining competency in um in our profession and so you know, I have weekly bi weekly monthly consultation groups in with all different people and I think it’s so helpful because if we just stick with the same kind of small group, it’s easy to get a little off track right?

Because that group is kind of insulated and so having a wide variety of people that that you consult with um is just absolutely crucial because because I want someone in my consultation group to say like, oh it seems like you kind of you know are feeling sensitive about that or that you’re not really enjoying this work or um you know, I I need that feedback from my colleagues.

It’s so important to me me doing good work in the room with clients and then of course, you know, ongoing trainings in all kinds of topics, you know, cultural competencies and ethics and you know, advancing my skills in different areas and things like that.

So yeah, that need to have someone reflect back to you just as you’re doing with your clients like you might want to be aware of this.

It’s helpful to have those people that you trust.


So um based on the work that you’ve done with first responders, what long impact, long term impact have you seen from both?

Major critical incidents and the daily wear and tear of the job?

So I think both of those things happen to first responders, right?

That’s just gonna both of those things, the daily wear and tear and the major critical incidents are going to happen in their job period, that’s the nature of the job.

And so um you know, the effects of the daily wear and tear er is this kind of, this is the thing that people maybe don’t notice about themselves that over time they might start getting a little more irritable, a little harsher.

Um less patience, less compassion for the things that they used to feel really, you know, warm and compassionate about frustrations with co workers, A sense of you know, nothing’s going to change in this system like that hopelessness of the job frustrations with your supervisors, things like that, I mean that over time those things start happening and it’s easy to see from the outside, I can see that, right?

And then when I ask people, what were you like before you were a first responder, right?

Like who were you before you started in this job?

And let’s look at the difference right over how you feel today versus who you were, you know, 20 years ago, what was important to you then, how did you act with your friends then, you know, the job is hard on people, it really is over time and so being able to take care of yourself in all the ways that that work for you as a first responder is so important and that helps prevent some of that long term burnout that can happen.

So then on the other side of that, you know, let’s say we have this wear and tear daily wear and terror of burnout that’s happening.

And then a big critical incident traumatic event happens at work um that I have seen, it can just push people over the edge.

And so what I mean by that is all of a sudden they go to a scene, you know, they get called out and nothing about it is really different than something that they’ve seen before, but for whatever reason this one sends them into a panic attack, it sends them into post traumatic stress symptoms.

So that would be, you know, hypervigilance, um sleep disruptions, eating disruptions, mood, angry outbursts of a need to just stay home and not do anything.

Um this disconnecting from friends and family.

Um those are those are post traumatic stress symptoms and you can have post traumatic stress symptoms without it being post traumatic stress disorder.

And so I want to make sure that people know that um I think first responders have a real fear of PTSD understandably, because that often means that they can’t do the work that they want to do.

Um and so we just, we don’t necessarily know what will push someone over into having some of those post traumatic stress symptoms.

Um Sometimes it’s about, you know, I know our therapist listening will know about the aces.

Um you know, adverse childhood experiences and there’s some research that shows that um people with higher adverse childhood experiences um situations, they are little more predisposed to having some post traumatic stress symptoms when something happens.

And so the same person can experience the same events side by side and it will affect affect each of them very differently.

And that’s just based on, you know, their own childhood experiences, their, you know, their temperament and personality, all those things and also life circumstances, right?

If you have a new parent and you’re responding to something with a small child that whatever is going on in your life seems to really also be a factor.

What techniques or treatment modalities do you find to be most effective with your clients?

So I’m a big advocate for EMDR.

And EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.

Um I recently became certified nationally certified in EMDR.

So I’m I’m gonna fan girl a little here about EMDR.

Because I have watched it work in such amazing ways with first responders.

It is so cool.

Um so I don’t know if you know if people know what it is, but please look it up and get more information.

EMDR.com is a great resource.

Um M dra EMDR I A dot I think it’s dot org.

Um They have all kinds of information for general public about what EMDR is.

But why I like it with first responders is because it takes less time there’s less talking.


And so if we’re dealing with a group of people who don’t necessarily want to talk about their feelings and don’t necessarily wanna talk about every detail of the event then they don’t have to in EMDR.


We can get a little summary.

I can kind of capture the idea of what they’re talking about.

But it still works even if they’re not talking about it because there’s other, so the way that I use EMDR.

Is with handheld buzz ease.

And so it’s just an alternating left right buzz in their hand.

And so the idea um with the EMDR.

Is that it’s creating bilateral stimulation of the brain.

And for whatever reason scientists have have figured out that um this helps our brains re process traumatic events.

And so when a trauma happens um it gets kind of trapped as a little bundle of the memories.

The body sensations, the smells, the sights, the sounds, the emotions that we had at the time of that traumatic experience.

And it doesn’t get processed out like normal memories.

So if you think about what you had for breakfast a year ago today you probably wouldn’t be able to remember which is normal because that’s not important information right?

Your brain decided we don’t need to keep that it got processed out traumatic events don’t get processed out.

And that’s why when there’s a reminder of an event right?

We go to the location where the thing happened were flooded with you know how I felt that day.

What the sites where you can almost like see the things happening, you can maybe smell the smell right?

And so that that is a great signal that that did not get processed out.

And so the MDR targets that memory and those sensations and those um you know sensory issues and emotions and for whatever reason with the bilateral stimulation they think maybe it replicates the rem cycle in sleep and that’s where our memories are processed and sorted and and you know cleaned up and moved around to the appropriate areas and so it works.

You know I’ve worked with um for example law enforcement, a law enforcement officer involved in a traumatic event that it’s kind of like what we were saying fine, fine fine, everything is fine.

And then this thing which is no different from anything else they had done sent them into full panic attack time off work for many, many months and then we did like maybe um three or four months worth of longer MDR sessions.

You know two hours or three hour sessions.

I like to do those longer ones and within like three or four months they were back out in the community.

They were back socializing with friends.

They were you know that hypervigilance of like checking for safety all the time that really turned down the nightmares went away right.

Significant changes to quality of life in a short amount of time.

I just can’t say enough about how well it works and so finding a therapist that you have a good connection with that you trust.

And if they do EMDR.


But um if they don’t ask for a referral to someone who does EMDR.

You can have your regular therapist and go to an EMDR.

Therapist and come back to your regular therapist.


So that is all um totally doable.

But the goal here like for the person I was talking about was to get back to normal life right?

Be able to return to work without having flashbacks and panic attacks and um and they were able to do that So it’s just it changes people’s lives honestly because you know had they not done that?

I mean we could talk about how they were doing and we could talk for a long long time many many months or years and talk and talk and talk but it just doesn’t get to it and and help reprocess it in the way that EMDR.


So of course I’m like I’ve drank the kool Aid.

I love the MDR because I’ve just I’ve watched it work so well so many times.

Well I’ll share that.

I actually worked with a practitioner this summer and did some work um with the EMDR.

And the part that struck me and I’ll be curious your thoughts on this is um you know as we were going through the practice of it.

It was um like I was amazed at how different traumatic events in my life seemed connected and then it was like rewiring those so things that I would have never even thought we’re connected.

We’re somehow like processed or connected in my brain and it was like being able to shift that in a way.


That’s exactly exactly what happens.

And so sometimes we do like a visual of a tree, right?

So the trunk is the main theme or the negative belief or the the thing, right?

So maybe it’s fear or maybe it’s um disturbing visuals that you’ve had over your life.

And then as you go up in the branches and the trees, right?

Those are all the different memories that have that same theme, right?

So if we can target this theme of you know fear or disturb bring visuals or whatever.

It kind of just generalizes out to every branch and leaf that has that theme and then we can settle all of those down right and then you’re not having these big reactions to things that remind you of all of those little um different pieces that maybe you know buy them.

So they weren’t that big of a deal or it was kind of just a little weird.

But um as a group that tree is pretty powerful and so that’s kind of the work of the MDR.

So with for example with another person we we targeted you know the trunk of the tree for example would be um disturbing visuals, right?

So they were the first on scene and often it’s absolutely terrible, right?

And so disturbing visuals.

And then as we go up the branches and the leaves of the tree then then it can hit all of those things that have that in common and then we can calm all of that down.


And so then when they go to the place where they responded to an incident they’re not having those visuals pop back up.

Yeah that makes a lot of sense.

It’s such a fascinating it is so fascinating intervention, I don’t know, approach therapy etcetera.

It is super fascinating.


And it it absolutely works and you know I love that it’s evidence based and you know, it’s been proven in lots of research um the VA.

The Veterans Administration has approved it as a you know approved treatment for their veterans.

And so I feel like it’s good enough for the VA.

It’s good enough for for all of us.

So um yeah I I really can’t encourage people enough and if you need help finding you know if people need help finding an EMDR.

Therapist you can go to Andrea um They have a therapist directory on there and I can put all those in the show notes for people to find.


Okay so aside from EMDR.

Um it’s really important to find a therapist who has training in treating trauma.

And so maybe that’s trauma focused CBT um you know just some some training or experience working with with trauma is very important for first responders to look for in um when they’re trying to find a therapist.

The other thing I wanted to share in.

Um hopefully you can put this in your show notes as well is um Okay so we all know about psychology today Psychology today dot com.

So you can filter the search results there for trauma, PTSD, EMDR.

So that’s a great resource.

Um There’s a there’s a group called the Firefighter behavioral health alliance and they do a lot of work on they put on trainings for therapists actually on you know a day in the life of a first responder and it’s really really helpful.

It’s pretty cool training.

So that’s a resource person therapists and then through that they have a a working relationship with the National Volunteer Fire Council.

And if you go to their website the National Volunteer Fire Council, there’s a directory of medical professionals is what it’s called.

Um that’s a directory of the entire United States of therapists who have cultural competency in working with first responders.

And so it’s mainly it’s like their focus is fire.

And so it’s mainly fire um experience.

But I would say, gosh, if somebody has experience working with fire, it’s not too big of a jump to the other first responder professions.

I don’t mean to generalize.

But um and so that’s another resource that’s really great for people.

Um And so the National Volunteer Fire Council Directory, and you can search by state and city in all of that, so we can get all those from you and include them in the show notes for people to find.


So as we wrap up, is there anything else that you want our listeners to know or understand?

There’s so much, I feel like we could talk for a long time on this topic.

I think, you know, there’s a couple of things that I feel really strongly about which is, you know, we need more therapists who can work with first responders.

And um my hope in our community is to develop some trainings for therapists, right?

And provide some of that cultural competency so that there’s more of us.

I can’t see everyone, my couple of colleagues who work with first responders.

We just there’s just not enough of us were awful.

And and it it hurts me a little to refer people out when I know that the people they’re going to, they don’t they don’t have that experience.

And so um I would love um to develop some trainings for therapists and um have maybe a consultation group or you know, some sort of training group of um therapists who work with first responders.

I think it would be really fun and um really really needed in our community.

And then, you know, just again to talk to, you know, the first responders and really encourage them to get established with a therapist and get to know somebody.

And I just want to make sure that they know that our job as a therapist is to be their number one supporter, right?

Our job is not to judge or to um you know, tell them they’re doing things wrong or any of that right is to be, gosh, let me be your your biggest cheerleader here and let’s figure out what you need to get through this and how this will work best for you, right?

What do you need?

How can I be helpful to you?

So um establishing establishing with the therapist is really, really important.

I think there’s one thing we haven’t talked about also it’s this niche of females and the first responder community, I feel really strongly about that as well because I know that’s a that’s a demographic that um that really struggles because now I want to honor that they wouldn’t say they’re struggling, okay, they’re tough, tough lady is doing um really hard jobs.

And the reason why it’s um a challenging demographic is because they’re in a male dominated profession and at least fire and law enforcement, it’s male dominated and women have to work harder than everyone else to prove that they deserve to be there, right?

So, um maybe that’s being stronger faster, um you know, better with the book part of it knowing the medicines better, knowing the, you know, interventions better as, you know, an EMT or EMS.

Um as a paramedic, things like that, It’s it’s very challenging being a female.

Um maybe law enforcement might be the most challenging, right?

And so, um I just wanna give a shout out to a female’s in first responder professions because I get what it takes to be where you are.

And um admitting weakness is even harder for them, right?

Because they’re working so hard to show that they can handle this.

And um there’s no complaining.

There’s no, you know, asking for special treatment, There’s none of that.

And so, um gosh, pairing up with a therapist, a female first responder, Finding a good therapist I think would be absolutely amazing because then they would have a level of support that they’re probably not getting at work.

Yeah, I almost it’s funny I almost asked you about that when you shared earlier, you know, 20 years ago being a female in wild land fire.

I would imagine there weren’t many of you, there weren’t, there weren’t.

And in fact, I was, you know, at the fire station, I was stationed at, I was probably one season, there was another um, girl there, but the rest of the time, I was the only girl at the station, the only girl on the, on the engine, often the only girl on a fire.


And so, um, there’s there’s eyes on you different right to see if you measure up to see if you can handle it to see if you’re gonna, you know, cry or um what’s out or, you know, those, those types of things.

And so it’s just the sexual layer that women have to work through to prove that they deserve to be there.

I Mean, for example, let’s talk about the pack test, which is the physical fitness test that while than firefighters have to do.

Um, it’s a standard fitness test.

And so everyone carries a £45 pack over three miles in less than 45 minutes.

So every year I had to prepare so hard to be able to pass that because at the time, £45 was like a third to almost half my body weight.

And I’m like, you know, 55 and walking next to me are, you know, six ft 22, 20 dudes who are just like, strolling along.

I’m like, I’m like one step below a run, right?

You can’t run.

You have to walk.

But I’m like, just home.

But right.

And so in that way, right, I’m not going to ask for special treatment.

I’m not going to ask for something to change so that it’s easier for me.

But what I did get was immense satisfaction.

And I know I worked harder than everyone else and I did the same thing that they did, right?

It was harder for me physically, literally because the weight was more um, compared to what I have on my body, right, Does that make sense?

It makes perfect sense.

Yeah, I’m just imagining your little like, yeah, yeah.

And They’re just like chatting with each other and strolling along and you know, they’re like, Oh, I had, you know, seven minutes to spare and I’m like hauling in in 30 seconds to spare.

Yeah, I made it.


But I mean, so those are the types of things, right?

It’s just and I don’t know if there’s a fix for that and there’s a reason why um, the weight is what it is because it represents the size of the packs that you’re required to carry and all of that.

And so it just, it ends up being that women just have to work harder to be in the same positions and what made you want to become a therapist and do this second career.

Well, my first career was in public relations.

That’s what my undergraduate degree is in.

And so I had my own business and I did, you know, graphic design and um, public relations for different companies and um, I just found it to not be meaningful in the way that I wanted for my life.

And so, um, when our Children got to full time, you know school, I went back to graduate school and I first, I um got trained in mediation and here in town, there’s a mediation center and I did all that training and I worked in the small claims court doing mediations between people and I just loved it so much.

And I felt like, oh my gosh, these are my people, you know that they’re, they’re trying to find peace between each other.

And I just was like, oh my gosh, this is amazing, this is all I ever wanted, you know, can’t we all just get along and so through that process I learned about marriage and family therapy and then I just was like, oh my goodness, what is this?

I’ve never even heard of it.

And um, so that, that led me down that path and it has been such, I mean it is just like so meaningful and it gives me purpose and I feel like I’m literally helping people change their lives, right?

Like the stories that I get to hear and the things I get to see in people’s lives of the amazing changes that they have within themselves and their relationships.

I mean it’s just it’s so rewarding to just walk with people on their journey.

I love it so much.

So you know, to be able to Have that job satisfaction, but then also looping back in my, you know, my love for first responder communities and being able to help them in ways that maybe I didn’t get when I was there.

You know, the support or encouragement that that wasn’t there 20 years ago.

It’s just so rewarding.

Yeah, well thank you for sharing your heart for this work as well as you know, the advocacy work really that you do.

Yeah, it’s so I find it very meaningful and rewarding.

Well, it’s been so nice to have you with us today and I just appreciate your time making space in your calendar for us.

So thank you so much.

Of course it’s been an honor.

Thank you.

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Disclaimer: This podcast is for educational purposes only. Any advice offered on the podcast is an educational context and is not intended as direct medical advice, nor as a replacement for it. If you are experiencing a medical or life emergency, please call 911. If you are experiencing a crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273 – 8255.  If you are experiencing stress, and would like professional help please contact your insurance company to identify a therapist in your area or contact the organization you work for and ask about an employee assistance program.

Joycedr. michael christie