For the second year in a row, our campus hosted the TEAM Conference for first responders and mental health professionals.
The conference – put on through a collaboration among WSU Spokane, the Spokane Police and Fire departments, and Frontier Behavior Health – explored Trauma-Informed Care, and focused on response, resiliency and recovery.
The goal was for those from all of the professions present to understand how to deal with trauma, and some of the reasons why our bodies react to certain traumatic situations.
There were a number of topics discussed, ranging from stress management, compassion fatigue, burnout, crisis intervention team training and more.
We’re going to focus on two topics: Adverse Childhood Experiences and Research on Resiliency.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
Souers wanted to convey to the attendees that many of the people they will work with and respond to are in traumatic situations because of past ACEs. Souers noted that just two or more ACEs leads to struggles with academics, relationships, health and more.
She also made it clear to the first responders and mental health professionals that oftentimes they’ll encounter an individual suffering from complex trauma, which makes it difficult to share needed information. Research shows this is a brain issue, not a purposeful act to deceive, Souers said.
“A lot of what’s happening in front of you is a ‘can’t’ issue, not a ‘won’t’ issue,” she said.
Soures talked about expressions she uses in her profession, like “upstairs brain” and “downstairs brain.” She said using the same terminology across the professions represented at the conference goes a long way toward creating cohesion in the community. That cohesion leads to a safe community, Souers said.
Research on Resiliency
Steve James, a researcher in WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine who received his Doctor of Philosophy in criminal justice in August 2015, talked to a packed classroom about the research on resiliency.
First responders and those in other professions are often counted on to be resilient, to push through obstacles such as stress, sleep deprivation, trauma and more.
James pointed to the three common responses first responders have in traumatic and stressful situations: fight, flight or freeze.
“You don’t have the luxury of flight or freeze,” he told he audience. “You have to fight.”
And defaulting to the fight option can lead to stresses that have a health impact down the road.
James said health and wellness, training and operational performance must all be considered when working with first responders.
For instance, James manages the simulation lab on the WSU Spokane’s Sleep and Performance Research Center, which has conducted research on the effects of sleep patterns of law enforcement officers.
James said sleep loss impacts one’s ability to think positively and leaves first responders with a disproportionate amount of negative memories due to their jobs. That makes adequate sleep even more important. Crime and disasters are a 24/7 problem, but humans aren’t designed that way, James said.
The TEAM Conference once again allowed first responders, researchers and mental health professionals to learn together about their respective jobs. The research-based information shared at the conference could be used one day to change department policies.