Dr. Stephanie Conn is a former Dispatcher, Call Taker, and Police Officer in Ft. Worth, TX. During her 9 years in policing, she served as a peer support specialist. She took the step to return to school to earn a clinical doctorate and begin to work with Peer Support groups
She is active in policing, working with the F.O.P., IACP, and agencies across the U.S.
We spoke about the importance of first responders availing themselves of clinical counseling, the issue of confidentiality, and building trusting relationships between clinicians and first responders and their agencies.
[00:00:02.190] - Intro
Welcome to The CopDoc Podcast. This podcast explores police leadership issues and innovative ideas. The CopDoc shares thoughts and ideas as he talks with leaders in policing, communities, academia, and other government agency. And now please join Dr. Steve Morreale and industry thought leaders as they share their insights and experience on The CopDoc Podcast.
[00:00:31.840] - Steve Morreale
Hello again everybody. Steve Morreale coming to you here in Boston and we are on a bicoastal conversation. I have Stephanie Conn. Dr. Stephanie Conn. She is in Beaverton, Oregon, today. So, hello there.
[00:00:43.680] - Stephanie Conn
Hi, how are you?
[00:00:44.580] - Steve Morreale
I'm fine, thank you. I found you on LinkedIn. It seems to be the way to do it. And one of the ways I found is that your police officer now, your police psychologist, you've written a book on resiliency, and it really drew my attention, especially Stephanie, with what's going on in our world and the threats that are pushed upon police officers, the things you see, the things you can't unsee. There are certainly a number of stressors. So I wanted to get you on and thank you for coming. I wanted to ask you to tell the audience about how you got involved in this, how you came from policing to psychiatry.
[00:01:16.290] - Stephanie Conn
Yes, well, psychology, yeah. I was the daughter of a police officer. My dad was an officer for almost 40 years. So I grew up in a household seeing the impact that first responder work had on the first responder and their family members. Then I became a dispatcher call taker, did that for three years, then became an officer, did that for nine. And when I was an officer and I was an officer for Fort Worth Police in Texas, one of my coworkers was shot and killed in the line of duty. And I became a peer supporter because I wanted a vast[SC1] to be a peer supporter and another co-worker of mine got killed.
[00:01:48.060] - Steve Morreale
Before we continue in our conversation, we're talking with Dr. Stephanie Conn, she is in Beaverton, Oregon right now and a police psychologist. My mistake about psychiatrist, I'm sorry about that. But you were talking about two horrible things that happened in your life, officers who had been shot and killed. That's where you were. So talk about that in Fort Worth.
[00:02:08.260] - Stephanie Conn
So the second officer who was killed in the line of duty was actually hit by drunk driver and trapped and burned alive in this car. And so I was a peer support team member at the time. And between one officer being killed and then a year later another one being killed, we had had a changing of the guard from a police psychologist to a city psychologist. So we had someone that actually understood policing to someone that understood psychology and counseling certainly, but didn't have any specialized training in working with first responders. And so when I was supporting people as if you're supporter, they were wanting to have someone that actually understood them and the profession and the unique challenges first responders face. And I couldn't find anyone when I looked out there to try to see who to refer them to. And I had people wanting very specific help to their work and not just wanting to talk to anyone. So I made the very difficult but well considered choice of stepping out of policing to get my counseling doctorate so that I could come back and help my brothers and sisters, not just in policing, but in other first responder professions, because I felt like I had the cultural competency to do it.
[00:03:09.970] - Stephanie Conn
I just needed the clinical chops to be able to move beyond peer support. So then when I got my PhD in counseling psychology and opened up my practice, it was “all she wrote”, because people were like, oh, you've done our job as a dispatcher, as a call taker, as a police officer. You were engaged to a firefighter, you’re married to another police officer. So it gave people the confidence to see me. And so I never got to return to policing because my practice as a clinician has been so busy since I opened it.
[00:03:39.510] - Steve Morreale
Why do you think that is? Let's just talk about that for a moment. I understand, having been in the business for 30 years, the importance of, if I'm going to take my clothes off, I want the person on the other end to understand what I go through, to understand the stressors, to understand the difficulties that come from the organization itself sometimes. Because sometimes we eat our own and how important that is. I'll say this one of the things I'm beginning to talk about and hear about across the country is the move towards a concept called a check up from the neck up. In other words, a required sit down with a psychologist or a psychiatrist on a regular basis, which sort of melts away that negative feeling that so many people have about mental health counseling. So talk about that. Talk about that.
[00:04:24.660] - Stephanie Conn
Yeah, I mean, there's two pieces. There is. One is if you're going to psychologically take your clothes off, so to speak, you don't want to have to be explaining your profession to other people. You need someone to give you something you don't need to be giving to someone else. And if you're having to educate other people in your job or explain why you do what you do or how the organization does whatever it does, then it's more, it takes more away from the first responder than it gives them, at least initially. And so you want someone that is already up to speed, or fairly up to speed, so they can kind of start from where you are and move forward and help you move through things. The check up from the neck up, I think there's a lot of value in that, and I do that for a lot of agencies I work with, because it takes away that threshold where I got to be a certain level of screwed up. I got to be hurt in a bad way before I ask anybody to check in with me, but rather make it more, hey, we don't wait till our smoke bellowing out of the hood of the car before we check the oil or check the other fluid levels or these kinds of things.
[00:05:25.690] - Stephanie Conn
We should probably get ahead of it and do something because it's easier to do that with a car and do that with a person than it is try to deal with it once it becomes damaged.
[00:05:34.510] - Steve Morreale
So let's talk about that, if you don't mind. Confidentiality. I know it's important, but when you do a check up from the neck up and you walk into the organization, presumably in many organizations, the first time that's happened, how much time do you have to spend to talk about why you're doing it in the first place? What you're trying to allow that person, male or female first responder to talk about, to sort of vent and to purge my senses, you and I spoke about in the beginning. Here we are talking on 912 and 911. It hits me because I brought a team down to New York, I did not suffer half of the problems that so many of my colleagues did there. But being there unto itself was something I could never erase. What I saw pain and the suffering, the death and such. But I wonder how much time you have to spend to explain to somebody that I'm here for you. We're here to help you. The cumulative effect of stress can burn somebody out.
[00:06:27.150] - Stephanie Conn
Talk about yeah, and I'm pretty lucky. Lucky. It's by design. And the agencies that I work with is I try to introduce myself or others introduce me because I work so closely with peer support team members. They will introduce me to their peers as someone that they trust, someone that has been one of them at some point. And so it takes a lot of the work away from me of building that rapport because I've built a rapport with peer supporters. Or I will go to the roll call and sit beside the sergeant at the roll call at 11:00 at night, which is not banker’s hours or clinician hours, if you will, and that says something. I'll come out to the station at 11:00 at night or six in the morning, or sometimes both on the same day, which is horrible, and just introduce myself and just shoot the breeze with them. And that allows them to feel a bit more of a trust that this is not the normal situation where you just go to a clinician. And then I spend a lot of time talking about, you said confidentiality planning, that I don't keep notes on these wellness checks.
[00:07:29.460] - Stephanie Conn
I don't write notes. I don't write notes afterwards if I bill the agency, and I do, I think, 100% of the cases of these wellness checks, depending on the agency contracts, sometimes they don't even know who had the wellness appointment. Or in cases where they're incentivized, where they get paid, then obviously I have to let their employer know so they can get their incentives pay for it, but there's nothing else shared with them. And I think some of that takes away some of the fear that there's going to be something recorded that's going to get them at some point or cost them a promotion or some other kind of scenario. And so I think there's a bit of work put in through the relationships I build, through the transparency of the process, not acting in manners that are consistent with their expectations, which is an old hostage negotiation trick, if you will, or tactic. It's not a trick. I'm just showing up at odd times to be there for people or doing ride-alongs. Part of how all that works, that.
[00:08:20.850] - Steve Morreale
Breaks down the barriers. I can see that, and I reckon that's why that would be of great value. So you've written a book, I see it behind you. Increasing resilience in police and emergency personnel resiliency. What's that all about?
[00:08:33.040] - Stephanie Conn
Yeah, and I wrote a mental health column for a police magazine for about three and a half years. So every month I'd write like a page on sleep or improving communications or dealing with secondary traumatic stress, that kind of business. And I had many people, readers from that magazine, send me email saying, hey, this resonated with me, that resonated with me. You should put this all together in one place. And then my research for my masters, my doctorate, was about what helps people deal with their exposure to trauma, what helped people maintain a life outside of their work, and then my work as a peer supporter and working with peer supporters. I thought I really should put this all together and treat resilient, as I see it, as an officer safety tool. Because when you go to a call, whether you're a police officer firefighter, but let's just use the police example. When you go to a call, you're assessing what your risk factors are, what kind of assistance you need, how you need to respond to things, because you're constantly assessing what the threats are and making adjustments to your response based upon that.
[00:09:30.570] - Stephanie Conn
But you're also assessing your protective factors. Do I have an assist with me? Do I have a perimeter? Do I have a dog? What do I have? In making moment to moment decisions? If we treat our resilience in a similar fashion and saying, what's working for me, what's not working for me, I'm not exercising, I'm not really connecting with my significant others. And to shore that up, if we treat it like that, we tend to be safer psychologically, which is our resilience. If we are remaining aware of what's working and what's not working for us in our life, just like we would on a call.
[00:10:00.010] - Steve Morreale
As you're talking to clients, I suppose the fact that you have a relationship with an organization in many cases and, you know, the big piece in policing is a vouch. When you get a voucher, you're okay. How is this Stephanie? She's okay. You can trust her. She understands. She knows. I think, in a lot of ways, cops love to cut right to the chase. I'm not looking for flowery stuff. Just, here's the story. You want to hear it? This is it. I don't know how it's affecting me, but I'll tell you what I'm feeling. And I'm sure your job is eliciting feelings and thoughts through questions in a lot of ways. So talk me through that. Somebody comes to you not just for a checkup, but for some person who might be in crisis. It's me today. How do we start that conversation? The reason I'm doing this I'm asking you this, Stephanie, is because so many potential listeners have barked at talking to somebody. And so I'm trying to, through you to have people understand that this is not a bad thing. Properly executed.
[00:10:57.870] - Stephanie Conn
Yeah, I mean, that's the thing is that again and I try to draw parallels between my work as a clinician to my work as a police officer in that if they come in and say, hey, look, this is what? I'm not sleeping irritable my spouse or significant other says that I'm withdrawn or I'm being a jerk or what have you. Then really, my work as an assist to them is to say, okay, so how did this start? You know, what happened here, and how do we figure out what you do about it? And to fill in the blanks on the information they might not have as to why they would be having why their brain keeps sending them images of that dead kid. They know that the event is over. Why is their brain sending them reminders or physical anxiety, that kind of stuff? So my work is really trying to help them understand why certain things are happening and what to do about it and to take the weakness element out of it. But really to recognize that it takes pardon my French, a lot of fucking strength to face things that you'd rather just shove down.
[00:11:58.300] - Stephanie Conn
It takes a lot. And I oftentimes say there is no courage without fear. And it takes a lot of courage to do what you do and to push through it, and it's okay. That's kind of how it would start out, is just trying to figure out what's going on and what do we do about it and why is it happening and help them to understand why it's happening. Because I think a lot of times the answer, the default answer is it's happening because I'm weak. It's happening because I'm broken. It's happening because something's wrong and I can't handle it anymore, versus really recognizing that a lot of the symptoms people have is survival brain kicking in and trying to help them and send them all these signs and symptoms so they will address it. Just like a headache tells you something’s going on in there, you need to address it. Some of these quote unquote “psychological symptoms” are doing the same thing.
[00:12:47.200] - Steve Morreale
That's an interesting perspective that I've not often heard. So thank you for sharing that. And I'm sure the term you used earlier was a clinical term. I'm sure you learned it at school or in the living or whatever it was. I appreciate the honesty and I think that's so important because part of what I think it is, look, police officers, firefighters, EMTs are called into situations at the worst of times. And as I said before, so often you don't have a choice. But once you see it, it's very hard to unsee. And I think the strength in us, and in some cases this is a guy oriented piece, not that it couldn't be for women, but the guy sometimes will think, look, this is my job, I have to do it. Suck it up, buttercup, whatever that is. But let's talk about the cumulative effect that we start hearing a lot. Is there such a thing? It's almost like you're going to die from a thousand paper cuts. The old adage is that real cuts? Okay, so talk about that.
[00:13:43.840] - Stephanie Conn
Yeah, and it has so many names. And Ellen Kirshen referred to as death by 1000 cut. And it's also referred to as the pyramiding effect, where it's just like at the bottom of the pyramid. Year one here's, all these traumas kind of building up at the bottom of the pyramid. And in year two, 5810 25. And I have some people that are quite surprised that when something forms the tip top of the pyramid in year 20 or 15 or what have you, but it lights up everything that occurred underneath. And they're like, why am I losing my shares over this call that I handled ten years ago? Why am I seeing images of this person that had that or whatever? Now, I said that's because it's basically broken open some of those trauma membrane and because it's unfinished business, right? And it's almost like that's why we have this cumulative. And we know that the cumulative is the real deal because it's talked about in our diagnostic manual is this chronic exposure to the suffering of other people. And it is more often the case of posttraumatic stress or posttraumatic stress disorder than that singular event.
[00:14:44.530] - Stephanie Conn
And they call it the dose effect. The greater the dose, the greater the effect. And so it's not uncommon for me to see that. In fact, it's rare that I see a singular event be someone's reason for coming in unless it’s mandated for like a critical incident or what have you. And so I say, okay, we're going to go to that first one because I do trauma treatment. So I do EMDR. We're going to go to that first one, and we're going to work on that with EMDR, and maybe some of the other ones are going to come up. And that's all right. We're just going to put those on a shelf. We'll come back to those, and we're going to systematically knock them out, which sounds really absolute, but EMDR is pretty impressive. It's pretty good at taking out the reminders of specific traumas.
[00:15:22.680] - Steve Morreale
Can you talk about that for a moment? I've heard that a number of times, but never from a clinician. What does that mean? EMDR?
[00:15:28.080] - Stephanie Conn
Yeah. It's a lot of psychobabble, a mouthful. So EM stands for eye movement. So when we go to sleep at night, we have REM sleep. If we're lucky, we have to get some decent REM sleep, rapid eye movement. And so that's when our eyes are moving back and forth spontaneously, and they're processing the trauma and the drama of the day. What happens is we don't always get good sleep when we've had really significant trauma or we've got shift work or other kinds of things going on in our life. And so our brain doesn't get to continue with its process of rapid eye movement sleep, of processing trauma, and dramas of stuff get stuck in our brain in an incomplete, unfinished state. And so what we do when you're awake as an EMDR clinician is I say, okay, Steve, I want you to focus on what is the image of the thing that's most disturbing? Okay, name it. All right, that's it. What's the negative belief you have about yourself? And sometimes it’s I didn't do well enough, or I'm weak because of this response, and other times I'm weak because I continue to have this effect.
[00:16:23.170] - Stephanie Conn
So sometimes it's an operational critique, and sometimes it's psychological one. All right, so there's the image. There's a negative belief. What physical sensation do you notice? I've got this pain in my chest. Or in my throat, tightness in my jaw, in my stomach. Okay. Usually in the midline. And then what emotions do you notice? Okay, anger, frustration, blah, blah, blah. Okay, so then I just say I want you to focus on all of those pieces and basically taking all the pieces of the trauma and having them do the eye movement back and forth. Just let your mind go wherever it goes. And I can do this in person or virtual. It doesn't make any difference one or the other. It's your brain doing it. Mostly I'm just facilitating it. And so when you're doing the eye movements, then it helps the brain process the trauma. And D, the EMDR, the D it desensitizes you to it, so you're no longer traumatized by it. It doesn't have the same physical effect that it has before. And then R, you reprocess it. It becomes something that becomes more in the past. Rather than feeling very present for you and any negative belief you have about yourself, about being weak or not having done something properly on an operational level, you reprocess it as I did the best I could.
[00:17:28.590] - Stephanie Conn
Or I can be better now, or I can heal from this or something else that is more adaptive. And it is so incredibly effective and so fast compared to, say, talk therapy, because it goes into the subcortical regions of the brain where the trauma is stored , but it's become the treatment of choice for first responders and people in the military. There's actually books on it, EMDR for first responders that outlines the protocols for specifically working with it. I've been doing this for eleven years, day after day, and have yet whether you believe it works or you don't believe it works, your brain knows that it works. And so it works.
[00:18:03.760] - Steve Morreale
I appreciate the lesson because that's really important. I've heard some people who have had some very good experiences in that. So thank you for sharing. And now I know what EMDR means. And so to the listeners and as you were talking, trauma cap is the first time I've heard that because I speak in terms of boxes. We put little things in lock boxes, which is probably the same thing. And sometimes at the stranger, at the strangest times these little things leak, sometimes fatal, sometimes it is a suicide, sometimes it is a murder, it's a rape, whatever it might be, sometimes it's 911. And so it seems to me, just from my own experience and your own experience for the listeners, that I think coming to the realization that these do have impact is on you, whether you'd like them to or not. They have a long lasting impact and they'll show up sometimes when you least expect it. So what am I saying? What are you hearing as I'm saying that? How would you explain that to somebody coming to you who would say that to you?
[00:19:01.030] - Stephanie Conn
Yeah, I would say there's some level of that that makes sense because and we know this from looking at what happens in retirement sometimes we're so busy being outwardly focused handling that call, the situation, the family demands, whatever, that when you shove stuff down there is no space for it to come back up. But then other times when you're off on admin leave because you've been involved in shooting you're off on injury leave or that kind of stuff, it's almost like you create an opening for these things to be able to pop up and or something will activate it like a date, an anniversary of something or a memory of something. And so then it pops open and you're like oh crap, what is that? Why is that coming up now? And so again, we know that that happens and so I don't want people to be freaked out by it, to think, okay, this must mean I'm coming unraveled because we have so many ways of saying I'm losing it, or this broke down or that kind of stuff. It's like, you didn't break down, you didn't come unraveled. Trauma popped up. Either because it had the opportunity to, or something popped it open.
[00:20:01.760] - Stephanie Conn
People hate the word trigger because they're like, oh, everybody's triggered about everything and needs a cry closet. No, there's validity to these things being activated. And so instead of being mad that it happened or being alarmed or making it, worst case scenario, okay, so that needs to be dealt with. That is something that you need to deal with. It's almost like if you've been so busy doing something else, you didn't notice your elbow hurt. And then finally you're not busy doing something, you're like, oh gosh, my elbow does actually hurt. It's been there all along. Maybe it's not come to the surface until it did and then deal with it. I don't mean to downplay how hard it is to deal with it. I just even remember my own traumas as an officer, an auto-ped of a visibly, like seven, eight-month pregnant woman. And she's you know, I wasn't even dispatched to it. I just rode up on it one week on my own, just barely out of training. And I just ride up and there's this woman dying on the ground, and her eleven-month-old is a few feet away and thrown from the stroller she's pushing when she was hit and her mom screaming the most horrible blood curdling scream.
[00:21:06.180] - Stephanie Conn
I had images of that. Right. I'm not saying meaning to downplay the horrificness, if that's a word, but there's remedies. There are ways to address this if you have someone that's trained in trauma.
[00:21:17.380] - Steve Morreale
So we're talking Stephanie Conn. She is a police psychologist and she's out in Oregon. Former police officer. And I apologize if the audio isn't perfect. My board is not working 100%. So we're using this through the technical thrills of cell phones. So thank you for doing that. What I want to ask is this. So all of the players that you engage with that I suppose would be clients at this point, patients, whether it's fire, police, or EMS, how do we overcome, how do agencies overcome the stigma of mental health counseling? Because I think for so many, the fear is if I admit I'm going to lose my gun, I could lose my job because of it. And it seems to me that we need to do a much better job of overcoming that stigma, helping people and letting them back on track. So I'm sure you're playing a role in that. But what's your thought on that as a former officer?
[00:22:04.020] - Stephanie Conn
Yeah. And I think again, it comes down to the relationships I have with the peer support teams that I'm attached to that I see on a quarterly basis and talk to on a regular basis because they can text me anytime or call me anytime. Obviously when I'm with clients, my phones are silent, but it's the relationship I have with them that they in turn are able to share with the peer that's struggling. But then it's also the ride- along, the agency visit, those kinds of things. I'm in the process of creating documents that just kind of infographic sheets that say, here's the myths about confidentiality and the things that would cause a first responder to fear. Because a lot of them think that because of the confidential nature of what it is we do, they think other people aren't getting help, or that other people that are like, gosh, if I could just break confidentiality and tell you five of your peers were in a bad way and came to see me and maybe were even suicidal at some point or abusing substances or whatever, and got help and never lost their job. But the secrecy of that, because of confidentiality, is a bit of a disservice to the stigma of I remember there was one agency I was at, and they were just like, oh, this person really needed help and blah, blah, blah, and nothing happens for these people, or whatever.
[00:23:19.680] - Stephanie Conn
And I was just sitting there thinking, yeah, actually, they did get help and I happen to know what happened. And they were taken to the hospital and through the back doors and received support. And then when they released, they came to me. So that's the thing. It's the secrecy of all this doesn't help. It's an interesting thing because there are some first responders who are trying to take an active role in debunking the myth by saying, hey, I got help. I didn't lose my job, I got help. Not only did I not lose my job, but it actually made me better at my job and I promoted and it saved my marriage. And so some first responders are taking an active role in that. And then I remember one of the last ride-alongs I did before COVID I got to sit with officers at dinner on the ride along and answer questions they had about confidentiality because they thought that sessions were recorded and stuff was reported back to their agency. There's just a lot of misinformation. I was like I actually started laughing and I said, oh, my God, no way.
[00:24:13.890] - Steve Morreale
Can you talk about the pink sheets?
[00:24:15.790] - Stephanie Conn
What are pink sheets? You use the pink sheets?
[00:24:18.490] - Steve Morreale
In our state, I may be wrong. In our state, any psychological or psychiatric discussions are on pink sheets. So any notations are on pink sheets. You don't do that in Oregon. So what happens is I want to explain why. Because when I was with HHS, I was in with the Inspector General's office and we had walked into a place and I had to seize. There was a fire. There was a fire that killed nine or ten people, all Medicaid recipients. And the smell of the smell of burned bodies was horrible. But I brought my troops there and the first. Thing I wanted to do was to seize all records. And the nurses intervened and said, you can't seize the pink records because those are psychiatric and psychological records. And I said, well, indeed I can, but you'll be here when I both seize them, when I seal them. And they will be going to a judge. The judge will determine whether or not we can see it. Maybe we have to hire a psychiatrist to do that. But anyway, that protected that. That's what I'm saying. There was that extra layer of protection. And so I think that's important.
[00:25:12.540] - Steve Morreale
That confidentiality side that you experience and as a clinician yourself, you're not going to give that up. You're not going to give up your records. You're shaking your head, I can see you. So talk about that. I hope it will allay fears. Just to explain that it's important.
[00:25:26.230] - Stephanie Conn
We have HIPAA, So, the Health Information Protection and Portability Act. There are significant protections for that information. I have even had people, and it's very, very rare, tt's usually in the workers compensation case where they have subpoenaed records, and the case law is there that says even in a subpoena case, which again, the client usually consent to the release of this information, I can come back and say, well, some of this isn't work related, so we can redact some of it that isn't specifically workrelated. So let's just say fake name client Bob had been sexually abused as a child. He disclosed that when he talked about his history and he recently was involved in a shooting or was
[00:26:34.530] - Stephanie Conn
I mean, the very first session, this is not confidential because you've asked and you've signed that waiver . You have to do that. So I want you to bear that in mind as we talk about and think about what you're talking about, because I want you to be in control of what information is contained here.
[00:26:50.350] - Steve Morreale
So you'll attempt to limit what they talk about. So does that mean that's an interesting thing that I never heard. Does that mean I come to you on a worker’s comp and I come to like your style, your approach, your likability, your approachability. And so we start kind of walking in a different area about what makes me tick. You're saying, I don't want to deal with that. You don't have to remember that you're signing it over. Is there any way for you to sever that? Or would I then have to go to another clinician to talk about what makes me sick as opposed to why I'm sick or why I'm okay.
[00:27:21.840] - Stephanie Conn
I'm not saying no. I wouldn't say you need to go see someone else, but even worker’s comp doesn't want to split the bill for your relationship issues. Right. That just kind of makes sense. So even not just protecting the client, but then also being aware of what I'm hired to be treating as well. But it's really all again, transparency is super important for the trust for them to understand, because I did have an instance where a person had been sexually abused as a child, and he was quite embarrassed by it. And I said and then he wanted to later talk about signing a release for stuff, and I said, no, you put that in writing. Do you understand? If you sign, the stuff that's going to be released, I'll do whatever you want me to do. But I do have to give the initial intake paperwork that's requested, and so he can make an informed decision on what was best for him. So, yeah, it's all about but also being thoughtful about, okay, I still need to know understand the person in context. We can't sever the personhood from the event either. And so just knowing that the worker’s comp case or has the potential for that, I'm just very thoughtful.
[00:28:26.770] - Stephanie Conn
I don't mean to sound like I'm doctoring records or that kind of business, but I'm conscientious about how records are.
[00:28:32.830] - Steve Morreale
Kept and what can be released and what might be released and how might harm somebody. We're talking about Stephanie Conn. She's in Beaver DEA, Oregon. She is a police psychologist, but really not just a police psychologist. I would say a first responders psychologist. And so we talk a lot about police, but fire and EMS. Are there as many problems I don't mean problems with coming to see you. Is there as much reluctance in fire and EMS as opposed to police?
[00:28:56.610] - Stephanie Conn
Yeah, fire, EMS, corrections and dispatch, all the same and less about, I'm going to lose the ability to carry a weapon, but I still am going to lose my job, or this is a sign of me being weak. This is a sign that I can't handle the job because there's this historical mantra, this is what you signed up for. Right. And so even though there might not be the same level of precise or fitness for duty in the other categories of first responders, there's still a stigma of being weak. And so I see a fair number of the other first responder professions as well with those kinds of challenges.
[00:29:32.700] - Steve Morreale
It's interesting that you just brought up corrections, because I think that is almost always overlooked, but they have a very difficult job, and they have their own issues that they deal with, and the things that they see cannot be unseen. So I'm glad you raised that. What do you think about the co-responder models in so many places where there's a clinician with a police officer showing up on mental health calls.
[00:29:51.490] - Stephanie Conn
I think it could be a great tool if done appropriately. I was pleased to be able to be a part of that very early on, actually, because I was a crisis intervention trainer for my department. They sent me to Memphis to learn it and to come back and train other police officers to do crisis intervention. And then I partnered with the mental health law liaison. And so I went out with the mental health person to people in crisis and those kinds of things and forged those relationships and got to know those folks so that when they came in and did any training in our agency, I was able to say, hey, I've been going out with these folks. They're not delusional. They don't think you just go around hugging everybody and everything's going to be okay. They're actually quite aware the challenges of helping people with mental health, and they're awarded it too. I'm not here to paint everybody with mental health as being violent, but oftentimes if the police are corresponding, then there's some propensity for a person being a harm to themselves or someone else. So I believe it can be done. Well, I've seen the Memes where it's the new SWAT, which is social workers and therapists, where they're saying, let's just send that SWAT team out.
[00:31:00.700] - Stephanie Conn
And I'm fearful of that becoming a replacement for police because I don't believe social workers and therapists are usually trained to handle that level of danger on their own, nor should they be. That's not their line of work.
[00:31:16.470] - Steve Morreale
So as we wind down again, we've been talking to Stephanie Conn and she's a police psychologist and we're talking with her in Beaverton, Oregon. And I wanted to know where you think policing is going with the wellness push. In other words, the wellness of officers. And I'm sure that some of the things that you would be training on, everything from getting proper sleep and proper diet and you tell us what makes up this whole wellness effort.
[00:31:44.070] - Stephanie Conn
Yeah, I think it is very interesting because when I wrote my book and it was actually in 2018 was when it was published, I wasn't and I started writing it in 2015, something like that. I don't guess I predicted that we would have this swell of resilience training and push and all these other kind of wellness programs and these kinds of things that we've had. So it was an interesting timing that it was launched in. What I'm seeing as I watch the trains that are out there is there tends to be kind of two camps of the training and the wellness. One is I'm going to go out and tell war stories and you're all going to all of my war stories are going to resonate with you and we're all going to hurt “Hoorah”. The war stories and then the other is we're going to talk about some of your hardships and some of your challenges, and we're going to give you some real concrete advice on how to deal with it, some real concrete recommendations and some resources. And I'm not saying there's no value in stories. There should be stories in the other one as well.
[00:32:39.040] - Stephanie Conn
And so I'm seeing kind of two camps where I've had some people say, well, gosh, they just came in and complained a lot about some of the horrible stuff that we didn't get anything out of it. And you're like, and they charge a fortune for it. And you're like, well, that's too bad. So I think that agencies are sometimes throwing money at wellness programs because they don't know what they don't know. It's not their line of work, the line of work of firefighting or police or corrections. Their line of work isn't in resilience. And so they really sometimes get lost in knowing how to build a wellness program, how to train, how to vet clinicians to be good resources for them, whether it be for training or for wellness program development or what have you. Because there are some people in this profession that do it because their heart is in it, and they come from that background. And then there are some that, I hate to say it's, the money to be made and the name to be had. And they don't always look very different on the outside.
[00:33:32.200] - Steve Morreale
Well, I think that happens all of the time. I love what you said. You don't know what you don't know everything from technology to training and what wellness means, what community policing means. When you talk about that, there's so many variations of that too, and we can't seem to get a handle on it. So me wind down by asking you a question and giving you virtually the last word as a clinician, as somebody who has seen countless numbers of people in crisis or people just trying to figure out what's going on with themselves in police, fire, corrections and EMS and Dispatch, what's the benefit of reaching out to somebody like yourself, in your view? And what could happen if you choose not to?
[00:34:13.260] - Stephanie Conn
I want to end on a positive note, so I'm going to start with if you choose not to, what you resist, persists, as they say. So you can resist. You can pretend that you're not hurting. You can pretend that you're not having trouble sleeping or your relationship isn't failing, and it will continue and it will likely worsen. I don't know. Unless you I mean, I'm not saying it's seeing a clinician to end all, be all, perhaps something you'll read some self-help book or get involved in some other kind of thing and find a way on yourself, right? And so talk to chaplain and do something else. So it's not impossible for that to happen. But if you ignore, it not going away. So coming to see someone like myself. I think one of the first things and I've heard I've had this feedback from people before is one of the first things you get is hope. And embedded in the hope is the belief and the expectation that you will get better if you that's what hope is. I think that's the first thing you get. And I've had people say once I had a name for it and understood it, believed I could do this and expected I would get better if I did that, I can get on board with that very powerful stuff.
[00:35:17.380] - Stephanie Conn
There's a book on the anatomy of hope that talks about how that works. And then you get systematic support and guidance where you just go be yourself in a confidential setting to try to navigate things. You can't unsee, as you said, you can't unhear. You can't not know, so that you not just aren't fighting your demons anymore. Also be happy in life. You can thrive and be well. And I think every first responder deserves that.
[00:35:44.370] - Steve Morreale
So the last question, I guess I thought that was the last question. You make me wander in different areas. How does a first responder find a first responder knowledgeable initiative?
[00:35:55.660] - Stephanie Conn
That is my big mission. That's some of the work I'm doing with the National FOP Fraternal Order of Police, where we're creating what's called the approved provider bulletin, in the APB. So nationwide, it will be a list of first responder clinicians that are vetted according to the criteria that I co created with another psychologist. He's in California, Dr. David Black out of Cordico. So that's what we're creating. I'm the first clinician on the list in the nation of probably hundreds of us, if not more. There are some, Serve and Protect, actually maintains a list. They're out of Nashville. Find them serve andprotect.org, and they also maintain a list. They vet people on the phone themselves and sometimes just Googling it and looking for things like the APB or the FOP Stamp of Approval or the National Emergency Responder and Public Safety Center training Certificate will indicate those kinds of things. And the American Board of Professional Psychology and the IACP Psych Services section also has, I think, 200 of us that specialize in this. So there's a few groupings that they're kind of fragmented and we want to pull them all together into one national database, which is, again, kind of full circle from my original mission when I was a peer supporter is how do we connect people with culturally competent help so they don't have to go to someone and to ask them why they had their gun out?
[00:37:17.650] - Steve Morreale
Yeah, I understand that all too well. Again, one of the things I do wonder is COVID changed everything. COVID forced an awful lot of us to do exactly what we're doing, where we're talking to each other on Zoom, even though I'm using audio. And now you have telehealth and that's becoming more prominent. How would somebody overcome it's so much easier in a lot of ways, but how would somebody overcome I don't want to be taped. One of those kinds of things. In other words, that trust, that needs to be I'm talking to you on the other end. I like you, but I don't know what you're doing over there because I can't see whether you're writing or whether you're recording. How do you overcome that?
[00:37:50.310] - Stephanie Conn
Well, one, I let them know, just like in the top left-hand corner, it says recording. You can see if it's recording and they have to acknowledge it. And then when I say I'm not taking note because I'm doing like an OIS follow up, a critical incident follow up, I literally sit there with my hands in the screen of the video so that where they can see I'm not writing anything down. And then if they say, hey, can you send me a handout on that? I'll say, I'm going to write down, and then I'll go over and write down that I'm going to send them a handout. And then I put my hands back up and view again. That transparency and that trust is like air. If you don't have it, you absolutely notice you don't have it.
[00:38:23.530] - Steve Morreale
So have you found success in telehealth in your practice?
[00:38:27.710] - Stephanie Conn
Too much, actually, because it's opened me up to first responders all over the state versus the ones that were within driving range. Yes, too much. And I'm not complaining. It's hard to sometimes meet the demand. So, yeah, I think it's made it helpful for people that have shiftwork, people that have kids, people that live in remote areas and might not want to access services for fear that they see someone walking into or out of the clinician's office on Main Street when there's just two streets in the town. I think it's helped a lot of people, even people that didn't think they would like it, meet with me initially in person, come to build that rapport and say, hey, Thursday would be easier if I just did virtual. Is that okay? Like, oh, yeah. And so they can kind of go back and forth as their schedule allows and their childcare allows and that kind of business. And so I think it's been a significant help for some and then for others, they're just like, no, I want to have my eyeballs on you. I understand.
[00:39:20.040] - Steve Morreale
Well, listen, this has been amazing. It's been a lesson for me and I hope a lesson for all of the listeners. You have added so much, so many dimensions to wellness and to the health, mental health for first responders. And I appreciate it. So we've been talking to Stephanie Conn. Thank you for being here, Stephanie.
[00:39:36.120] - Stephanie Conn
You're welcome. Thanks for having me.
[00:39:38.050] - Steve Morreale
No problem. So that's another episode of The Cop Doc in the books. We've been talking to a police psychologist, and I hope you have found it interesting. Stand by for more episodes and thanks.
[00:39:47.520] - Intro
For listening thanks for listening to the copdoc podcast with Dr. Steve Morreale. Steve is a retired law enforcement practitioner and manager turned academic and scholar from Worcester State University. Please tune into the copdoc podcast for regular episodes of interviews with Thought leaders in Policing.
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