Mindfulness is a therapeutic technique that teaches one to focus entirely on the present moment as a method of coping with negative psychological symptoms. For first responders, including fire-fighters, this type of practice could be particularly beneficial. “Mindfulness-based interventions may complement cognitive behavioral approaches, which focus on teaching people to regulate distressing thoughts and feelings that occur in response to stressful events,” said researchers from the University of New Mexico. “Mindfulness may be important in the context of traumatic events and the prevention of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” The team conducted a study to assess if mindfulness could decrease symptoms of depression, alcohol misuse, and PTSD in firefighters. They said, “During a traumatic event, mindfulness may allow one to maintain a sharper focus on the emergency at hand and decrease the likelihood of dissociation.” Additionally, when people remember traumatic experiences, mindfulness may help them keep a healthy perspective on the event and therefore avoid using negative coping mechanisms such as alcohol abuse.
Because first responders are especially vulnerable to these risk factors, the team chose 124 inner city firefighters and measured them for PTSD, depression, alcohol use and other measures of both physical symptoms and psychological conditions, including optimism, mindfulness and personal mastery. The team gauged the firefighters stress levels using a targeted list of 33 job related stress indicators. The researchers found that having a strong social support network and feeling of personal mastery were both directly linked to fewer symptoms of depression, PTSD and physical problems for those who employed mindfulness techniques. In conclusion, the team added, “This suggests that both mindful acceptance of the present moment and the sense that one can master and control external circumstances may be important for firefighters.” They hope these findings will provide evidence of the validity and efficacy of incorporating mindfulness approaches when treating firefighters and other individuals in high-stress occupations.
Smith, B. W., Ortiz, J. A., Steffen, L. E., Tooley, E. M., Wiggins, K. T., Yeater, E. A., Montoya, J. D., & Bernard, M. L. (2011, August 29). Mindfulness Is Associated With Fewer PTSD Symptoms, Depressive Symptoms, Physical Symptoms, and Alcohol Problems in Urban Firefighters. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025189
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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