New Study Suggests Mindfulness is Beneficial to First Responders

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.

Reference:
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.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Tracy Nolan

    Tracy Nolan

    September 6th, 2011 at 10:41 PM

    The thought that there is now a need for firefighters to be taught to “maintain a sharper focus on the emergency at hand and decrease the likelihood of dissociation” is a mite disturbing. Why aren’t they trained to do that in basic training from day one? You would think that would be automatically included.

    Better late than never I suppose but that’s not a comforting thought!

  • Joel

    Joel

    September 6th, 2011 at 11:39 PM

    I agree that optimism can help. Even mindfulness could help at maybe a different time but while they are trying to put out fire?that would require some serious practice with mindfulness first,doesn’t it?

  • nancy

    nancy

    September 7th, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    tracy:its not easy to be able to stay alert in such situations and even the best trained of people can lose control over things at that moment.so to train them specifically for this seems like a good thing.

  • Rebecca

    Rebecca

    September 7th, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    Gosh! These are the people that I really want to be clear headed and focused and not be traumatized by something that may have happened to them on the job in the past.

  • Vanessa R

    Vanessa R

    September 7th, 2011 at 2:41 PM

    @Tracy Nolan… Yup, I agree with you 100%, you would think that firefighters should have already been taught to focus on the emergency. And yes it would disturb me to think that a firefighter might be distracted while he’s trying to save me! But, think about it as if you were one of the people in charge of the curriculum for firefighters, would you really have thought about teaching firefighters to stay focussed during distressing events? LOL! When you say it like that it sounds preposterous! Before reading this I would have exclaimed, “Why would you ever need to teach that. Like they wouldn’t be focused already!”. So I could understand why it wouldn’t have been made a part of basic training. Hopefully, studies like this one will cause basic training will now begin to mentally prepare firefighters before fighting real fires.

  • ray

    ray

    September 7th, 2011 at 7:26 PM

    the job that these bravehearts do is not a normal one like you and I…they put their lives at stake,battling injury and death at every moment of their duty..in such a situation anybody,even if it’s his hundredth time, can get tensed and lose focus.

    no amount of training is enough for such situations and mindfulness seems like a good way to sharpen your reflexes.

  • Lynn Douglas

    Lynn Douglas

    September 7th, 2011 at 8:10 PM

    Never mind just the firefighters, teach it to everybody! If we all spent less time agonizing over yesterday and losing sleep about tomorrow, we’d get on a whole lot better. I think that’s a great idea! Those guys are my heroes.

  • Bernadette C.

    Bernadette C.

    September 8th, 2011 at 7:58 PM

    How any man or woman voluntarily runs into a burning building I’ll never know. I can vouch for how much the strong support network helps them. I had an uncle who was a firefighter and his crew were like blood brothers to him. I’d never seen such a tightly knit group of men. He was much closer to them than he ever was to many of his relatives.

    Bless them all for doing a job that the rest of us more cowardly types like me couldn’t find the guts to. I pray I’ll never need their services.

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