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Trauma-resilience: Key finding #1 Trauma Processing Techniques are teachable and well received

Making sense of difficult incidents is something which operational police need to get good at so that they can go from one job to the next and (and indeed go home afterwards) healthily. Without giving the brain the chance to do this, unhelpful memories and thoughts can accumulate, be pushed aside or buried only to reappear weeks or years later to disrupt us and cause us unnecessary harm. Becoming burned out by the job has become almost an accepted part of being in the police, and yet neuroscience and wellbeing research now shows us that this simply doesn’t need to be the case. If we can boost the brain’s ability to process difficult incidents, we can make better sense of what we do and even who we are.

Understanding what happened ‘where’ and ‘when’ is perhaps at the heart of much operational policing, but we know now that when a brain has to take in a lot of incidents that are hard to make sense of, it gets harder to do this effectively over time. There are ways in which we support the brain in doing this. Some of those ways are already used in investigative processes and in therapy to help ‘get perspective’ on what happened. Basic maps and timelines help officers, witnesses and victims put incidents into the perspective of space (what happened where) and time (and in what order).

In a feasibility study with 75 new recruits at Greater Manchester Police following the Arena attack, we put these techniques to the test to see just how teachable they are and what officers thought of them. Between March 2018 and February 2019 we monitored the recruits for trauma impact as they completed their training and went out on their first jobs. We trained one group of 45 in the basic techniques in May (refreshing them again in August) and then we trained the control group at the end of the study in February 2019.

  • 95% of the recruits said they would use the techniques and pass them on
  • Both groups felt significantly more at ease about the incident they applied the techniques to (and this was in just one hour)
  • 60% recalled new information about the incident after using the techniques
  • 75% reported more objectivity about their incident and 65% said it made more sense
  • The techniques helped minimise the impact of recent events on memory function

Here’s what some of the participants told us….

“Allow officers to have time to apply these techniques after attending a difficult job- make supervision aware of the importance of this to debrief their staff after a difficult or tough incident”

“Great course to see how brain works. Helps us understand & feel better when thinking of incidents. Techniques help thinking and memory”

“I will be using these techniques in the future and believe they will help me when I have a traumatic experience”

The results of this feasibility study will be written up and published in a policing journal this summer. Police Care UK will now work with the University of Cambridge to prepare for a full Randomised Controlled Trial with up to 600 officers between 2019 and 2022 with the intention of establishing if these techniques might be our first step towards preventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in UK policing.


You can find out more about the trauma resilience in UK policing project here.


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