Being a “first responder” (fire, police, paramedic) is widely recognized as a stressful occupation due to frequent exposure to potentially traumatic situations resulting in a higher rate of diagnoses of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). ACT for First Responders focuses on the development of psychological flexibility/resilience in order to prevent disorders from arising or to shorten the recovery time when PTSD is diagnosed.
While numerous strategies aimed at PTSD prevention exist, not all are equally effective. Many of these strategies fall into the realm of “psychoeducation.” Psychoeducation is defined as information given to individuals about the nature of stress symptoms, both posttraumatic and other, and what to do about them. Despite the common employment of psychoeducation as an intervention with the aim to prevent PTSD, researchers note a lack of clear evidence for its efficacy (Krupnick & Green, 2008; Hourani et al., 2011; Wessely et al., 2008).
ACT for First Responders is a group training program for new recruits that teaches the skills necessary to help workers contact experiences they typically avoid. Efforts to control unwanted thoughts and feelings, also referred to as experiential avoidance, appear to be associated with a diverse array of psychological and behavioral difficulties. Recent research shows that interventions that reduce experiential avoidance (EA) and help people to identify and commit to the pursuit of valued directions is beneficial for alleviating problems of everyday living. Learning to do this for normal every day events prepares the recruit for the likely exposure to traumatic events on the job.
Wessely, S., Bryant, R.A., Greenberg, N., Ernshaw, M., Sharpley, J., & Hughes, J.H. (2008). Does psychoeducation help prevent post traumatic psychological distress? Psychiatry, 71, 287–302.
Krupnick, J.L., & Green, B.L. (2008). Psychoeducation to prevent PTSD: A paucity of evidence. Psychiatry, 71(4), 329.
Hourani, L.L., Council, C.L., Hubal, R.C., & Strange, L.B. (2011, July). Approaches to the primary prevention of posttraumatic stress disorder in the military: A review of stress control literature. Military Medicine, 176(7), 721–31.