Po­lice try mind­ful­ness ther­apy to beat burnout

Col­lege of Polic­ing to fund trial for more than 1,500 of­fi­cers to com­bat stress­re­lated sick leave

Gulf Times - - BRITAIN/IRELAND - By Robert Booth

On Thurs­day af­ter­noon, a dozen novice po­lice of­fi­cers straight­ened their backs, closed their eyes and started to med­i­tate for the first time.

“You are go­ing to face things in this ca­reer that your fam­ily and friends will never face,” said their trainer, De­tec­tive In­spec­tor Jenni McIn­tyre-Smith. “To be able to deal with that is im­por­tant.”

She asked the first-year Bed­ford­shire po­lice con­sta­bles to fo­cus on their breath­ing, the sen­sa­tions in their bod­ies and to ob­serve their thoughts, tech­niques de­rived from Bud­dhist med­i­ta­tion which might soon be as in­te­gral to an of­fi­cer’s train­ing as how to wield a trun­cheon.

The Col­lege of Polic­ing is to fund a trial of a sec­u­lar ver­sion of mind­ful­ness train­ing for more than 1,500 of­fi­cers in part to com­bat soar­ing stress and anx­i­ety in the ser­vice, which has forced record num­bers to take time off sick in the past year.

Its back­ers hope to im­prove of­fi­cers’ man­age­ment of high­a­drenaline con­fronta­tions, make them more alert when gath­er­ing ev­i­dence, im­prove lis­ten­ing skills when deal­ing with wit­nesses and vic­tims and even help firearms of­fi­cers make bet­ter de­ci­sions.

De­mand for the po­lice’s “Mind­fit Cop” course was high in what is of­ten con­sid­ered a ma­cho pro­fes­sion, with places fill­ing up in less than a week.

Four hun­dred and fifty-seven of­fi­cers in Avon and Som­er­set and 300 in South Wales will take the eight week course, along­side col­leagues from Hert­ford­shire, Bed­ford­shire and Cam­bridgeshire.

The roll­out af­ter that could be sig­nif­i­cant.

Nerys Thomas, the head of re­search at the Col­lege of Polic­ing, said: “If the re­sponses are pos­i­tive we would then look to make this avail­able to all forces in Eng­land and Wales.”

The move is in­dica­tive of fast­grow­ing in­ter­est in mind­ful­ness in pub­lic ser­vices – even as sci­en­tists con­tinue to study how ef­fec­tive it ac­tu­ally is.

More than half a mil­lion school­child­ren and 3,000 civil ser­vants have been in­tro­duced to the tech­niques; there are 30 pro­grammes for pris­on­ers and pri­son of­fi­cers and cour­ses are of­fered to nurses and doc­tors in sev­eral Na­tional Health Ser­vice (NHS) trusts.

More than 200 MPs and peers have taken a course, although, as McIn­tyre-Smith joked to her re­cruits in Bed­ford, that may not have been the best ad­vert.

There are early signs of pos­si­ble ef­fec­tive­ness in polic­ing.

An ini­tial trial in Bed­ford­shire sug­gested work-re­lated-burnout was, on av­er­age, lower for 72 peo­ple who used the tech­niques and an in­ter­nal re­port con­cluded: “Par­tic­i­pants re­ported sleep­ing bet­ter, be­ing able to re­duce pain med­i­ca­tion and feel­ing calmer and less re­ac­tive.”

Mod­ern mind­ful­ness emerged in the US in the late 70s where it was de­vel­oped to help se­ri­ously ill peo­ple man­age pain.

It has since spread glob­ally, pop­u­larised by apps such as Headspace.

Mind­ful­ness-based cog­ni­tive ther­apy is rec­om­mended by the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Clin­i­cal Ex­cel­lence to treat re­cur­rent de­pres­sion.

Stress is a se­ri­ous prob­lem for the po­lice.

Nearly 10,000 of­fi­cers, equiv­a­lent to one in 12, took time off sick with stress or anx­i­ety over the past year, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures re­leased this sum­mer.

A hun­dred of­fi­cers from constable rank to su­per­in­ten­dent in Bed­ford­shire have taken a course, which in­cludes a day stay­ing silent.

Among the of­fi­cers who had taken the course was Sergeant Karen Jar­man, who was off work for seven months with post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der af­ter she was beaten un­con­scious dur­ing a rou­tine drugs search.

She said it had en­abled her to over­come se­vere anx­i­ety and get back to work.

She now uses the tech­niques when de­ployed, which last week in­cluded be­ing first on the scene of a mur­der.

“You are get­ting into high­stress sit­u­a­tions and as a su­per­vi­sor you need to be calm,” she said. “We were driv­ing un­der blue lights but I was talk­ing to my­self and con­cen­trat­ing on my breath and mak­ing it slower.”

An­other sergeant, who asked not to be named, said: “I en­counter dif­fi­cul­ties when at­tend­ing in­ci­dents with weapons, due to be­ing the vic­tim of a nasty stab­bing.

“I have re­ceived a lot of sup­port and as­sis­tance to build cop­ing strate­gies, none quite as ef­fec­tive as the three-part breath­ing tech­nique which forms part of Mind­fit Train­ing.

“When a job comes in where a per­son is armed with a knife and I am the clos­est unit to at­tend, I would al­ways feel this is a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion.

“The breath­ing tech­nique gives me strength in those mo­ments.”

Po­lice of­fi­cers will be taught mind­ful­ness tech­niques such as slower breath­ing dur­ing the eight-week course.

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