The Washington Post
Protecting Those Who Protect Us
Program Helps Police Handle The Stress of Their Profession
Beverly Anderson goes where the violence is. She shows up at shooting scenes where police are involved, or when they witness horrible bloodshed or severe child abuse. She was recently at Virginia Tech, counseling police officers who handled the aftermath of the mass killings in April. Many of the officers, some of them Virginia Tech graduates, were distraught
Anderson, a straight-talking but warm woman, is a therapist who helps police officers deal with the trauma of their profession.
“Being a police officer is a physically dangerous job and also an emotionally dangerous job,” Anderson said. “Police officers see more trauma in a week than most of us see in a lifetime.”
Her full-time job is director of the D.C. Police Department’s unconventional employee assistance program, which offers free, short- and longterm counseling and mental health education for the officers. Because she has distinguished herself in the area of police-related trauma, Anderson is often called on by other agencies for her services.
She helped in Fairfax County when two officers were killed outside the Sully District station in 2006. She is now doing a residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, working with soldiers who have traumatic brain injuries.
In the District, police officers are sometimes ordered to see her or her staff members after a shooting or a particularly harrowing incident. But much of her work is with officers and family members who volunteer to talk to someone about the stress and intensity of the job — and how it can affect the rest of their lives.
Anderson and the four therapists who work with her can remain independent because they are not members of the police department, and their salaries are paid out of the city budget instead of the police budget. They talk to every recruit class, and Anderson estimates that about one-fourth of the 3,800 members of the force and their family members come to her on their own.
Anderson’s program is different from traditional employee assistance programs that allow workers to see a therapist for a few visits, then refer them to an outside counselor. Anderson and her staff rarely refer patients out.