“One Badge, One Brain, One Life.” New Book Provides Emotional & Psychological Support for Officers

By Lon Bartel, Director of Training, VirTra  |   Aug 7, 2020

Things are harsh right now, in many ways, for my brothers and sisters who wear the badge. Not only do we see the physical attacks that seem to keep escalating against our profession, but the verbal and legal attacks as well. This is not a piece on wearing your body armor or training your physical skills to stay safe and be protected. It is, however, going to be about safety. I want you safe, I want you happy and I want you healthy. You need to wear your psychological armor and learn the psychological and emotional protection and maintenance skills that will help you achieve that. You need to not only survive right now; you need to win. I said it. I said the “W” word. It’s OK to speak about winning. Winning in our world is not always all or nothing. Sometimes winning is on a scale.  An armed gunman who shot at people can drop the gun and be arrested or can be shot and taken into custody and both of those can be considered a win. So, you need to have the lowest acceptable definition of winning pre-established in your mind. Mine means you win physically, legally and emotionally/psychologically.

I was working on an upcoming project with Dr. Robbie Adler-Tapia.  She has worked with a staggering number of officers from my neck of the woods after they experienced critical incidents. We started to talk about a book she was writing, One Badge, One Brain, One Life, which she explained was about developing the skills officers need to keep their minds and hearts safe. I was excited about what she was covering and she gave me a chance to preview it and give her some feedback.

After reading it, I felt the book had much to offer all of you and I asked if I could help her get the message out. At a time when many of you are not only being physically beat on, but being hammered emotionally and psychologically as well, a resource like this is critical.

Dr. Adler-Tapia comes from a first responder background and a family of first responders. In my opinion, one of the major drivers for this book is the place we fellow first responders hold in her heart. She shares some personal experiences and lets us know she gets it.

So why this article about this book…and why now? The answer is simple: Because many of us need it now more than ever. Don’t get me wrong. I think our profession still has not done what is needed to address the PTSD considerations we all face. Some are at least talking about it, but little has been really done about it. Now, add the current tone and temperament of our society and I don’t think we have the luxury for things to catch up. Agencies won’t do what should be done, which is to give time, money, and resources to our emergency responders to address the PTSD considerations. That leaves it up to us as individuals. This book and the teachings found inside could be a “make it or break it” for many of us and our brothers and sisters wearing a badge.

This book could be complex given the nature of the topic, but it’s not. Just browse the chapter titles and you see that it’s not written for psychologists…it’s written for us. Chapters include, “Brain Science,” “Brain Injury and Brain Pain,” and “Brain Pain and Suicide.” She even tackles the complexities we face in addressing COVID-19. This book was written for us.

In my opinion, one of the most valuable lessons taught in the book was how to “Clear our calls.” I don’t mean by picking up a mic. I shared with her my experience with my first crib death (SIDS as it was called). I was very professional while I conducted the investigation in the midst of the devastation of this family who were wracked with pain and tears. I knew any of them could still actually be a suspect in the baby’s death. I didn’t know yet. I was professional, I was stoic, I was non-emotional, and I was acting. I shoved every emotion I had into a box somewhere inside me so I could get through the investigation.

I finished up and drove off, only to pull my vehicle over and ball my eyes out. To this day the memory brings me to tears. She spoke to me about how we compartmentalize things (put stuff in boxes) and why. She also spoke to me about the long-term effects of that. She also shared with me tools that make an impact and how they can be used to protect us long term. This was stuff I seriously wished I had in the academy in 1997.

I asked her if I could share something small from the book and she gave me permission. I picked an acronym only because as emergency responders we love our acronyms. It speaks to a general roadmap to help keep us healthy mind, body and spirit.

The acronym is EQUIPMENT.

  • Engage your resources and acquire new ones.
  • Quality of Life is important each day!
  • Utilize medical and mental health services
  • Improve your longevity by participating in daily self-care – diet, exercise, and hearth health
  • Prepare for survival by practicing and learning new skills
  • Mentor others by modeling healthy professional behavior both on duty and off.
  • Educate yourself about the long-term impact of trauma exposure and keep acquiring new resources for coping
  • Never forget that you are as important as those you protect, serve, and rescue!
  • Take care of each other – at work and at home.

To keep things clear, I am making nothing writing this piece. I only wish to give you a resource that can make a difference to you, your family and your peers. I wish you a healthy life in the troubled times we face.

[More information on One Badge, One Brain, One Life]