Posts by: bhepler

Cops and Shrinks: When to Go to Therapy and Why

By Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D.

Therapy won’t make you perfect, but it will help you live a wiser, happier life.

In my last post, I wrote that fear about confidentiality is high on the list of reasons cops don’t reach out for help. But there are other reasons like stigma, shame, or the distorted belief that only weak people have problems. Here’s what I know after 40 years of counseling LEOs: to need help is to be human, not weak. And problems are more easily borne when shared with someone you trust.

Police work is hard, always has been. And it’s getting harder all the time. Being a cop will change you. How could it not given that most cops will see more cruelty and tragedy in the first few years of their career than the rest of us will see in a lifetime.  But—I want to shout this at the top of my lungs— it doesn’t have to damage you. Not if you learn to protect yourself and your family, and live with resilience. What does resilience mean?  It means the ability to struggle well and bounce back in the face of adversity. This is different from those familiar, yet faulty notions of invulnerability, self-sufficiency, and rugged individualism that run rampant throughout law enforcement culture.

As a cop, you are probably a natural self-reliant, problem solver who is reluctant to burden others with your problems. Certainly, you prefer to talk things over with a peer or a family member before going to a “shrink.” You might even talk yourself out of going for help by worrying that you are making things worse than they really are,  your problems are trivial compared to others, and you don’t want to burden the therapist who will probably run from the room the minute you start telling it like it is. This kind of stinky self-talk is like losing the pain in your tooth on the way to the dentist. Rest assured, the pain will come back, only now you need a new tooth and antibiotics instead of a simple filling.

Why to go? Some people start therapy because they are interested in personal growth. Others start because [READ MORE]

Cops & Shrinks: Can You Trust Your Therapist?

By Ellen Kirshman, Ph.D

What you need to know about confidentiality: when you have it, when you don’t.

I’ve been blogging about police and first responders with Psychology Today for a couple of years. My most popular post was about cops and PTSD. On the first day of 2021, I saw a comment on that post made in response to an earlier comment left by a reader who had clearly been through a lot in his time as a cop.

“…therapists are not your friend and really could care less about you as a person. Never ever talk to them. They are liberal scumbags or they wouldn’t be in that career. Rely on close friends.”

I can only imagine the writer of this unpleasant comment has been somehow harmed by an incompetent therapist. I’m sorry for that. Just like cops, therapists range from great to ghastly. And just like cops, it isn’t fair to paint us all with the same brush.

So, how do you find a therapist you can trust if you need one? Not because you’re broken and need fixing, but because the psychological strain of working as a cop in a pandemic and a wave of anti-police sentiment may be causing you or your family problems or triggering old issues.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the reason cops are resistant to consult a clinician. Top of the list were understandable concerns about confidentiality. So here are some things you need to know about the protections and limitations of the client/therapist relationship. [READ MORE]

Calling All Cops: Do You Know Who Has Your Back?

By Ellen Kirshman, Ph.D

Wisdom from a pioneer cop about connecting to your family during hard times.

Dr. Al Benner was a retired police captain, a pioneer in police psychology, co-founder of the West Coast Trauma Retreat for first responders with traumatic stress, and a mentor to many “cop docs” who followed him into psychology. He was also my friend.

Al died of cancer in 2009. He wrote the following words a long time ago. I repeat them here, in this time of turmoil and social unrest, because they are as true today as they ever were.

“To function effectively in our job, you must annihilate, smother, and suppress normal emotions like fear, anger, revulsion, and even compassion. To do otherwise is to invite overwhelming doubt or hesitancy when decisive action is required. The penalty for your achieved competence is a mindset that might as well be a foreign language to your social contemporaries. We are…victims of our own success. When these same normal and appropriate emotions…surface in personal relationship, we automatically shut down and wonder why, over time, the people we care about the most complain that we are aloof, cold, and uncommunicative.”

The key to riding out the current wave of bitterness and division is to stay connected to your friends and families. To do this, many of you have to stop doing what you have previously done (or been taught to do) to manage strong emotions; suck it up, withdraw, isolate, and push away the very people who can help you. Many of you are angry. Many of you feel betrayed and helpless. Your family feels these things too, but not in the same way you do, unless they’re also cops. Take the time to listen. Don’t dismiss them, discount their feelings, or offer false … [READ MORE]

How to overcome the trauma of a divided nation

By Shauna Springer, CNN

We’re facing an onslaught of acute stressors, living through a global pandemic, deep divisions within society, the devastating impact of wildfires and floods, and the ripening of election-related angst.

Americans across society are feeling a depth of trauma that is familiar for many of our nation’s veterans and first responders. If you’ve been eagerly anticipating sudden and sustained relief from your strongest negative emotions should the election have gone your way — that’s a mirage.

Regardless of how events unfold in the months to come, the fact remains that a majority of people in our society hold deep fear about the future. Nearly half of the country will continue to feel this way after the election, even if there is a smooth transition of power. Some may express this fear through anger — the go-to emotion for many people — and others will become depressed.

Our fears will not suddenly go away by [READ MORE]

Grief Demands to Be Felt: Creating Space to Grieve When You Want to Run Away

Whether you’ve already experienced it or not, all of us will walk through some form of grief in our lifetimes.  That grief can take many different forms, whether through the death of a loved one, the loss of a dream, or recognizing unmet needs from the past.  You may have shown signs with the five stages of grief outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (shock, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance), or you may have taken your own personal path through grief.

Perhaps you’ve been surrounded with loved ones or friends during your grieving period because it has been public.  This often happens in cases such as the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, or a divorce or separation.

But for others, grief comes when invisible losses happen.  The private nature of these experiences makes their importance harder to acknowledge.  This might include discovering a spouse or family member’s addiction, wrestling through infertility, or experiencing rejection or abandonment in relationships.

Some areas of loss may seem small in comparison to greater tragedies and pain that are occurring in the world.  Know that if this pain is having an impact on you, it matters.  You might be uncovering stories of unmet needs from childhood in therapy, dealing with a chronic or major illness, experiencing generalized anxiety, or seeing the effects of aging.

The Process of Grief

Whether you’re dealing with visible or invisible grief, the process of grieving takes time, attention, and care.

We tend to minimize our own experience of grief in order to carry on with daily life.  As others who are uncomfortable with grief urge us to move forward, we might rush past the experience of sadness in an attempt to “get over it.”  We can be fearful of uncovering grief because we worry that once we feel it, we won’t ever be able to stop.  Facing grief over the loss of a loved one can lead to potential existential fears, such as anxiety about our own death.

Alternatively, we can stay stuck in our grief despite years passing and wish we could move forward through it.  This often happens with we feel stalled out or stuck in the same place years after the loss.  Usually this indicates that there is a certain layer of grief that hasn’t yet been accessed because of the additional pain it brings up.

How to Grieve Well


Do you assume once you start crying, you won’t be able to stop?  Are you fearful of the judgment of others who don’t understand?

Write a list of all the thoughts that immediately come to mind when you think about grief, good or bad.  Review your list and look for cognitive distortions or faulty assumptions.  Notice how they are leading you to feel anxiety.  Anxiety leads us to see only the worst-case scenario, rather than realistic possibilities.  Consider also what the best-case scenario might be of allowing yourself to grieve.

If you have questions you can’t answer, educate yourself on the grieving process.  Learn about the stages of grief. Recognize that they are not linear: you can jump forward and backward through the stages.  Remind yourself that periods of intense grief will not last forever – they will get better over time.  Research online or read books about grief.  Here are some resources to get you started:


These tendencies can be overt, like avoidance of thinking about the loss or refusing to grieve. Or they can be more hidden, like resistance to sitting down and reading a book about grief or leaving information out when talking with a friend.

Instead of getting down on yourself for experiencing these, instead ask yourself why they happen.  They likely came about as a coping strategy to survive the pain of the loss.  Honor what you did to survive.  Then ask yourself what they’re protecting you from: what are you avoiding?  What fears do you have about addressing grief?  What emotions come up when you think about it?


Seek to learn how to sit with uncomfortable emotions.  This might involve getting out a journal and writing or getting together with a friend who can help you verbally process what you’re going through.  Prayer can be a helpful way to sit in challenging emotions, particularly if you couple it with the experience of reading Psalms of lament or writing your own.  These psalms are used to grieve the pain or suffering that exists in the world and can be used as a guide to help you express your own sorrow.

Set yourself a specific time on a regular basis to sit down and check in with your emotions.  It could be a daily, weekly, or monthly practice, depending on how intense your grief feels.  Try a tool like an emotions journal.  Use mindfulness strategies to help you connect to the experience of the present moment both before and after you enter into this space of active grieving.


Sometimes, simply naming an emotion or talking about an experience of grief can provide respite from the pain.  Reach out to safe friends or family members who are willing to sit with you in your grief.

If you don’t feel able to share in your current relationships, look for a grief support group at your local church, hospital, community center, or therapist’s office.  If you’re dealing with grief in the context of addiction, seek out a 12 Step group specific for your concern.


Be curious about what your grief is teaching you over time.  If you’ve journaled, go back over old notes.  If you spoke with a trusted friend or therapist, ask if they’ve seen any themes in what you’ve been sharing.

These learnings can help you approach your life with a different mindset.  You may consider changes you’d like to make in life or people you’d like to spend more time with as a result of this process.  Let this new knowledge and understanding affect your behaviors and choices to better reflect your values.


Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, addresses the importance of finding meaning in suffering and pain.  Similarly, consider how this pain and loss has shaped you or changed your perspective.  Psychologists call this concept post-traumatic growth, pointing out the benefits that come from opportunities for growth and change after surviving trauma or loss. Consider a vision for your future that includes these insights gained from the experience of grief.


by Elizabeth Jackson-Van Sickel

Maya Angelou on Mothers

“I think of mother often,” Maya Angelou told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer. “I think of myself as mother. I think of men as mother—some men. My son has mothered his son, fathered his son. I don’t think you have to be a woman to mother.”

With these sentiments in mind, Angelou, arguably America’s most famous poet, wrote a book in honor of mothers, Mother: A Cradle to Hold Me.

“Yes. It is true. I was created in you,” she read from the book. “It is also true that you were created for me. I own your voice. It was shaped and tuned to sooth me. Your arms were molded into a cradle to hold me, to rock me. The scent of your body was the air perfumed for me to breathe.”

Angelou said a mother did not indulge but loved unconditionally in the deepest possible of ways.

“Love may be the matter that keeps the stars in the firmament. It may be. Love allows you to be tough and tender,” she said. “Love. It does not say you can get away with this and I’ll turn my—because you’re so cute—I’ll turn my back, to something that may harm you later on. No. Love affords you the ability to be courageous.”

In the book that made her famous, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou wrote, “My mother’s beauty literally assailed me. Her smile widened her mouth beyond her cheeks, beyond her years, and seemingly through the walls to the street outside.”

Her mother, she said, was her everything.

Yet her glamorous mother could not handle her small children, and Angelou’s grandmother raised her until she was in her teens. Rather than focus on her wounds, Angelou said she used “the scar to sharpen my pen to write a poem.”

When Angelou was 21 and a young mother, she was holding down two jobs and living on her own. One day, she went to her mother’s house and received some unexpected praise.

“She looked at me and she said, ‘Baby, you know at this minute I want to tell you something.’ She has fox furs on, silver fox furs, and diamond earrings,” Angelou said. “She said, ‘I think you’re the greatest woman I’ve ever met.’ She said, ‘There is of course Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary McLeod Bethune, and my mother. But you’re in that category.’”

“And I thought, ‘Suppose she’s right? Suppose I really am somebody?’ She used to say she was too mean to lie. And she was very intelligent. But maybe it’s about time for me to stop smoking and stop cursing, ’cause I may be somebody.”

Angelou was working on a cable car at the time, and was far from the famous woman she would become, but her mother’s words gave her a sense of her future.

“I have learned enough now, to know I have learned nearly nothing,” she read in another excerpt from her new book. “Only stay when mothers are being honored. Let me thank you, that my selfishness, ignorance and mockery did not bring you to describe me like a broken doll, which had lost its favor. I thank you that you still find something in me to cherish, to admire and to love.”

“I thank you, mother. I love you.”

Reprinted from the ABC article, “Maya Angelou on Mothers”

A day without Dad: Getting through grief on Father’s Day

Being fatherless at any time can be tough. But it’s interesting how a commercially-driven calendar event can hammer home feelings that may otherwise remain under the surface.

Greeting cards, TV ads and social media feeds tell us how we’re supposed to feel on Father’s Day. Happiness. Celebration. Togetherness. But if you’ve lost your father or you’re a father who’s lost a child, you might not be spending the day playing catch or wrapping up ties and socks. Instead, Father’s Day can be a harsh reminder of your grief.

When you’ve lost your father

As Father’s Day approaches, lots of people make plans to spend time with their father. Some families will meet up for a BBQ, others may decide to go camping and some will pay a visit to spend time with their dad. For those who are lucky enough to still have their fathers in their life, it can be a great day. But if your father has passed away, the day can be really hard.

Father’s Day can bring up a lot of feelings. Whether you’re young or old, single or married, a parent or not, losing your father is one of the most emotional experiences you’ll ever go through. Or you may have lost your father-in-law, grandfather or other father figure in your life.

If you’re struggling with grief this Father’s Day, know that you’re not alone. Here are some things you can do to help make coping with the day a little easier.

  • Compile your memories. What are your first memories of your father? What are you grateful for? Ask your family for their memories too. Write them down.
  • Take some quiet time. Carve out some time for peace and quiet. Don’t force your thoughts or emotions. Just observe them, letting them come and go as they will. Let yourself enjoy a moment of peace.
  • Write a letter. Take the time to write some words to your father. Think about a favourite time. Recall an important life lesson he left you with. Pour out your feelings on paper or in front of the computer and be honest about everything you’re feeling.
  • Pay tribute. Do an activity your dad loved. Eat his favourite meal. Visit that special place you used to go to together. Remembering times spent together can help you cope with the day.
  • Make plans. Try planning an activity or schedule some quality time with family and friends. Staying busy can help you make it through the day.
  • Ask for help. If you start to feel overwhelmed by sadness and grief, reach out to a family member, friend or counsellor. Help and support can make all the difference.

When you’ve lost a child

Losing a child is one of the most devastating types of losses anyone can experience. No parent expects to outlive their children. It feels unnatural and wrong. Grieving the loss of a child is an experience that colours the rest of a parent’s life. You can’t escape it and on days like Father’s Day, the grief may seem too much to handle. Time won’t heal the hurt, but it will become more bearable.

For a father, facing Father’s Day after the loss of a child can be extremely upsetting. This is especially true when the loss is new, but the pain of the day may continue year after year. If you’re grieving the loss of your child, here are some tips to help you get through the day.

  • Spend time with your kids. If you have other children, spend the day with them. It may hurt to be with them and without the child you have lost, but finding joy in the children still with you is a powerful way to cope with those negative emotions of loss.
  • Surround yourself with loved ones. You may want to hide away and be alone, but resist the urge. Spending time with people who care about you will be more helpful.
  • Keep busy. Living in a state of distraction from your grief is not necessarily healthy, but on difficult days like Father’s Day it can help.
  • Remember you’re still a father. Just because you’ve lost a child doesn’t mean that you’re not still a father to them. Never forget that. You are your child’s father forever.

When kids lose their dad

Father’s Day is often a challenging time for children who have suffered a loss in their life. If you’re supporting a child who has lost their father, grandfather or a father figure, use Father’s Day to help them learn more about who the person was in life.

  • Talk about their Dad. Father’s Day is a great time to talk about the person they’ve lost. Share happy thoughts. Discuss good times. It will help ensure their father remains a real presence in their lives.
  • Listen and validate. It’s important for children to learn how to express grief and adults need to validate their feelings. Help them communicate their feelings and remind them it’s OK to feel sad, mad, afraid, confused or lonely. And help them realise that it’s because of great love that we grieve in the first place.
  • Make a memory box. Put keepsakes and other special items into a box. Tangible, visible items can help children feel connected to the person who has gone. It can be pulled out and cherished year round on birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions.
  • Create a scrapbook or photo album. Young children may not have a large bank of memories of their dad. Family photos and keepsakes can help them remember and reflect on the good times. Having a scrapbook or photo album in memory of their father is a great way to keep memories alive.
  • Build a memorial website. If you’re feeling high tech, you can build a website with pictures, stories, videos and other memories. Depending on your age and the age of your children, they may be 100% better at the project than you!

Supporting others through the day

While you may not have experienced the loss of your father, some of your friends may have. There are lots of things you can do to reach out and make their day a little brighter. Here are some ideas.

  • Send a card or make a call. It’s a small gesture that means so much. All you need to do is remind them that you’re thinking of them.
  • Be a source of comfort. Be there to listen to them and provide support.
  • Avoid platitudes. Don’t try to rush your friend through the process of grief. This only invalidates what they’re feeling. Be patient.
  • Be mindful of their feelings. If they don’t feel up to visitors, you should understand and respect that. Offer them a rain check.

Treasure good memories

Fathers play an irreplaceable role in life. If you had a good dad, then Father’s Day can be sorrowful and maybe even bittersweet as you remember good times. If you had a more difficult relationship, the day can bring up feelings of loneliness and sadness. Or if you’re a father suffering the loss of a child, it can amplify those feelings of loss and bereavement.

Focus on what your father meant to you and what you learnt from him. What is your father’s legacy? Why was he important to you? And remember, Father’s Day is a special day for celebrating and remembering fathers, grandfathers and others, whether they’re living or not. Take advantage of the day.


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Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday, May 10, and many of you are shopping for gifts for Mom. This is a great opportunity to support Behind the Badge Foundation and shop for mom. 

Planting a garden can be full of peace and healing

March 19 is the first day of spring. Planting a garden can be full of peace and healing…”You can “dig for victory” but I have discovered you can also dig for mental health. Creating a new garden by hand, working in step with nature and the seasons, has enabled me to unpack my feelings in a more deliberate way than I might otherwise have done. A garden forces emotional patience. Plants can’t be hurried but they have a definite constancy.” –Charlie Hart


Digging through tears: how gardening helped me to grieve for my parents