Blog

Suffering in Silence: Cops and Booze

Cops. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em.

We love them when they rescue Miss Kitty from the storm drain.

Not so when they write us a ticket for doing 50 in a 35.

Whatever your perspective on cops, consider this. Cops have significantly higher rates of alcoholism, along with suicide and divorce, than the general public. 

Which means that along with the power comes a measure of pain.

A Widespread Problem

Alcohol abuse among cops is both serious and widespread. Some studies estimate that between one-quarter to one-third of all police officers in the U.S. have drinking problems.

And it’s no coincidence that law enforcement is considered one of the top most stressful occupations in the country.

What makes it so stressful? Interestingly, physical danger doesn’t top the list. Here’s the list:

Stressors Within the Department

  • Poor supervision (too lenient or too tough)
  • Little or no upward mobility
  • No reward system for a job well done
  • Ambiguous policies and procedures
  • Excessive paperwork
  • Poor and outdated equipment

Stressors in the Community

  • Jurisdictional disputes with other agencies
  • An ineffective criminal justice system
  • Biased news reporting
  • Negative attitudes of the public towards police
  • Political interference
  • Lack of community resources 

On the Job Stressors

  • The pain and anguish of crime victims (yes, cops do care)
  • Conflict between their roles of police officer and of husband, father, Little League coach, etc.
  • Rotating shifts
  • Fear and danger
  • Employee review boards (In New York City, it’s the Civilian Complaint Review Board)

Well, hey, we all have problems, right? Why don’t these cops just take up yoga or see a therapist?

Problem is, it’s not how they roll.

Police culture is like….John Wayne! Be strong. Don’t let ‘em see ya sweat. Never apologize, it’s a sign of weakness.

You get the idea, pilgrim.

It’s a Cultural Thing

Booze has been part of cop culture since the first NYPD officers began pounding the beat in 1845. In the days before “patrol” meant riding around in a climate controlled SUV, a nip or two of brandy was essential to spending eight hours on foot post on a cold winter’s night.

Drinking also was—and still is—the preferred method of dealing with the stress of the job. See, cops don’t generally like to tell their families about the nasty stuff they deal with. They can try to talk to their civilian friends, but frankly if you haven’t ever walked the walk then you’ll never really understand.

Cynicism and distrust of others is very common given the nature of police work. It’s hard to just walk into some strange therapist’s office and begin spilling your guts.

So they drink alone. And when they get together after work. Because sometimes the only person a cop will talk to, is another cop.

Help is Available

As a former EMT and reserve police officer, I’ve had the honor of helping cops, firefighters, EMS personnel and active and retired military service members.  Feel free to call me at 732.291.1993.

Also, in New Jersey we have a fabulous program called Cop2Cop, which offers a 24-hour helpline for police officers and their families. The phones are manned by retired cops who are trained to provide brief counseling and resources for a variety of problems including substance abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts, marital difficulties, and many others.

If you’re on the job and you think you might like to talk to someone who’s been there, done that, here’s the number:

1.866.Cop.2Cop (1.866.267-2267)

You can also visit their website at: http://ubhc.umdnj.edu/cop2cop/main.htm

If you’re the family member or friend of a police officer in crisis, I urge you to share the Cop2Cop hotline number with them, ASAP.

James Genovese, LPC, LCADC, is the founding director of Milestone Group, LLC, a full-service counseling and psychotherapy practice located in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. He specializes in treating depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other behavioral health issues. He is also a fully trained EMDR provider. To hear Jim’s recent radio interview on this topic, click here. You can read his research paper on alcoholism and law enforcement by clicking here.

© James Genovese, LPC, LCADC / Milestone Group LLC (2012)

Breaking the Stigma of Addiction

“You’re an addict,” the rehab counselor says firmly as she locks eyes with her young client. “And what’s more, you will always be an addict for as long as you live.”

Factually, her advice is correct. Addiction is a chronic disorder.

But does labeling a person “addict” do more harm than good?

“Whoa, Jim!” Some of you are shouting at your computer screens right now. “Don’t you agree with the 12-Step Tradition?”

I do. Read on and I’ll explain.

It’s What We Tell Ourselves

During my years in the mental health field, I’ve worked in many settings including inpatient crisis, rehab, intensive outpatient, and private practice. A good portion of my work has been with persons suffering from chemical and behavioral (or, process) addictions.

From time to time I’ve had to speak with a client who messed up for one reason or another while in treatment. Here’s the response I sometimes get:

“What do you expect? I’m an addict.”

At which point we have a little discussion about how that person is a whole human being. That there’s more to him than just addiction. That it’s on him to behave as a responsible citizen. And that he can no longer use his addiction as an excuse not to.

See, as a Cognitive-Behavioral therapist I believe that what people tell themselves about themselves and about the world, directly affects their attitudes and how they behave.

For example, let’s say I have a client who’s struggling with depression. Would you agree that I should help her adopt a belief that she’s a person of worth who can find peace and contentment?

If so, you’d be right. Positive self-talk leads to positive attitudes and behaviors.

But what if I told her to keep telling herself: “I’m a depressive.” You think that would help or hurt? If you answered the latter then you’d be right and I would need to pursue a new career.

Now think of the negative connotation the word “addict” has for most people: slothful, self-indulgent, untrustworthy. Why would we ask people recovering from chemical or behavioral dependency to adopt this as the main way they describe themselves?

Whole Person Perspective

Which brings us to the 12-Step Tradition. I believe in it and strongly encourage my clients with addictions to regularly attend meetings and get a sponsor. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and others, can be an integral part of recovery.

In the meetings, it’s absolutely appropriate—and necessary—for members to openly acknowledge their addictions by declaring, “I am Joe, and I am an [alcoholic/drug addict/gambler, etc.].” That’s where you go to get real. Drop guilt. Get invaluable feedback from your peers who’ve been there, done that.

As a professional counselor, however, I have a different yet complimentary role. My goal is to help clients achieve personal growth. To become all they can be. Which is why the only label I use is:

HUMAN BEING.

Yes, their addiction is and always will be a part of them. But it’s not the only part. Being human means they must view themselves as whole persons—with strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, values, goals and dreams. In other words, a whole person perspective.

What Not to Say at a Party

Here’s an example from my own life. I have high blood pressure, which I control with diet, exercise (when I can tear myself away from the office), and medication.

But outside of work, in a social setting, I sure don’t go up to people and say, “Hi, I’m Jim and I’m a hypertensive.” That’d sound pretty bizarre and would probably get me a corner in the room all to myself.

More to the point, “hypertensive” only describes a part of me, not the whole. I’m also a husband, son, uncle, animal lover, and my interests include going to the theatre, history, the beach, and old buses (don’t question, just accept), to name a few.

Removing the “addict” label carries with it the obligation to act as a responsible and mature citizen. And that includes taking responsibility for working your recovery program every day and reaching out for help when you need it.

Whole human beings take care of themselves. They take their blood pressure medications, go to work, pay their bills, and actively work their recovery programs. And they celebrate themselves for who they are. The good parts as well as the not-so-good parts.

It’s a daily walk we all should gladly take with our heads held high.

James Genovese, LPC, LCADC, is the founding director of Milestone Group, LLC, a full-service counseling and psychotherapy practice located in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. He specializes in treating depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other behavioral health issues. He is also a fully trained EMDR provider. You can contact him at jgenovese@milestonegroupnj.com.

© James Genovese, LPC, LCADC, NCC / Milestone Group LLC (2012)

The “EMDR” Treatment for Trauma – Part 1

A Flock of Seagulls (Actually They Were Robins)

It was a beautiful autumn day. She had just seen her doctor. The news was bad. So she wandered into Central Park. Upset. Scared.

Then she noticed them. Flocks of red-breasted robins flying in V-formation, left to right, across the azure sky. She watched intently as they passed. She became lost in their flight.

Then, suddenly, realization.

“I feel…better!” she mumbled incredulously to herself.

All the way home she pondered what had just happened. Was it the birds themselves? Maybe it was their path of flight. The psychologist in her couldn’t ignore the neurological possibilities.

When she got home she invited some friends over, and sat each one down, one a time, asking them to think of something troubling to them.

You Want Me to Do What?

The subject sat, skeptical at first, his eyes following the good doctor’s fingers as she rapidly moved them back and forth in front of his face. It went on for several moments. Then came The Question:

“How do you feel now about the thing that’s troubling you?”

“Better.”

For each of her friends the outcome was the same. The repetitive, left-to-right eye movement seemed to reduce—if not eliminate—their annoyed or distressed feelings.

From these unusual beginnings some 20 years ago, Dr. Francine Shapiro developed the landmark psychotherapy technique known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing—EMDR for short.

Hope for Victims of Trauma

Today, EMDR has become a leading-edge treatment for a variety of issues, including:

  • Combat-related PTSD;
  • Rape and childhood sexual abuse;
  • Serious illness or injury;
  • Workplace harassment; and
  • Experiencing natural and man-made disasters.

The beauty of EMDR is that it’s not long-term therapy. Most patients see significant results in just 12 sessions or less.

Here’s how it works…

There’s a Little Microsoft in All of Us (and Apples Too)

Think of your brain as a computer. (Actually, computers were modeled after the human brain). We all have a kind of RAM memory that’s supposed to hold information temporarily until we can figure out where to store it in a more permanent part of our memory (think hard drive).

We process every experience we have in this way, moving it from RAM to hard drive. Except for experiences so overwhelming we don’t quite know how to process them. These get stuck in RAM.

I’m talking nasty stuff like:

  • Being raped and beaten by an adult family member when you’re just five.
  • Watching your Army buddy get blown to bits by an IED in Iraq.
  • Coming down with a life-threatening illness.
  • Surviving a terrible disaster like an earthquake or a terror attack.

Unprocessed—or stuck—experiences can worm their way back into our consciousness days, weeks, even years after they happened. They come as flashbacks…nightmares…intrusive and unpleasant thoughts.

Here’s the good news…EMDR can help you get unstuck.

[SPOILER: In Part Two I show you how.]

James Genovese, LPC, LCADC, is the founding director of Milestone Group, LLC, a full-service counseling and psychotherapy practice located in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. He specializes in treating depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other behavioral health issues. He is also a fully trained EMDR provider.

© James Genovese, LPC, LCADC / Milestone Group LLC (2012)

The “EMDR” Treatment for Trauma – Part 2

In this installment, as promised, you’ll learn how Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can help you un-stick these experiences and move them to where they belong.

But first, let’s take a brief look at how your brain processes information.

It’s All About the Wiring

To continue with the computer analogy (I just figure that if a non-techie like me can understand this stuff, then so can the rest of the world!), computers contain tens of thousands of circuits and microcircuits that convey information back and forth between the keyboard, mouse, monitor and other peripherals to different areas of the core processor (aka, the “brains” of the computer).

The human counterparts of computer circuitry are called neurons, and they are legion. The human body contains billions of these specialized cells, all interconnected by special electrical and chemical bodies called synapses. Synaptic connections create movement of sensory data from all parts of the body to the brain, where the data is then analyzed, interpreted, and stored for future reference.

Say, for example, I’m in my back yard one afternoon and notice a small black creature with a white line running down its back and its tail sticking up in the air. This visual sensory information is conveyed from my eyes to my brain, with the following end result:

Analysis: I’m looking at a skunk.

Course of action: RUN LIKE HELL.

A Dead End Street

For most of us, a simple event such as seeing a skunk (hopefully before he sees you!) is…pardon the pun…a no-brainer for your brain to handle.

Unfortunately, everything in life isn’t always that straightforward.

Surviving childhood sexual physical abuse is a good example. Young children have an innate sense that their adult caregivers are supposed to give them exactly what that name implies: caring, love, and protection.

So when an adult family member grievously hurts instead of protects you, as a five or six year old your brain can’t make sense of that horrendous experience. It has simply no frame of reference from which to process it.

Kind of like when your GPS takes you down a dead-end street. Or when you leave information in your computer’s “RAM” memory because you can’t figure out where to save it on the hard drive. 

Blazing New Trails

What the left-to-right brain stimulation appears to do is create new neural pathways in the brain for the stuck material to move from the RAM-like memory to that part of your memory where past experiences are normally archived.

By the way, unlike its name suggests, EMDR doesn’t just involve eye movement. It also works with audio tones and hand-held pulsing devices. Or, if you prefer, your therapist gently taps your palms with a pencil (eraser-side, so you don’t end up looking like you were stoking coal with your bare hands).

What also helps you move the information along the new pathway, is your talking about the unpleasant memory to your therapist and noting any associated thoughts, images, other memories, or sensations that may arise during the stimulation.

Sound incredible? I thought so when I first heard of EMDR. But since getting trained in this procedure, I’ve used it numerous times and am always amazed when I see true healing take place for my clients.

Want to know more? Drop me a line at jgenovese@milestonegroupnj.com.

James Genovese, LPC, LCADC, is the founding director of Milestone Group, LLC, a full-service counseling and psychotherapy practice located in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. He specializes in treating depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other behavioral health issues. He is also a fully trained EMDR provider.

© James Genovese, LPC, LCADC / Milestone Group LLC (2012)