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Law Enforcement/First Responder Support & Training

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My Backup Office Sign

Welcome to MY BACKUP, my new First Responder Wellness Program

My Backup, An Introduction...



Click here to watch my podcast episode
"Chera & My Backup, An Introduction" Podcast #1 (03/11/22)



Click here to watch my podcast episode
"First Responders Coping with Alcohol, the How & Why" Podcast #3 (03/26/22)


Chera & First Responders: Preventing PTSD and Getting Through the Tough Calls
Click here to watch my podcast episode
"Chera & First Responders: Preventing PTSD and Getting Through the Tough Calls" Podcast #5 (03/30/22)


Who is this lady?

Some of our local LEOs (law enforcement officers), fire fighters, and dispatch have met me by now, but others may still be wondering who is this lady I'm seeing on calls and who keeps popping up at the station? In a nutshell, I am a licensed psychotherapist and university professor who is a certified first responder counselor and peer support team leader/personnel trainer. I have a bachelor’s degree (minor) in criminology and master’s degree in mental health counseling (summa cum laude).

Throughout the years, I've taught upper division psych courses at SOU while supporting veterans with Psych Armor in my private practice. Recently, as my nephew joined the San Jose PD, I began to wonder who was supporting our LEOs? In researching the matter, I was surprised to discover we had no licensed mental health professionals certified to work with first responders within a 300-mile radius. Given the recent wave across our nation of anti-LEO rhetoric resulting in increased stress, lower pay rates, reduced recruitment, and higher turnover, I felt compelled to do something. So, last September (2021), I began taking steps to fill that 300-mile gap by acquiring the skills I needed to support them. Not only is it my goal to support our LEOs, I want them to know there are people out there who really appreciate them, who see the physical and emotional sacrifices they make 24/7 to keep our community safe.

 

Chera LEO certification homework digital collage

(click image to enlarge)

My role? In Canada, therapists are already part of responder teams with offices inside the departments, so rapport is practically a given and the stigma of talking to them significantly reduced. Unfortunately, most responder agencies here, in the US, do not have in-house mental health support. In fact, most departments, like those in our community, do not even have peer support teams, forcing responders to suffer alone in silence or seek help on their own. Even if they have the courage to seek mental health support on the outside, which many justifiably will not, they still face the challenge of finding a therapist a) they can trust, b) has openings, and c) is professionally competent to meet the needs of first responders.

Chera's Certification Homework Dispatch Collage

(click image to enlarge)

Having a wellness program in place means someone has your back 24/7. You will not be forced to suffer in silence for fear of losing your career or marriage, nor will you have to let things go to the extent you begin to self-medicate, self-harm, or just give up. As a psychotherapist, I am the one people come to when they feel trapped, under pressure, or burdened with situations, thoughts, or feelings not sharable with anyone else.

Chera's certification homework EMS collage

(click image to enlarge)

I feel my role as a therapist is to be that 100% trusted person with no strings attached—one who does not judge you for what you have done (or thought of doing) and, aside from mandated reporting, will not share even the existence of our working relationship with loved ones, employers, or HR depts. In fact, my work is even protected from court subpoenas.

I was so pleased this fall (Oct 2021) to have been so warmly welcomed by then Officer Priddy (now Sergeant), Chief Gibson, and the rest of the team at the Mt Shasta (MSPD). They allowed me to hang out within the station, talking with the team about their careers, and went on several day and night ride-alongs while earning my first responder counselor certification. Since then, I have earned two more responder-related certifications: one as a clinical trauma professional and the other as a first responder peer support team leader and personnel trainer. I will continue to educate myself through these certifications and ride-alongs and am planning to collaborate with LEO academies and university criminology and psychology depts. But I am most excited about getting the message out worldwide via my new podcast. I have set up a studio in both my California and Oregon offices to share my passion about responder wellbeing, hopefully to increase awareness and reduce the stigma of first responder psychological support.

In addition to my ride-alongs with MSPD, I began doing ride-alongs with the sheriff office (SO) and organizing collaboration with the peer support team leader of our local CHP office (California Highway Patrol). I was actually approached by Chaplain Keith Bradley to help the SO create its first officer wellness program (to which I agreed, of course), but assuming the SO’s program will only serve county personnel, I asked Chief Gibson of MSPD if he would like to establish a wellness program for his team of LEOs and dispatch (to which he agreed). Depending upon the needs of the MSPD down the road, we may set up a peer support team, too, but for now, the Chief and I are just beginning to set up the new wellness program with the help of Sgt Priddy, who had expressed enthusiasm about working with me on this back in October. What could be a more promising goal for this new sergeant and chief than to show their team with action, not just talk, how much they care about their wellbeing, safety, and quality of life?

Please know I am here for all first responders even if your agency does not have a wellness program or peer support team. I am both qualified and available to support all first responders throughout California and Oregon for confidential counseling and 24/7-365 crisis support.

FAQ

If you (or a responder you care about) are considering counseling, I imagine you have some questions--I have an idea what some of them might be, so I've created this FAQ to hopefully put your mind at ease and reduce any remaining barriers preventing you from reaching out for support.

By the way, the information in this list and some other good stuff are discussed in detail in my first podcast, "Chera & My Backup, An Introduction" (see left or visit my podcast page to see all of my podcast episodes--of course, if you subscribe to my YouTube channel "CheraTherapy," you will never miss a new podcast episode!).


1. Will seeing you affect my fit-for-duty assessment in any way?

No. In order to protect the purity of the therapeutic alliance, I am intentionally choosing not to provide nor collaborate with any fit-for-duty assessment services. As with any other client, per HIPAA privacy regulations, I will not share any of your private health information (PHI) to anyone or any agency without your informed written consent.

2. Will seeing you affect my job (or career) in any way?

Yes and No.

Yes: Hopefully, our work together will help you to become a healthier, happier, and more effective responder with increased mental focus in times of stress or chaos. Hopefully, we will also increase your emotional resilience to make you less vulnerable to acute or cumulative traumatic stress.

No: I am absolutely under no obligation to report any part of your chart to anyone, including your employer, supervisor, or HR. Apart from the standard mandated reporting issues of being a harm to self or others, what is said in each session with me stays in each session—our work is even protected from court subpoenas.

3. Does my counseling have to be work-related?

No. As a state licensed and national board-certified therapist, I am qualified to help you with any biopsychosocial complaint you may be experiencing. Sometimes it is difficult to tease out what is work-related versus what is not, anyway, but because we will be billing your medical insurance, as opposed to EAP or worker’s compensation, there are no restrictions regarding the subject of your complaints.

4. What kinds of things would I see you for and is anything off-limits?

You can see me for any psychological complaint you have, and no topic is off-limits. As a gun enthusiast who put over 100k miles on her last motorcycle commuting over the hill to SOU, I am probably not like other therapists you’ve met. Believe it or not, much of my pre-doctoral and private practice work has been on the subject of sexology/gender identity development, so I can safely say it takes a bit to make me blush. I feel very strongly in supporting my clients’ journeys wherever they take us, but here are some common complaints you might want to talk about:

a. mood/emotional complaints: anxiety; depression; sadness; anger; grumpiness, frustration; confusion; worry…

b. behavioral changes change in energy, weight, sleep, appetite, or libido; reduced self-care by way of diet, rest, exercise, or appearance; arguing with/distancing from spouse; losing touch with friends or not doing the things you used to enjoy, such as quality time with family, sports, exercise, woodworking, art, cooking, traveling, fishing, hunting, camping, hiking…

c. work-related issues: empathy fatigue; discomfort with conflict or self-assertiveness; residual intrusive thoughts or nightmares about difficult calls—such as with children; difficulties with family who worry about you or pressure you to leave your career; difficulties with parenting due to irrational fears; difficulties with mental focus during times of stress or chaos; frustration with coworkers or working conditions, assigned duties, pay rate, work schedule; perceived lack of support from supervisors or community; lack of fairness of the justice system or unclear/ineffective public policy…

d. hypervigilance: feeling energized while on-duty but fatigued and grumpy at home, just wanting to “zone out” with television, social media, or video games—leading to reduced socialization, exercise, recreation, and quality time with loved ones…

e. maladaptive coping seeking escape, relying more heavily upon substances, thrill-seeking behaviors, pornography, or promiscuity…

5. Can I bring a friend or family member to my sessions?

Our sessions together are your time to focus just on you. Whether for support or to help process interpersonal (relationship) issues, you are certainly welcome to bring anyone you like to your sessions (spouse, family member, children, friend, etc.).

6. What about groups?

Groups are always an option and can be extremely effective in increasing camaraderie and normalizing difficult experiences. I am happy to facilitate group sessions or trainings on any subject upon request.

7. How many sessions can I have and how do I pay you?

There are usually no limits to the number of sessions you can have, but if you text or email me a pic of your medical insurance card (front and back), I will take it from there. I can accept all forms of payment for any copays or out-of-pocket deductibles you might have. Again, no one at work, including HR, will know you are seeing me.

8. How can I get in touch with you and when can we meet?

I realize responders work 24/7-365. I also realize the courage to reach out for help can be fleeting, so it is my intention to be as accessible as possible to you. Please know I am available to my clients 24/7-365 via text msg on my confidential cell (530) 859-3155, and I can provide telephone or Zoom sessions day or night should you find yourself in a tough spot and just need to talk.

Please do not feel bad calling me after hours. Addressing these issues in their immediacy is a clinical strategy I have found to be very effective in my work with my veteran clients. Besides, it is my privilege to be invited to walk with you during the difficult times of your life—and this is something I do not take lightly. Regular ongoing sessions are typically 50-60 mins each scheduled on a weekly or biweekly basis. We can meet face-to-face at my Mt Shasta office (110 Castle Street—next to NAPA Auto), my Ashland office (542 Washington St, Ste 201), or out in the field. We can also arrange home visits for family sessions or meet remotely by phone or Zoom.