What is Respond with Resilience™?

Respond with Resilience™ Psychological Wellness for Emergency Services First Responders is a proactive, prevention-oriented resilience skills class. The class teaches skills designed to help shield emergency responders from the negative effects of stressful incidents and situations while developing mental toughness and supporting overall well-being in all facets of the responder’s life. PilotLight Resilience Resources offers the class in two formats: a one-day in-person 8-hour class, or a virtual (over Zoom) class that is delivered in three 3-hour sessions (for a total of 9 hours).

The Respond with Resilience™ class is open to all members of emergency response departments, but we especially hope to reach Peer Support Team members, who are in a unique position to reinforce the lessons within their department.

Is resilience teachable and learnable?

Psychological resilience is the process of adapting in positive and productive ways to situations involving adversity or risk. We are born with a natural ability to be resilient. Nevertheless, when circumstances hinder the ability to act in resilient ways, such as when someone is subjected to repeated trauma, a set of teachable skills can restore and strengthen the mental toughness and flexibility needed to be resilient. Likewise, resilience skills can be taught proactively to prepare individuals to respond productively in the face of life’s challenges.

Why can the emergency response community benefit from learning and practicing resilience skills?

Emergency responders routinely face severe work-related stresses. Violent, gruesome incidents are a well-documented, unavoidable part of the job. The stress of the job often gets carried home and affects significant others and other family members. Stress that originates at home or in other areas of life can also be carried to the emergency responder job. The risks for behavioral health problems associated with these accumulated stresses include absenteeism, burnout, depression, sleep disturbance, anxiety, alcoholism, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide.

Emergency responders may become vulnerable at any time during their career, though studies have found elevated risk for behavioral health problems early in a firefighting career, as well as at the end of the career, in retirement.

Resilience training is a prevention-oriented effort to shield emergency responders from the negative effects of stressful incidents and situations while developing mental toughness and flexibility to support overall well-being in all facets of the responder’s life.

What makes Respond with Resilience™ different from other behavioral health programs for emergency responders?

Most programs for the emergency responder community address behavioral health problems after they occur. And while those crucial efforts need to continue, our class aims to actively prepare Peer Support Team members of emergency response organizations to promote healthy patterns of thinking and prevent negative reactions to traumatic stress before the harmful effects of exposure take root and manifest in behavioral health problems.

The Respond with Resilience™ class is based on three major factors that studies say influence the degree to which firefighters and emergency medical responders are resilient. When these factors are present, they can prevent or relieve problems. The absence of these factors can lead to or worsen problems. These three factors are interrelated in their effects.
• Flexible, optimistic, realistic, thorough (FORT) thinking. This type of thinking results from flexibly, accurately, and thoroughly assessing situations. Realistic thinking is not necessarily negative. Optimistic realism puts one in a better frame of mind to seek solutions and face stressful situations.
• Capacity for coping. An emergency responder’s belief that he or she can cope effectively with a stressful event is associated with less psychological distress. This includes the confidence that one can successfully intervene when possible, as well as the ability to recognize and come to terms with events beyond one’s control.
• Social support. Feelings of belonging and supportive relationships with family, friends, peers, supervisors, and others are associated with decreased risk of behavioral health problems in emergency responders. Reducing negative social interactions may be just as important as increasing social support.

The Respond with Resilience™ class is not designed to treat individuals with PTSD or other behavioral health problems. Our class teaches resilience skills that have been shown to prevent behavioral health problems in the military and promote mental wellness in a proactive way. In this way, it complements existing post-incident, post-distress efforts by actively preparing Peer Support Team members of emergency response organization to prevent negative reactions to traumatic stress before the exposure to events occurs. Peer Support Team members can add these skills to their toolbox of resources when dealing with their peers, and as part of their own self care.

What kind of results can be expected from learning resilience skills?

Resilience skills training based on this research is currently being conducted in the military, athletics, law enforcement, and other high-stress, high-performance occupations with successful results. The US Army reported increased psychological health, fewer mental health problems, and fewer substance abuse problems among soldiers exposed to the training. The US Navy found that recruits who received resilience training reported lower stress levels, better problem solving, higher group cohesion, and increased social support. In addition, the Navy retained significantly more recruits in the divisions exposed to resilience training.

Many of the lessons in our Respond with Resilience™ training are modeled after an approach used successfully with military audiences, but adapted to the needs and culture of the fire and EMS community. Such a program has the potential to result in benefits similar to successful military training in terms of helping to foster mental wellness, prevent behavioral health problems, boost retention, and prevent burnout among emergency responders. We build an evaluation component into our training to measure specific results and use them to refine the training.

Instantaneous results do not follow from a single resilience training session. Rather, results build over time as skills are practiced and repeated, similar to the way muscle memory develops when motor tasks are trained over and over.

What is positive psychology?

The general approach of Respond with Resilience™ is derived from the science and research of positive psychology. Positive psychology is the scientific study of what is “right” with people, the factors that lead to satisfaction with life, and how we can identify and develop our strengths to cultivate the best in ourselves and those around us in every aspect of life. Positive psychology also studies the factors that cause us to be resilient in the face of hardship and negative experiences. In this way, positive psychology provides a balance to so-called “traditional” psychology, which tends to focus on diagnosing and treating dysfunction and mental illness. Both approaches are necessary to mental wellness but address the problem from different perspectives.