8 Ways Cops (or Anyone Else) Can Be Good Therapy Clients

Jul 23, 2021

  • A client will get more out of therapy if they are an active participant in their own treatment.
  • Therapy takes time and patience. It doesn’t have to take forever, but, depending on one’s issues, it is often not a quick fix.
  • One’s goals for therapy may change in surprising ways.

You’re starting therapy with a new therapist. Maybe you had a few false starts. Like the clinician you saw who thought cops were brutal racists and had more empathy for the guy you arrested than he did for you. Or the woman who teared up when you talked about the fatal motor vehicle wreck that killed two children. She said compassion was her Achilles heel and she didn’t think she could listen to your stories.

But after an initial session or two, this current clinician seems neutral, sturdy, knows about the sub-culture of policing, is willing to answer your questions, and has a sense of humor. So now what do you do? How do you get the most out of therapy?

Be honest.

It’s amazing how many clients, particularly cop clients, hide things because they are embarrassed, ashamed, or don’t want to hurt, frighten, or disgust their therapists.

It’s not your job to protect your therapist. It is your responsibility to keep looking until you find a therapist who can tolerate hearing about what you see and do at work.

Don’t expect miracles.

Therapy has its ups and downs. There are many paradoxes in therapy—sometimes you have to lose control to get it back. Another way of saying this is that sometimes you have to feel bad to feel better. This is particularly true if you’ve been avoiding facing something painful. We have a saying at the First Responder Support Network: You’re only as sick as your secrets.

Have patience.

In general, cops are action-oriented problem solvers who hate feeling miserable. You have to give therapy a chance. Ask your therapist to estimate how long your treatment might take, but remember, it’s only an estimate.

Ernie was complaining that 6 weeks of therapy hadn’t cured him of 45 years of problems. He needed to help his therapist help him by processing or observing what was happening to him between sessions, making notes, or writing things in a journal. He needed to tell his psychologist about what thoughts kept running through his head, how his relationships were going, and what was turning up in his dreams. Instead, he sat back waiting to be cured. He wouldn’t even tell her he was feeling discouraged with therapy. It was as though he expected her to read his mind, something no mental health professional can do.

Buckle your seatbelt.

The outcomes of therapy are sometimes different from the ones you expected. You may get into therapy to figure out how to leave your spouse and wind up saving your marriage. Or you may bring your son in for treatment and discover he is depressed because you and your mate are fighting all the time. The only way to change him is to first get help for your relationship.

Be there for yourself.

People often enter therapy hoping to change someone else. There is really only one person you have the power to change—yourself. Have you ever tried to diet, start an exercise program, slow down, be nicer to your kids, and so on. Then you know that changing yourself isn’t easy. Trying to change someone else is impossible.

Prepare yourself for unanticipated change.

What seems normal to you because you have lived with it for so long may change in the course of therapy. Stu had suffered for years with a rash of physical problems fueled by a tense and angry atmosphere at work. When things settled down at work as a result of counseling, his health improved. Before therapy, he hadn’t connected the two.

Keep your goals achievable, manageable, and supportable.

Some clients start therapy hoping for a quick, drastic change. Jolie wants to lose weight, never get angry at her kids or her husband, always be patient with her elderly mother and never be lazy, selfish, or cranky despite working full time in a high crime district with lots of mandatory overtime. When she finished therapy, she wasn’t the perfect woman she had hoped to be, but she had made one important change. She learned to accept herself as she was, limitations and all. She was more self-disclosing and no longer put on a happy face when she was feeling scared and hollow inside. She had a sense of who she was, what she wanted to be, and a more realistic self-appraisal. She still had a messy house, unruly kids, and a less-than-perfect husband, but she had learned better ways to deal with her anger and didn’t blow up so much or so quickly.

Don’t quit therapy cold turkey.

When you and your therapist agree the time has come to stop, take a few sessions to close out your relationship and review your work together.

Wrapping things up can be a very rich installment in the therapy process. You have many options for stopping. You can pick a date to stop or space out the time between sessions from once a week to once a month. You can even schedule some check-ups in advance or arrange to talk by telephone. It’s comforting to know that you can go back for a session or two now and then before things build up.

Psychotherapy is an investment in yourself, your family, and your future. It takes guts to face problems and humility to ask for help, especially if you’re a cop. Seeking help when you need it is a sign of emotional health, not an indication that you are crazy, weak, or broken. It means you are in pain and want to feel better. The folks I worry about are the ones who are suffering in silence, who need assistance but can’t bring themselves to get it until a once-preventable crisis makes everything worse.


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