Teaching cops how to de-stress for success
Michelle Hastie was a top cop in the Henderson, Nevada, police department, a hostage negotiator and peer-support officer with an excellent service record. But in November 2007, she reported a colleague for wrongdoing — he was opening mail that didn't belong to him and threatening not to back up other officers — and her life changed forever.
"It was just like a light switch," Hastie remembers. The officer found out who'd pointed the finger at him and started harassing Hastie. Someone broke into her locker at work, and a hole was punched in the badge on the business card identifying the locker as hers: Death to an officer. Her husband, also an officer in the department, was told to make his wife "keep her fucking mouth shut."
Although many of their fellow cops supported Hastie, there were enough detractors in the department that the stress started getting to her. "I was breaking out in hives, and I wasn't sleeping," she says. "I was cutting myself off from my friends and family. I wasn't going outside and running anymore. I was afraid to go outside, which was...I mean, really? I'm the ultimate tomboy who's a cop, who specifically picked the worst side of town because I like it, and I was afraid to be outside by myself."
She was seeing a department-assigned trauma therapist, but that didn't help. "He didn't give me any tools to deal with the stress," she recalls. "The only thing he gave me was, 'If you're really frustrated with them, count to ten and breathe.' That's really not going to work."
But then Hastie's mother, who owns Ram's Horn Village Resort in Estes Park, met a woman who was visiting there: Lisa Wimberger, the founder of Trance Personnel Consulting Group, a Denver-based outfit specializing in stress relief. A member of the National Center for Crisis Management, Wimberger had worked with such Fortune 500 companies as Accenture and Bellco, but she was interested in getting stress-relief techniques into the hands of people who really need them — starting with police officers.
And although many cops dismiss touchy-feely techniques such as creative visualization and guided meditation out of hand, Hastie was desperate. "I'd never experienced that kind of stress," she says. "I would have been willing to do anything at that point."
In August 2008, she began working with Wimberger over the phone. "The breathing techniques really worked well with me," Hastie says. "And finding a place that I could escape to, a place of peace, was something that I really needed."
Hastie continued consulting with Wimberger through March 2009, and credits her with helping save her marriage as well as her sanity. "It could have been bad," she admits. "I could have been one of those recluses who winds up with newspapers all around their bed." A lawsuit that Hastie filed against the Henderson Police Department was settled out of court, and she's no longer with the department; she's now back in school, studying international affairs.
"I'm still having a little bit of an identity crisis," she concedes. "These are huge changes for me." But Wimberger's tools are helping her roll with the punches.
If Wimberger had her way, cops like Hastie wouldn't need to get help over the phone; their departments would already offer stress-management training as part of a preventive program. Through Trance Personnel Consulting, Wimberger has offered several such workshops at metro area police departments, teaching rooms full of cops how to ground themselves, create a safe space inside, clear their personal boundaries of external influences and fill their bodies with positive intention and light. "People who gravitate toward these techniques are really good at gravitating toward other coping techniques that they need," she says. "I wanted to bring this to organizations that need it desperately but wouldn't know where to find it."
Lisa Wimberger settles cross-legged on the stage in front of her hang drum — one of the rarest drums on the planet — and rearranges her flowing, embroidered skirt. Across from her sits her husband, Gilly Gonzalez, who creates the backbone of Lil Sum'n Sum'n with his wife; the two are also the percussionists for local gypsy-funk group Lunar Fire. As they draw melodious tones from the hang drum, Wimberger closes her eyes and smiles, losing herself in the beat, swaying back and forth; later, when she takes her place behind the larger congas, she reveals her background as a dancer as she pounds out the rhythm, spinning out an extended conversation with Gonzalez that's worded entirely through beats and melodies, supplemented by guest throat singers or world-renowned violinists.
Wimberger has been drumming for fourteen years; while others turn to meditation as a relief from the day-to-day world, Wimberger uses music as an escape from the daily business of meditation.
She discovered meditation when she was just a kid growing up on Long Island. An older brother was taking a college-level self-hypnosis class, and he shared his lessons with his twelve-year-old sister. "The minute he taught me these self-hypnosis techniques, I knew they were necessary tools for my life," she remembers. "At a young age, I didn't understand them, but it was like a fish to water. Out of all the things you go through when you're a teenager and all the drama, these self-hypnosis techniques were what made sense to me. I didn't do any drugs, I didn't misbehave, I didn't smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. When other people were escaping, I was going into meditative trance."
She began studying meditation more formally even as she earned her master's degree in education from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. When she started working as a middle-school teacher in New York City in 1994, the ascension meditation techniques she'd learned from Ishaya monks who offered workshops in Brooklyn, teaching people to stimulate spiritual growth and connect to a higher self, came in particularly handy. "It was the ascension techniques that kept me functional in the classroom with a group of children who had more critical trauma than I would have ever imagined," she says. "Prostitutes, or children living in a car panhandling because their mother was on crack. There was a thirteen-year-old boy raising his three-year-old sister, and a thirteen-year-old girl who was introduced into prostitution by her brother. One kid with Tourette's — social services went to his house and found only cat food...
"So this is the group of children I'm dealing with, and nothing prepared me for that except the ascension techniques from the monks," she remembers. "That prepared me to be the best resource I could be for the kids without caving under the insurmountable trauma they presented to me that I had no ability to address. That's when I first started seeing that the techniques I was using my whole life were applicable to external situations."
In 1997, Wimberger left New York and moved to Colorado, where she taught at Evergreen High School and Arapahoe Community College and took up drumming. She also started taking survivalist courses, spending a week in the New Jersey pine barrens learning primitive survival techniques, including how to carve a bow drill and start a fire with it, identify edible plants, build primitive shelters, stalk animals — and skin them after bringing them down, brain-tanning the hides for clothing. But she didn't give up on more peaceful pursuits, and continued working with the monks through 1999; they would fly out to her house on weekends to offer in-home workshops, as they do with workshop hosts around the world.
After a year of teaching, Wimberger took a break to become certified as a Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator consultant so that she could offer counseling in the business world. "I saw the corporate need for some techniques to get them more productive, coping better, less reactionary," she says. "Get them to understand their stress was either created or perceived, not life or death. Get them in a reality-based environment. So I started blending the Meyers-Briggs with the techniques that I had studied to create leadership trainings for either bottom-performing segments of the operation or people who really didn't have the best performance reviews and needed a little coaching.
"And somehow, the companies I worked with allowed me to go that way."
Once she started blending the Meyers-Briggs with meditation training, Wimberger felt she needed to go a level deeper with her own credentials. So in 2005 she began an intensive course at Denver's Inner Connection Institute, which was founded by Lauren Skye, a graduate of the Berkeley Psychic Institute in California, who teaches techniques similar to those taught at that school affiliated with the Church of Divine Man, including clairvoyance and psychic awareness. "It was during that two and a half years that I realized a good portion of what they were teaching me was stuff I'd been doing as a child, but it was a new language," she explains. "It was like, 'Oh, this language is for healthy skeptics who really value the left-brain analysis. This language makes sense.' Whereas studying with the monks, I couldn't bring that to certain audiences; it had a dogma attached to it. That dogma wasn't mine, and I didn't necessarily buy that portion of it, but I knew the techniques were important and I could leave the dogma somewhere else. It wasn't until I got the language that I could find a way to get that out to the public."
She founded Trance Personnel Consulting Group in January 2007, during her initial coursework with Inner Connection, and then signed on for another eighteen months of study. While she was training, Wimberger started building her base of private clients, who range from executive leaders to unemployed people who trade for training. In her gorgeously appointed office at the Samadhi Center, you'll often find her listening intently to clients, her voice soothing as she guides them through various visualizations to help them release stress from their past and cope with their futures.
It was some police-work-related stress in her own family that led Wimberger to consider extending her training to law-enforcement trauma. A cousin who was a member of the New York City Police Department was an alcoholic struggling in his marriage, and that struggle was affecting his teenage son. "His son was having a hard time coping with the vicarious trauma his father brought home," Wimberger explains, so she began teaching the teenager meditation and creative visualization.
Her interest piqued, she started to research the psychological hazards of police work and quickly concluded that there was a serious need for preventive stress-management programs.
"There are post-crisis programs," Wimberger notes. "But there's a stigma attached to using those services, because if you're perceived to not be able to handle your job mentally, you're not a good cop. And there are post-crisis interventions, debriefings they do after a shooting, homicide or suicide, and outsourced psychologists who could come and help them."
But she found almost no preventive well-being programs for police.
It doesn't take a statistician — or an expert in transcendental meditation — to recognize that police work is one of the most stressful jobs. Researchers use three basic statistics to measure professional stress: divorce rates, alcoholism rates and suicide rates. Surveys of police officers estimate the divorce rate at around 75 percent; rates of alcoholism (estimated by the treatment of officer alcohol addiction) are about twice that of the general population.
But while the FBI tracks the number of officers killed feloniously (in some kind of altercation or assault situation) as well as accidentally each year, it doesn't look at police-suicide numbers at all. In fact, no agency collects comprehensive data on police suicides. In 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, 48 officers were killed in the line of duty in the United States; another 47 officers were killed accidentally. Some groups estimate the number of police suicides as high as 400 per year — more than four times the number of officers killed either in the line of duty or accidentally. And that number does not include retired officers who commit suicide, just current cops.
Colorado has just three officers listed on the Tears of a Cop website, a digital memorial for officers across the country who've committed suicide, as well as a source of suicide-prevention information for police departments.
Wimberger has had to fight to get police departments to consider her work, and once in the door, she's had to continue fighting to get participants to take her seriously. In October 2007, she put together a program comprising four techniques she'd learned at the Inner Connection Institute, approachable techniques with no dogma attached that she could easily teach to others. Then she reached out to the Denver Police Department and offered a a free pilot program: She would give thirty officers an eight-hour, one-day training, and based on their response, she'd talk with the DPD about coming back for more training.
"The feedback was overwhelming," she remembers. "I had officers come up and say, 'If I had learned these techniques, I might have saved my marriage, had a different path in my career, be in a different place than I am now.'"
So far, the DPD has brought Wimberger back twice — once for an opt-in academy session, once for a mandatory session with the department's peer-counseling group. Wimberger has also trained a small group at the Lafayette Police Department, done work with the department staff in Wheat Ridge, and helped officers in Westminster, Glendale and Littleton. To date, she's worked with about 500 officers across the metro area.
DPD Lieutenant Steve Addison attended one of her Denver sessions. "It's witchcraft kind of stuff to a lot of police officers," he acknowledges, "but it works. It's just something that really relaxes you; it focuses your mind. For police, it's really relevant. All the trauma we deal with constantly, whether it's stuff that's occurred to us or stuff we've witnessed, if you can learn to use these techniques, you'll deal with it better."
According to spokesman Lieutenant Matthew Murray, the DPD offers several psychological resources for officers, including city-subsidized counseling with Dr. John Nicoletti, which officers and their families can request; in addition to a suicide-prevention class, there are also peer-support and chaplain-based resources, as well as a wellness program that includes a mental-health class each officer must take every three years.
But psychologist Leigh Sinclair, who was hired by the DPD in 2004 after the tragic death of developmentally disabled fifteen-year-old Paul Childs to help train officers to recognize mental illness and deal with the mentally ill, doesn't think the department's offerings are adequate. "When I was there — and I was not there to do therapy with them — officers would often come and ask me for a recommendation, for somebody else to help them," she remembers. "They wanted to have it completely separate from the department. I think they would sometimes be concerned about whether or not it would come back to bite them in the butt."
And Nick Rogers, the president of the Denver Police Protective Association, thinks the situation is dire. "We don't really provide any kind of stress management," he says. "We don't do a lot of anything to assist our guys and gals when they have problems." Although the DPPA has a fund that can help officers who are dealing with financial troubles, that only stretches so far. "Emotionally," he notes, "the department really doesn't do much to help our people out."
The lack of resources doesn't just affect officers in their private lives; it can also affect their professional performance, leading to instances of police brutality. "I think there's probably always going to be an element of that kind of officer anywhere," notes Sinclair. "I think, though, that when you have a culture embraced from the top down that advocates communication, de-escalation, and helps officers de-stress and supports them getting help, then you don't have this escalation so quickly."
Wimberger agrees. "It's easy to judge the police as a civilian, and it's easy for police to judge civilians — each perspective can slip into a very one-sided view of what's right and wrong," she explains. "But what I can say is that I haven't encountered another vocation that so quickly callouses and wears away at one's sense of vulnerability, humanity and compassion. And it doesn't surprise me that some of those individuals may be cracking under the pressure and making poor decisions, decisions that hurt others, their families and themselves. These types of headlines are exactly what keep me committed to my mission: bringing help to those who might not know a healthy way through it."
"I'm on a mission," Wimberger told a gathering of officers at the annual International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association conference in Chicago in April. "The mission is to bring emotional-survival techniques to first responders, specifically law-enforcement agents, because you don't really have much in terms of prevention."
She's found some interesting allies in that mission, including retired police officer Chris Dobratz, now an assistant professor at Minnesota State University; John Marx, a retired Westminster Police Department sergeant who founded CopsAlive.com; and Dale Graff, a physicist who's the former director of Stargate — the government program that investigated remote viewing, and upon which the film The Men Who Stare at Goats was loosely based. The four have been working together and individually to help relieve police stress and post-traumatic stress disorder, and even help officers tap into their own intuition; they joined together for the first time to present an eight-hour workshop at the ILEETA conference, holding the floor for two hours apiece.
During his portion, Marx polled the audience to find out how many people knew a fellow officer who'd committed suicide. Every single cop in the room had a connection to a suicide — including Marx himself. Someone he knew had killed himself just a year and a half after retiring from police work.
Marx started CopsAlive.com to help officers navigate what he calls "the hidden dangers of law enforcement" and start discussing those hidden dangers. Wimberger met Marx through the CopsAlive.com blog in January 2010, and is now a guest blogger on the site. "I think there's a problem, whatever the scope of the problem is," Marx notes. "And I think we need to do something about it."
Wimberger's blogging on CopsAlive.com brought her into contact with Dobratz, who teaches a class on stress management for police officers at Minnesota State. It's a subject near and dear to his heart: Dobratz himself suffers from PTSD, a relic of his work with the Hutchinson, Minnesota, police department. In 2001, after struggling with infertility, he and his wife had their first child; soon after, Dobratz was called to two scenes that had a major impact on him. One was a domestic-violence situation in which a three-year-old was stuck inside the house; another was a house fire in which three fourth-grade boys died. A Thursday-night pizza-party sleepover turned tragic when the host mother left the house; there were no batteries in the otherwise functional smoke detectors, and the boys died of smoke inhalation.
"The investigation was assigned to me, and it went on for eight months," Dobratz remembers. "I didn't think anything was wrong. And then, the first week in December of 2001, I remember driving home from teaching part-time at the college, and my mind just started racing about all these different things happening to kids, and I started thinking about my own daughter and how people could treat kids like that. By the next morning, I was in a complete state of panic." Dobratz's wife came home to find her husband — a ten-year veteran of the police force — curled up on the couch in a fetal position, sobbing uncontrollably.
That was the beginning of the end of Dobratz's career as a cop; although he went into counseling, physical issues eventually led to his early retirement in 2008.
Wimberger invited Dobratz to tell his story at a training she conducted for officers in Littleton last year. "Lisa asked them at the beginning of the session what their feelings were about attending the session," Dobratz recalls. "One guy said, 'Great, another hippie from Boulder here to teach us about our feelings,' and another said, 'I've got Rockies tickets, and Jimenez is pitching tonight.'
"Interestingly enough, one of those guys came up to me before the training was over and thanked me for talking," he adds. "I see it in my class, too. You hear a lot of negativity about it before they get the training, and then if they get good training, it's amazing how they open their eyes afterward."
First, though, Lisa Wimberger has to convince officers that, even though she's not in police work herself, she has something to offer them.
To do that, she starts a training session by telling her own story. She's no stranger to trauma and life-and-death situations, she'll tell the class, and meditation and creative visualization techniques have helped her cope. "On my fifteenth birthday, I was hit by lightning in the base of the spine," she explains. "That summer, I started blacking out and having seizures, most of the time when I was by myself." The episodes got worse as she grew older, but her condition wasn't diagnosed until she had a seizure and flatlined in a doctor's office.
He told her she was vasovagal: Her vagus nerve is hypersensitive and will stop her heart periodically, without warning. She's used her meditation techniques to help recover from these episodes.
"So when I talk to cops, even though I'm not a cop and I'll never have that connection or that credibility, I can speak to very specific trauma on a level that they can understand, because they understand life and death, and I deal with it every day," she notes. "That's my way into establishing some understanding with that group and myself. If I don't have that and I'm not one of them, then what I have to offer does not seem applicable."
After she's shared that story, Wimberger has audience members — civilians and officers alike — conduct an experiment: With eyes closed, or staring at a blank area in space, they're asked to think about a stressor. It can be anything — work-related, a relationship problem, financial difficulties. She then asks them to think about any lack of resolution, blame, injustice or emotions that came up when they focused on this stressful issue. In an even, steady voice, Wimberger walks them through the rest of the exercise: "As you bring this situation up for yourself, I want you to notice these areas of your body," she instructs, mentioning many of the areas where people physically manifest stress: between the eyebrows, the jaw, the shoulders, the throat, lower back, chest, gut.
"How many of you had at least one body area react to this stress you were thinking about?" she asks, then inquires about two areas of the body, three, four, all of them. "This is really, really important for you to understand what just happened," she exhorts. "The stress came back. Here's really what you did: Whatever you were thinking about, while it's real, it's not in this room unless it is a physical disease that's active in your body. It exists all the way up in time up until you walked in this room, or it's waiting for you when you leave this room, but it's not here. Your body reacted physically to something that existed either in the past or in the future. You were not right here. This is the crux of stress and PTSD, and all of the ailments that go with that mental state, is that you don't function in present time. You are either rehashing the past or projecting to the future. And the body doesn't know the difference. Your thoughts triggered a biological reaction."
By now, she's usually grabbed the audience. When it's full of cops, she moves on to a free-association exercise she got from Kevin Gilmartin, a famed behavioral consultant for the law-enforcement world: She asks for the first thing that pops into their heads when she says the phrase "Boy Scout leader." The association is inevitably "pedophile."
"When you have to interact in a law-enforcement way with a Boy Scout leader, it's usually because he's a pedophile," she explains to the group. "Your work worldview is warranted. But you still carry that idea with you when you get home. You've got some default thoughts created by your work environment, which are, 'Lots of people are not to be trusted, and because they're not to be trusted, I'm suspicious.' Your default thoughts are consistently in threat mode.
"You just saw when you brought up a stress what it does to your biology," she says. "And now most of your thoughts are thoughts that say to your brain, 'Threat!' Because you are good officers, you are in hyper-vigilant awareness all the time. And that messes with your body."
Before diving into meditation, Wimberger deals with one more topic: brain biology. "These techniques might push you out of your comfort zone," she explains. "But if you understand the basic biology, you will willingly go there, because the discomfort does not outweigh the benefits, by a long shot." Wimberger outlines three areas of the brain: the limbic brain, the neocortex and the prefrontal cortex. The limbic brain is primarily concerned with fear, worry, fight-or-flight reactions, anger and other survival-centered emotions. The neocortex is the logic mind, involved with reasoning, problem-solving, orienting to your environment and analyzing. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that encompasses creativity, awe, inspiration, motivation, connectivity and compassion. "You cannot feel fear, worry, anger or your fight-or-flight response when you're in your prefrontal cortex," she notes.
In a general stress response, the brain detects a threat and signals the nervous system to dump adrenaline and cortisol into your body so that you can quickly react. "This is the thing that helps you draw your gun faster, the thing that drives enhanced peripheral vision and audio ability," Wimberger explains. "It diverts blood from organs to limbs so you can drive or react faster. It gives you a buzz." And your limbic system, needless to say, is fully engaged.
After the buzz, there's a crash to allow the adrenaline and cortisol to dissipate from the body. "The dissipation of that feels terrible," Wimberger acknowledges. "It's necessary, but it feels like complete exhaustion." And officers on the job don't have the luxury of taking a nap in the middle of the day, or even taking a break for an hour to help them recover. Instead, they're on to the next call, or back to the office for paperwork.
This pattern can quickly take a toll on the body, especially when the prefrontal cortex is not being activated; the limbic brain maintains its hold on the nervous system. "That adrenaline twists like torque, and you store it somewhere," Wimberger continues. "Those areas of the body that you felt when you thought about your stressful situation are areas of stored adrenaline torque." And eventually, she says, the inability to rid the body of old stress can lead to disease, depression and sometimes self-inflicted death.
After explaining to the officers what they're doing to their bodies on a neurological level, Wimberger describes how creative visualization can help. "You can't rationalize away emotion," she says. "Meditation and creative visualization connect directly to the limbic brain and turn off its threat alert. Your brain can rewire itself. These techniques can be used for calming the limbic brain, dissipating adrenaline, relieving some physical issues, and for long-term sanity."
At this point, when Wimberger leads those in the room in their first guided meditation, most officers are more than willing to travel along. The four techniques she teaches are grounding, creating a neutral space, defining personal boundaries and what she calls the Gold Sun meditation. Grounding is familiar to many who practice meditation; it involves visualizing a cord from the body to the center of the earth. Wimberger has officers change the color of the cord, and sometimes the texture; after they've placed the cord in present time and created a switch to turn it on, she has them flip that switch. "If you don't see anything, pretend; it's just as effective," she tells them. "Your limbic brain doesn't know the difference."
Creating a neutral space is a visualization exercise in which participants establish a safe space inside their heads, free of judgment and constraints. (This was the exercise that Hastie felt was particularly helpful for her situation.) In the personal-boundaries meditation, Wimberger guides officers through an auric cleansing — but rather than use the word "aura," she instead describes a "personal bubble" that surrounds the officer, and walks him or her through the steps of ridding that bubble of external influences. The final meditation in the series, Gold Sun, involves a giant gold ball of light spilling good intentions into the meditator, through the crown of the head and filling up the entire auric field.
At the ILEETA conference, Wimberger walked the officers through two of these four techniques: grounding and Gold Sun. "When she started talking," Marx recalls, "all of the officers were like this." He slouches in his chair, arms crossed in front of his chest, brow furrowed, glowering. Then he sits up and beams. "But by the end? They were hooked." Wimberger warns those in her workshops that the release of stress might lead to some strange physical responses, including shaking hands or even falling asleep, and officers frequently move from closed-off, shut-down body language to peaceful smiles and languid movements once the exercise is over.
Graff followed Wimberger's slot at ILEETA. Wimberger had reached out to Graff, who'd worked for thirty years in intelligence and now holds various seminars on psi, his term for psychic ability or activity, via e-mail; she'd finally met him in person when he attended the Society for Scientific Research conference in Boulder in May 2010. They realized they had similar ideas and began collaborating.
"The more alert you are, the better you are at surviving, the better you are at avoiding difficulty," Graff told the ILEETA audience. "And starting from a simple level, the better off you are at figuring out situations that seem puzzling and not be confused by the obvious. This is sort of standard police work. Sometimes our logical mind can get us into difficulty and we assume things erroneously.
"Ultimately, it's really significant stuff to think about things from a more neutral perspective and get the biases out of the way," he continued. "It can be life-saving. Do I want to dash into this doorway or not? Is the individual going to shoot, or is that a false gun? It boils down to making your job easier and getting through your rational biases all the way to how you can actually survive in a fast-moving, life-threatening situation."
Most of the suggestions that Graff offered up for enhancing perception were sensible, suggestions like standing on a street corner and making an effort to identify the makes, models and license-plate numbers of the vehicles driving by as quickly as possible, or sketching objects from memory after staring at them for a short period of time. Although he only briefly touched on dreams, he's an expert in that area — lucid dreaming, in particular.
"It's possible to become conscious in a dream and experience the dream as if it were actually happening in real life," he explains. "And in this particular mode, you can then explore various gray avenues, or go back in time to review something you might have overlooked in your conscious awakening moment. Looking at it from the point of view of the police environment, you could go back and re-create a scene, and the lucid dream, in principle, would incorporate a lot of subliminal stuff, and then you'd have a better picture of what really went on and focus on the more pertinent stuff instead of the distractions."
Since ILEETA, the four collaborators have been working on their own projects — sometimes with one or two others, sometimes without — and discussing how they can do the workshop better next time. Their presentation was at the end of the conference and left little opportunity to counter contradictory material. "There was one presenter who was presenting the concept that there isn't a problem with police suicide and cops are really healthy," says Marx, adding how frustrating he found this. "I've accepted the fact that there are some discrepancies on the data, and the people who are collecting the data are collecting it unofficially. It's not like the FBI or Department of Justice is keeping data. I think all of us agree that the bottom line is not about stirring up controversy, it's about helping the police officers."
That's what Wimberger is focusing on. She's now collaborating on a project with Magis Group, founded by Stephen Robinson and Elizabeth Hawkins Robinson; the organization offers tactical and stress-release training to members of the military, as well as workers in health-care and educational fields. But whenever possible, she wants to focus on helping cops.
While corporate clients often seek out her expertise, she still has to work to find police departments willing to work with her. And because times are tight and most departmental budgets are devoted to tactical training rather than emotional-survival techniques, she's adjusted her pay scale. Her emotional-survival course can run $1,000 for a five-hour session, but she doesn't cap the number of officers who can attend — so agencies with access to a venue that can fit a hundred or more officers reduce the per-head cost to just $10.
And while Wimberger doesn't suggest that her program is a replacement for psychotherapy and more intense services, she thinks it's a good investment for a department, offering officers tools they can use on a regular basis so they don't wind up falling apart on the job.
It's nice to have people who care about our mental health," DPD lieutenant Addison says of Wimberger. "She's just very passionate about her work. I think she's really pushed it in the law-enforcement field. I think if more law enforcement could get into it and use it on a regular basis, it would be great for our field. I'm impressed with how passionate and dedicated she is."
Hastie thinks it would be "phenomenal" if Wimberger took her program national. "From what I did with peer support, you've got officers in shootings — these big, Type A-personality guys," she says. "Of course, they're going to say everything's fine. But I talked to them after these incidents, and a lot of these guys can't go home and talk to their spouses — because they don't want to worry their spouses. There was the class we had on emotional survival for law enforcement at the academy, which is a good class. And we talk about how when we go out to dinner, nobody wants to make the decision of where to eat. But they don't tell you how to deal with some of the ups and downs.
"It's not about what the department thinks," she concludes. "It's about what these officers individually are going to experience, and how they deal with it. Three officers out of ten might never need it — but those other seven officers will need it. And if they don't need it, it will help them and their families, or help them help another officer."