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Int J Emerg Ment Health. 2003 Summer;5(3):147-52.

Peer support in law enforcement: past, present, and future.

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Currently, the provision of mental health services to police officers referred for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or after on-the-job trauma has been facilitated mostly by interested licensed psychologists and social workers who often have minimal experience working with the law enforcement community. Despite the heavy toll of work-related stressors on the morale and psyche of police officers, when under stress they are reluctant to seek professional psychological help as its use implies weakness, cowardice, and an inability to perform the job effectively. Peer support counseling can be used effectively whenever the target population is uniquely educated or occupationally trained. Peers offer a unique segue to groups who demonstrate resistance towards psychotherapy, possess religious or cultural characteristics which would complicate the provision of traditional mental health services, and/or believe it is not understood or misunderstood by the general population or mental health professionals. The peer support component of law enforcement and other emergency services agencies has contributed to an increase in professional mental health referrals and a decrease in on-the-job suicides, sick days, and poor work performance. Furthermore, peer participation in debriefings following a traumatic event, and peer support during a crisis facilitates the process of psychological closure and mourning and enables emergency services workers to cope more effectively with tragedy so they can continue to perform their jobs efficiently and with satisfaction.

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