Rising to the Challenge: Making the Most of Therapy

Author: IAFF Center of Excellence Staff

September 1, 2020

Deciding to get help for an addiction or mental health issue is often a difficult step on the way to recovery. IAFF members sometimes have doubts about going to therapy, wondering will this really work for me? What will detox or therapy be like? Am I capable of growing and recovering from this?

These are valid questions because they also show a willingness to change and grow. With your professional therapist and peers in recovery by your side, the better question is, how can I make the most of therapy?

Specialized Help for Fire Fighters

For IAFF members, the best way to make the most of your therapy sessions is with a treatment program designed for fire fighters and emergency service personnel. A significant piece of treatment for mental health issues is group therapy, and groups of your brothers and sisters in the fire service are better equipped to understand your experience and provide helpful feedback. Having a therapist who’s well-versed in the fire service experience means they’re ready to skip the basic explanations and are prepared to talk about a bad call.

Attending treatment in a facility designed for fire fighters can also help you feel comfortable in a familiar place. The IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery, for example, is exclusive to IAFF members, with trained clinicians and a facility designed to resemble a firehouse.

Once you’ve graduated from a dedicated program, you may still want to continue therapy long term in your hometown. If you don’t have a therapist who’s well-versed in firehouse culture nearby, talk to your local president or union representative – they may be able to recommend a professional. The IAFF Center of Excellence can also recommend therapists or help you make these connections.

Be Honest and Open

Fire fighters and emergency service personnel often feel they must protect others from the things they’ve seen or suppress their emotions to stay productive. Effective therapy, however, happens through honesty and openness.

It’s normal to hesitate before talking about difficult subjects. It can take time to open up, and there’s no expectation to tackle it right away. A counselor’s job is to build mutual trust and rapport with you. Others in your group therapy sessions are often going through similar struggles. If you’ve had an emotional day or struggled with a bad habit, talk to your counselor about it. Practicing honesty during treatment helps you work through your issues and prepares you for future interactions with your family and crew. 

Remember Why You’re There

Becoming a fire fighter is a life-changing commitment to your community. Going to therapy or treatment is a life-changing commitment to yourself and the people you love. Making the most of therapy means giving it the same energy expected in your fire or rescue work.

This may look different at a treatment center: engaging with your counselor and peers at therapy sessions, working with your medical team through detox, keeping up your exercise routine and trying therapeutic activities you may not have at home. It often means willingly getting outside your comfort zone or taking time to let your body rest.

Working on your mental health can be a difficult process, so staying motivated is important. Before heading to treatment, write down your goals for therapy. It could be a desire to change your drinking habits, feel peace after a traumatic experience or improve your relationship with your spouse. Be specific if you can. Whatever you hope to gain from treatment, bring this written list with you and share it with your therapist and medical team. This helps them provide the best treatment for your situation. Looking back at it can also motivate you to keep going.

If you’ve made the decision to seek treatment, you’re already on the path to recovery. The next step is choosing a treatment program designed for fire fighters and EMS personnel. The IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery has helped thousands of brothers and sisters in the fire service struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complicated grief, substance abuse and other co-occurring behavioral health problems. Call today for a non-obligation, free and confidential screening to take the next step to recovery.

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