​    President-Board of Directors

                                                                                     President-Board of Directors

Many people ask, 'Do I need VAPSA, I thought CISM / CISD was there for help?'

The answer is they are...but so is VaPSA!  

Understanding the role of Peer Support and how it relates to CISM and CISD services is an important question for Peer Support Teams and CISM /CISD teams alike. 

Critical Incident Stress Management Teams have historically been tasked with providing debriefings, defusings or demobilization based on the ICISF model of Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) but have NOT been trained in the provision of proactive and even responsive peer support services.

While it is true that CISM teams do provide a “focused” peer support service when delivering a Critical Stress debriefing, defusing, or demobilization, they have historically not been trained to offer “general” peer support services; those support services offered outside of a singularly stressful event.   
Professionals who complete VaPSA’s Level-1 Peer Supporter training are prepared to provide CISM, but are also trained to offer support during other personal and professional challenges that may not meet the departmental criteria for a critical incident. This includes training in how to deal with an officer who is suffering from an addiction, an officer who is grieving the loss of a loved one, an officer who is depressed, or suffering from anxiety as well as many other life challenges not unique to the profession, but not necessarily prompted by a singular critical incident.

The trained peer supporter is in a unique position to reach out to their coworkers in ways that management cannot due to employment laws and departmental human resource policies. Peer supporters provide a stop gap between the 1st responder
whose current life stressors and methods of coping are beginning to impact their performance at work and the administrative processes (EAP referral, Fitness for Duty) that must be performed to limit departmental liability and assure public safety

Critical Stress Management

What is a Critical Incident?

The definition of a critical incident is any event or experience which has the power to overwhelm the defenses of an individual.  It is the kind of event, due to it’s danger, horror, threat or loss, which could cause any person to feel a significant increase in stress and stress reactions – immediate or delayed. 

Examples of a critical incident are:

Serious injury, death or suicide of a fellow co-worker
Any incident in which sights and sounds are distressing
Any catastrophic event/major disaster
Mass casualty event
Death, injury or abuse of a child
Incidents that attract extremely unusual or possible derogatory news media coverage
Contact with communicative diseases, e.g. AIDS/Hepatitis B
Death of a close family member
Hostage or barricaded situation
Mass Murder
Physical confrontation
Physical or sexual assault

What is traumatic for one person may not be for another . . . but trauma stress can happen to anyone.  Stress from a critical incident cannot be prevented; it is the result of exposure to trauma . . . but it can be managed through a Critical Incident Debriefing.   

What is a Critical Incident Debriefing?

A debriefing is a confidential, non-evaluative discussion of the incident with a professional who understands the dynamic thoughts and feelings involved with traumatic events. Participants learn to understand their reactions and to strengthen coping mechanisms.

Goals of the Critical Incident Debriefing

Lessen the emotional impact on personnel exposed to the critical incident.
Accelerate recovery from the event before harmful stress reactions damage work performance, health and work and family relations . . . stop reactions before they start and to confine them before they spread to other employees.  Ending emotional stress reactions early helps stop physical stress reactions that can lead to missed days of work and even possible worker’s compensation claims. 
Provide an atmosphere of concern and caring within the organization and avoid creating disgruntled employees.
Provide information and training about critical incident stress and stress reactions that personnel can use to help themselves and their fellow workers.

Signs of Critical Incident Stress

Each person reacts to stress in their own way, but some of the most common reactions you may experience are:

Decline in job performance
Loss of appetite/nausea
Re-experiencing the event, 'Flashbacks'
Difficulty sleeping
Physical complaints
Fear of the workplace

Virginia Peer Support Association