What Happens When They Send You To The First Responder Psychologist?

By Sean Riley

I always enjoy seeing my dear friend and co-presenter Forensic Police Psychologist Dr. Laura Brodie (I’ll talk about her later). As many first responders know, being ordered to visit the psychologist is usually not a career enhancer. First off they’re commonly sub-contracted by the department and the perception is that they may be biased for the department because that’s who’s paying the bill. Right, wrong or indifferent the door is wide open to challenge this as the first responder knows that some kind of report is going back to their agency.

With that in mind, do you really think the first responder is going to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets that may jeopardize his/her employment and their ability to provide for their family? Hence the double edged sword. If I do reveal myself I could potentially be impacted in a negative manner with my employers. If I don’t, I suffer inside. Either way it’s a system set up to fail. There are going to be a lot of police psychologist out there that are going to “rip” me over this post but I can only tell you about my experiences and those that are reported to me throughout the country by first responders and their experiences with fitness for duty evaluations.

I speak at many conferences around the nation and we address the departmental psychologist at great length. The overall consensus from the first responders is that you’re not trusted, you’re arrogant and egotistical and the only job of the first responder is to “beat you” in all aspects of the session. Let me explain further.

I was sent for a fitness for duty evaluation on three occasions in my career (rightfully so) and I remember meeting with the contracted police psychologist and psychiatrist. I was an interview and interrogation specialist and unfortunately also in the middle of my addiction to narcotic pain medication which made me (pathetically) one hell of a manipulator and liar to the nth degree. My goal was always to get back on the job which I did each time. I always played to the “ego” of the clinicians which was really unfortunately easy for me to do and got them talking. It was amazing to me how much they would talk about themselves.  Subsequently my report back to the department would usually read… He was engaging, asked appropriate questions, sent him on his way with medication, etc… Really???

My report would go back to the command staff and they were confused as my behavior was not matching the report provided to them by the psych. So why do I tell you all of this? First responders around the country report this similar experience over and over to me. For the most part no one really knows where the psych stands (ethically they’re supposed to tell you but it doesn’t always happen). Do they work for me or the department? They say me but they’re paid for by the department and report to the departments so… here lies the adversarial relationship.

So how do we overcome this? Remember, just because you have a lot of educational degrees and certifications from reputable organizations around the country doesn’t mean you’re good. To the first responder you are the potential barrier they have to overcome to not lose their career. I’ve always advised departments to look outside to a third party clinician who has no vested interest in the department such as the ones we use at Safe Call Now®. The most successful programs in the world use this model (the doctors and airline pilots have for 40 years) and they have the highest long term success rate known to man.

Don’t our first responders deserve the same? Enter… Dr. Laura Brodie. I remember meeting her for the first time and wondering what bull$*#t this psych was going to lay on me? Then she “called me out” on one of my behaviors. Needless to say I was not happy about it but she was right. I wanted to know more. As we developed a friendship I understood that her only job was to advocate for the first responder and help them get better. The “third party” I spoke about earlier.

First responders love this woman, she’s tough, loving, compassionate and she’s trusted. She speaks their language which from my experience and others that have reported to me are few and far between. There are outstanding psychologist and psychiatrist out there –  I’ve met them and they save lives. All I know is what I see and experience and I do know that people like Dr. Brodie are few and far between. We’re very lucky she’s an integral part of Safe Call Now®.

If you, someone you love or someone you know needs help, call:

Safe Call Now:  24 Hour Confidential Hotline:  206-459-3020

For more information on the First Responders program:  Click here

Or call Shannon Clairemont at 661-466-6352 or Vanessa Stapleton at 304-651-3008