Ottawa police constable Syd A. Gravel shot and killed an armed robbery suspect in 1987 while trying to protect his rookie partner. In 56 seconds his life changed forever. Although he went on to accumulate 31 years of service and a promotion to Staff Sergeant, Gravel struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Gravel had one piece of advice from a Detective Sergeant who’d shot a guy earlier in his career: “Stay away from Johnnie and Jack,” (i.e., Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniels). Like other officers, he’d used alcohol to suppress the feelings associated with the trauma. The culture was and is to suck it up and get back to work.
A year after the shooting, Syd Gravel, the Detective Sergeant, and five other police officers established Robin’s Blue Circle, a peer support group led by Dr. Pierre Turgeon, psychologist, from the University of Ottawa. Since then officers across Canada have joined the group. Syd described one new member’s reaction upon walking into a meeting. He counted 20 around the table and said, “This is one hell of a club you have here. It’s very expensive to join.”
When Gravel retired in 2009, the Ottawa Police Chief asked for his thoughts on his career. Syd told him that every day for 22 years he’d been in deadly fear he’d have to use his gun.
Does 56 seconds of hell have to result in a PTSD life sentence? For Gravel it was a long road back to a normal state of mind, and he still suffers from some effects of PTSD. He tells his story in his new book 56 Seconds.
Gravel spoke to Capital Crime Writers about the lack of psychological support for Canadian police officers with PTSD. Female officers have it even harder than the men, he said: “They don’t want to appear weak.” Some officers will avoid colleagues who share their feelings.
What’s the answer? Gravel said that police officers have to commit to maintain their mental health the way they do their physical health. However he doesn’t know of any programs led by Canadian police associations for their members. The officer has to find help on his or her own initiative.
I have a special interest in PTSD and know that a new tool is available but not yet widely known. Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is a simple but fast and effective therapy that is gaining traction with psychologists and psychotherapists. EFT is also known as Energy Psychology or simply Tapping.
Dr. Dawson Church explains on YouTube the clinical and biological reasons why EFT is effective.
Dr. David Feinstein, clinical psychologist, is doing research to validate EFT effectiveness in treating US veterans’ PTSD.
PTSD sufferers: ask your psychotherapist or psychologist if they have EFT training.