How to Know You’ve Found a Good One
In my “retirement,” I’ve had the privilege of working with many law enforcement experts while developing video courses and resources for the state of California. After a recent video shoot, I rode with a frequent PORAC contributor, Dr. Cherylynn Lee (“Doc C”). Our conversation turned, as it usually does, toward past and more recent experiences likely attributable to a law enforcement career. With Doc C, no area is out of bounds, and no experience is too unique to discuss.
We talked about unfortunate early career mindsets, common relational issues, near-suicidal acts and how challenging it can be to find valuable counsel who “gets” law enforcement once someone is finally at a point where they are willing to seek help. Then, on to divorce, difficulties and some residuals often found in retirement. Finally, I laughed and asked her, “So, is this a counseling session?” As always, the tone of her response was one of a friend, nothing else. And I find that tone — or, more concisely, our relationship — allows us both to profit from our interactions. It’s not the position or title; it’s the relationship that matters.
Like many, I have sought assistance in working through some of the requisite confusions first responders may deal with during or after their career. In doing so, I’ve talked with people who have no clue about the effects and demands placed upon us and, while trying their best with the tools they possess, have no clue what they could do to customize their recommendations for dealing with those challenges.
It wasn’t a lack of clinical expertise, training or desire to help on their part — it was a lack of trust on mine. Although I knew they understood the facts of what I was dealing with (e.g., losing relational intimacy while trying to protect loved ones from the daily evils being faced, underlying anxiety when things are calm, sleep issues or that odd, foreboding feeling that kept me from being present in many moments of life), I could tell they didn’t understand all of it in the context of one who has experienced all that I (we) have. Their simple truths of “We should work on your sleep habits” or “Adjust your diet and eating” were indeed valid, but unfortunately their recommendations were sterile — they lacked the context of the world I worked and lived in. And for many of us, that lack of connection results in a lack of trust.
But fortunately, and also like many, I did find someone, one who would often say, “Mike, I have people in here all the time who did what you did and are saying the same things you’re saying.” With this therapist, I found someone with real counsel, meaningful suggestions and a heart to help those whose heart is similarly tuned. His degree didn’t matter to him or me — his effective words and friendship did. His specialized education, training and experiences enabled him to be a good fit for me, and this fit is well worth demanding whenever one is looking for positive change.
The “sessions” with him were different. They weren’t treatment; they were conversations. Someone was speaking about things that just didn’t make sense, and another was explaining the rationale of why a rational person with the same history should be experiencing such issues and what practical measures could be taken to mitigate them. And he was right — every time.
Starting with some of his small (and palatable) suggestions in the beginning allowed me to see there were actually good things in my life that were kept in hiding. Through these first steps — as we built a connection and trust — the light started to shine in a world that I didn’t know was that dark. His reassurance that many others like me are saying and doing the same things helped me realize the normalcy of my condition and reactions. But his experiences and successes with others also began to open my eyes to a previously undesired hope: I can actually change and live life in a better and fulfilling way in spite of the lingering effects of a most difficult yet most satisfying career.
I had to learn again (yes, learn — these basics really needed to be exercised to become part of my reality) to find something to be thankful for, to appreciate what I have rather than focus on what I’ve lost, to acknowledge that my “situational awareness” and practices of identifying social ills are not fair assessments of my life or the world I live in, and, amazingly, to actually find moments of joy. For, you see, over the years that word had been drained from my personal dictionary, but this man — call him counselor, therapist, doctor, shrink or whatever — had earned the right to be my trusted friend, and as such, his abilities to help me grow healthier became more effective each time we met.
I found someone who’s there when I need him, isn’t afraid to tell me what I need to hear and is someone I can trust. I found a true friend. When you find yourself in that place where you know you need or finally want change, find someone with wise counsel and remember: It isn’t the position or title; it’s the relationship that matters. Keep looking until you find a professional who can be a true friend. For that kind of friend, you will start with the little things, see the results and gladly keep moving forward. There are many who have done what you’ve done, are saying what you’re saying and have succeeded in finding solid counsel to regain a view of a life well worth living.
About the Author
Mike Barnes retired as a commander in 2012 after a 28-year career with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, where his assignments included jail, courts, patrol, training, personnel/IA and communications. Since then, he has served as a law enforcement consultant for the POST Commission, working with Basic Course (academy) presenters and on training video production.