A paper by researchers from the Human Neurobehavioral Laboratory (HNL) at the Faculty of Education and Psychology (FEP) of the Universidade Católica Portuguesa (UCP) presents a systematic review of the literature on resilience training programmes for police officers. It concludes that these programmes are effective in improving the mental health and performance of police officers, but that there is still some way to go to create more homogeneous interventions in terms of form, content and impact assessment.
The work of police officers is often characterised by situations of high stress and emotional strain. Exposure to traumatic events, violence and death in the line of duty can lead to the development of mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and burnout.
In recent years, various health professionals and researchers have developed studies and resilience training intervention programmes for police officers, with the aim of improving the well-being of this group and increasing their ability to cope with the adversities of their profession.
This article by HNL researchers, the first to propose a literature review on this topic and specific population, systematises intervention programmes focused on mental health and stress resilience for police officers, identifying their structure, content and effectiveness.
Wide variation in resilience training interventions for police officers
The literature review led to the conclusion that there are more or less uniform intervention programmes for police officers that use mindfulness practices or the promotion of stress and situational awareness, and that there are interventions in which cognitive-behavioural practices dominate the proposed interventions.
The studies carried out show that these intervention programmes can be an effective tool for improving the mental health and professional performance of police officers, as they effectively contribute to reducing their stress levels and somatic symptoms.
However, it has also been noted that "there is a great deal of heterogeneity and variation in the form of these interventions. The duration of the programmes and the way in which their effectiveness is evaluated vary greatly, although there is some congruence in terms of the content covered," says Ana Moreno, first author of the article.
"We concluded that there is still a long way to go before we arrive at resilience interventions that are able to offer a more robust and homogeneous proposal in terms of their form, content and way of evaluating their impact," she adds.
Designing more efficient and effective intervention programmes
"We hope that with this review, clinicians and researchers will have a broader view of what is available in this area and can design more efficient and effective intervention programmes to implement in practice, thus contributing to the promotion of police officers' mental health," the researcher concludes.
Patrícia Oliveira-Silva, director of the HNL, supervisor of the research line and co-author of the publication, says: "This article highlights the vulnerability of police officers to adverse psychological and medical conditions due to the emotionally challenging environment inherent to the profession, and underlines the urgent need for intervention programmes focused on resilience. By mapping and analysing the effectiveness of these programmes, we open up a promising avenue that we can link to neuroscience. We believe we are preparing for an era of innovation in police training, where strategies based on an understanding of the brain could revolutionise resilience programmes.”
The article "Resilience Training Programs with Police Forces: A Systematic Review" is part of the Mental Health NeuroForce project, developed as part of Ana Moreno's International PhD in Applied Psychology.
The final objective of the researcher's doctoral project is to propose a preventive intervention that is close to the reality of Portuguese police officers and that is perceived to have a significant impact on the resilience to stress of this professional group.The paper mentioned here is also signed by researchers Maria Karanika-Murray (University of Leicester), Patrícia Batista (FEP-UCP), Rowena Hill (Nottingham Trent University) and Susanna Rubiol Vilalta (University Ramon Llul).