The Quebec policing school (ÉNPQ) will offer, starting next spring, a new training program for all helping professionals, including psychologists, who work with police officers.
Another component of the project will be the development of a provincial network of peer helpers to whom police officers can turn in times of need.
“Both initiatives stem from the same need, that of improving the support that police officers receive in organizations related to psychological health issues,” said Marc Desaulniers, director of research, expertise and pedagogy at the ÉNPQ, who pointed out that these issues have been well documented in the scientific literature for the past 15 years.
The project has received $1,275,481 in funding from the Quebec Ministry of Public Security for the period 2022-2025. The lion’s share of this amount, more than $410,000, will be made available for the 2024-2025 fiscal year.
Psychologists and other helping professionals who work with police officers are very competent people, Desaulniers said, but they do not necessarily have a good grasp of the day-to-day realities of police work, which can be a barrier to dialogue and may even lead some police officers to believe that it is futile to ask for help.
“These helping professionals are usually available through the employee assistance programs offered by the municipality to which the police force belongs. So, in the course of a day, they may be called upon to help a highway employee, a library employee and a police officer,” said Desaulniers. “Police officers tell us they need a greater understanding of their issues, their particular problems’ of psychological distress.”
The new training will go from “generic to specific,” Desaulniers explained. After having acquired a general understanding of the police organization, its components and mechanisms, participants will be able to be sensitized, for example, to the blunting of compassion that some police officers may feel as a result of being in constant contact with crime and human distress.
Part of the training will be offered online and in class.
Participants may also be invited to go on patrol with the police officers they may be called upon to work with in the future in order to experience their reality on the ground.
The “peer helper” component will try to ensure that all police officers who need help will be able to turn to a colleague who will be able to listen, understand and refer them to the necessary resources.
“There are some very good peer helper programs in some police organizations in Quebec, but others don’t have them at all,” said Desaulniers.
The goal will be to identify the most successful programs and help all police organizations implement them, he said.
RECRUITMENT AND AWARENESS
The Quebec Order of Psychologists participated in the development of the program for professionals to ensure the relevance of the activities that will be offered.
Participants will also be recruited through the order’s communication channels. The ÉNPQ also intends to make municipalities aware of the importance of this training.
“Eventually, it should become a qualifying training sought by cities to ensure that the psychologists whose services they retain are competent, not on a general level, but on a specific level to intervene with police officers,” said Desaulniers, who estimates that the funding obtained should make it possible to train a thousand professionals.
The funding should also cover most of the costs, which means that those who want to take the course will be able to do so at little or no cost, he said.
“Police officers are always reluctant to use the resources available to them, in part because they feel that the professional they are dealing with simply won’t understand what they are going through,” Desaulniers said, “and that perception of lack of understanding is a barrier to using assistance programs.
“It’s also claimed that it’s going to make it easier to use, but it’s also going to make it easier to get better support, better interventions,” he concluded. “It’s not just so that people will refer to it, it’s so that professionals will work more easily and more effectively.”
— This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 26, 2022.