Episode 10: Defunding the Police vs. Backing the Blue: A Trauma Focused Alternative
Episode 10: Defunding the Police vs. Backing the Blue: A Trauma Focused Alternative
Denise R. Wolf, MA, ATR-BC, ATCS, LPC and Shea Rhodes, Esquire are the perfect dynamic duo making major changes in the world. They each bring their distinct backgrounds (law and trauma work) to offer an alternative approach to the hot debate of defunding the police versus backing the blue.
For more info on Denise, check out: https://mangataservices.com/resources/
To learn more about Shea Rhodes and the Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, check out: https://cseinstitute.org/staff/shea-m-rhodes/
or her TEDx talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ldw7e4G_t6Y
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Alyssa Scolari [00:00]:
Hey everyone. Happy Tuesday. Hope you guys are off to a great week so far. My name is Alyssa Scolari, and I am your host of the Light After Trauma podcast. Welcome to episode 10. Actually, know the number this time, because I’m recording the bio after I had the interviews, so I know for a fact that this is episode 10. This episode is really fun because it’s not just me and one other person, but there are two other women that I am recording with in this episode. The first is Denise R. Wolf. And Denise is the owner and practitioner therapist of Mangata Services, as well as Adjunct Faculty at Drexel and Villanova Universities.
Denise is a licensed professional counselor, as well as a registered board certified and an art therapy certified supervisor through the art therapy credentials board. Denise received her DBT, dialectical behavioral t raining from the University of Washington, and has opportunity to learn directly from the DBT founder herself, Marsha Linehan. Denise has presented at city, state, national, and international conferences in the areas of DBT, trauma-informed care, trauma and neurobiology, pedagogy in clinical supervision. She has several articles published in peer review journals and has contributed chapters to seminal texts on our clinical work with adolescents.
And in addition to that, we also have Shea Rhodes Esquire. Shea M. Rhodes Esquire, has dedicated her career to combating gender-based violence. As co-founder and director of the institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation at Villanova Law, Ms. Rhodes works with and for victims and survivors of commercial sexual exploitation. She is the statewide expert on Pennsylvania laws related to sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.
Ms. Rhodes is a member of several local and national anti-trafficking initiatives, including Philadelphia’s Anti-Trafficking Coalition, the Pennsylvania Anti-Human Trafficking Advocacy Work Group, and Shared Hope International’s JuST Response Council. She also sits on the executive committees for Worlds Without Exploitation and Dawn’s Place. Her dedication resulted in Legal Intelligence naming her a 2019 power player.
She was awarded a Fulbright Schumann European Union Affairs Program scholarship to conduct a research in Austria and Sweden, during the 2020 to 21 academic year. Ms. Rhodes conducts trainings and presentations locally, nationally, and internationally. Her written materials can be found on the CSE institute website. She’s a graduate of Villanova Law, in the University of Kansas.
So those are the two amazing women that I had the pleasure and opportunity to speak with for this episode. I know that this is a really hot topic, and I hope that you all enjoy. I found it fascinating, so hopefully you guys will enjoy it just as much as I did. So at this point I am going to turn it over to both Denise and Shea. I’m going to ask them to elaborate a little bit more on what it is that they do. They’re doing some awesome stuff, so, hello to both of you and thank you so much for being here today.
Denise Wolf [04:00]:
Thanks Alyssa. This is Denise. I’m super glad to be here. This is a really exciting opportunity to talk about some really important things, Shea and I moving forward.
Shea Rhodes [04:08]:
Yeah. I’m so excited to be here, Alyssa. Thanks for inviting the two of us to talk today. I think that Denise and I have been collaborating on some really cool sort of real world, I don’t know solutions to problems that we’ve been sitting around, just sort of like, “How are we going to solve the world’s problems, while we’re having cocktails?” And sort of take those ideas, and really put them into action.
Alyssa Scolari [04:38]:
Well, I was just going to say, you guys make the perfect… I mean, the two of you make the perfect team, right? Because Shea, so you were a prosecutor?
Shea Rhodes [04:47]:
Alyssa Scolari [04:49]:
And then could you just talk a little bit more about how that snowballed into what you’re doing now?
Shea Rhodes [04:56]:
Sure. So I have been a practicing lawyer for over 20 years at this point, actually, about almost 25. And have spent my entire career mostly focused on working with or on behalf of people who’ve experienced inter-personal violence or violent crime. Prior to becoming a prosecutor, and I was a prosecutor for the city of Philadelphia for almost 10 years, I worked as an attorney inside of four different rape crisis centers. I focused on two rape crisis centers in the counties outside of Philadelphia, working with victims of sexual assault and stalking, whether it be a protection from abuse hearing, or custody matter or something like that. And when to work as a prosecutor is sort of my next step in looking to effectuate justice and bring some type of procreate resolution, at least in my mind using the law to someone who has had experienced being a victim of crime.
I thought I was going to be in the rape or sexual violence unit and did about 18 months working in those types of cases and just needed to take a break. They’re really heavy cases, especially involving child abuse and went to the major trials unit, which is the unit that handles all violent crime with the exception of homicide. I spent about six years in that particular unit and then took a break from the trial division, because there’s a lot of burnout in trying cases, especially the types of cases that I had been trying, which involved, police involved non-fatal shootings, really serious home invasions, gunpoint robberies, carjackings, stabbings.
Really, just violent crime, as you know, most big cities have, and thought I wanted to continue being a prosecutor, but shifted my responsibilities to the pre-trial unit, where we were looking to divert cases out of the trial division and come up with some resolution that didn’t result in someone being convicted. And I was working in drug diversion courts and DUI diversion, mental health court was a huge part of what I did, both at the common police court level, which is the felony level and at the municipal court level.
And I was also working in a court for women who had repeatedly been convicted of the crime of prostitution and it’s now a nationally known problem solving court called Project on Court. And again, it was sort of like coming full circle with my career and working with women specifically who had experienced inter-personal or sexual violence, and someone who’s in prostitution is experiencing… at least the women that I’ve worked with, emotional and physical trauma on a day-to-day basis, in addition to the fact they were experiencing mental health diagnoses, co-occurring substance use disorder as a way of coping with the prolonged exposure to trauma that they’ve suffered.
And when I left the district attorney’s office, I created the institute that I now run at Villanova Law School called the Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation. And it was at that point we were pretty new, it was the fall of 2014, we were just kind of getting our feet wet, myself and my partner who’s a professor of law at Villanova, Michelle Dempsey, she’s amazing. Figuring out how we were going to take this institute and what we were going to do, and that’s when I met Denise, because she is an adjunct professor at Villanova on the other side of the [inaudible 00:08:48] tracks at Villanova.
And she just reached out to me and asked me to come over and speak to her class. Not sure if it was your class at Villanova or Drexel, I think there were two that semester, Denise, I can’t remember, but you and I hit it off immediately and just started having these really incredibly long conversations about trauma, and my having been in law enforcement for a long time, and working with victims of violent crimes who’ve experienced trauma and what is the best way to effectuate justice and get closure for them. And I don’t know, it just kind of morphed from there.
Denise Wolf [09:25]:
Yeah, absolutely. So it’s a great story how Shea and I met. So I was working as adjunct at Villanova and Drexel, both at the time. And went to a screening of a movie called I Am Jane Doe, and it was the inaugural screening, there were a lot of stakeholders who were there. I’m also talking about the movie afterwards and inviting questions from the audience, and this was a movie about young adolescents who’d been trafficked. And so Shea started talking and I just had this professional crush on Shea, you know what I mean? I’m like, “Oh my God, I need this person in my life.” So I like to say that I professionally stalked Shea. And I just felt like there was a connection between us and that there was a lot of synergy in our work.
Shea Rhodes [10:14]:
Yeah. I’d forgotten that you had, because you didn’t come up to me when you were in the audience. Or if you did, I was surrounded by five million people.
Denise Wolf [10:23]:
You were surrounded. I spoke to you briefly and I got your card, and then I emailed you that night.
Shea Rhodes [10:28]:
Yeah. I give out so many cards that I do speak in engagements quite frankly, all over the world and I give out a million cards, and sometimes you hear from people and you don’t. And the ones that you hear from like within the first day or two, you are really going to connect with and have some sort of long-standing relationship. And it doesn’t happen as frequently as you would think, usually, it’s like, “Can I have your PowerPoint? Or can you send me more resources?” But Denise was like, “Let’s have a conversation and I want you to talk to my students.” Because there’s a lot of things that I do in my career now that I never thought I would be doing, right.
When I was in law school, which is the policy work, and how policy is very much related to the laws and regulations that society’s asked. And it’s really in my opinion critical for lawyers to be involved, especially lawyers who at some point during their career practiced in shaping how other professions really look at, like what laws and rules that their job is to enforce. Just as an example, we’ve recently been asked to look at whether or not nationally each state should have a law that mandates that all people within the medical profession should be trained about sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
And, I think it’s a great idea in concept, sure, why shouldn’t all people in the medical profession and who touch healthcare systems be trained in how to identify, recognize, and treat victims of… and I use that term victim because, it’s a term that’s used in the law of sex trafficking or sexual exploitation. But a lot of what people don’t realize is that it’s in the implementation, we can pass laws all day every day, but what’s it going to look like in implementation? What is [inaudible 00:12:26] going to look like? Who’s going to develop it? Who’s going to teach it? How are you going to be ensured that you get it? Should it be updated? Should it be consistent and on-going?
In the space of sex trafficking and exploitation, it’s like, “Are you going to have survivors who’ve exited or escaped their victimization and are now working as professionals in the field? Are they going to be included in developing curriculum? So that’s just like one example of, sort of the intersection of what I believe lawyers who working in the space of policy and legislative reform have to offer other professions and why there needs to be a synergy.
Alyssa Scolari [13:14]:
Yeah. And that’s why you guys make the perfect cocktail so to speak, right? Because you’ve got the law, and then we’ve got the knowledge, right, of the trauma. And it’s, “Oh, it’s beautiful.” Magic happens when we put the two together, which is exactly what you both are doing right now. So full disclosure everybody, I’ve had a couple of conversations with Denise and Shea about some things that they’re working on prior to recording. So do you both want to talk about a few things that you’re working on right now and kind of what your biggest project is, because it’s fascinating?
Shea Rhodes [13:53]:
Sure. So one of the things that I do is keep my eye on certain legislation that is moving through at a minimum Pennsylvania’s legislature, that’s tied to criminal justice reform, it’s tied to crimes of sexual violence or interpersonal violence, including sex trafficking. We write legislation, we’re asked to weigh in about what our opinions are and I have been following a package of bills that has recently gone through. Some of them have passed the Pennsylvania legislature pertaining to the issue that has been front and center since, it’s been part of my daily life in conversations, but police reforms and criminal justice reforms, but has been on the nation’s mind front and center since the summer and the George Floyd protest started.
Denise and I jumped on the phone because we can’t really meet in person like we used to, because of the pandemic, and just started having a conversation, like the trauma that people have been experiencing due to the pandemic just generally, right? Canceling amazing events, graduations that are happening in your living room versus with your class, weddings, baby-showers, funerals even, these rituals that we all have in society, that we haven’t been able to participate in, and that’s a bit of a trauma. Uncertainties about whether or not we’re going to be sick, watching the news constantly about the numbers growing of people who have either gotten sick or passed from COVID.
And then at the same time, as if we’re watching the U.S sort of open back up and people are doing it safely, the protest break out in Minnesota, and police become the target of the vitriol and the hatred. And I have so many close, dear, amazing friends who are in law enforcement, having spent 10 years in law enforcement, I have family who are in law enforcement, and I know what it’s like to be in a profession where people make fun of you, lawyers are sharks, everybody has that lawyer joke book laying on your desk, but I’ve been checking in with a lot of my friends, “Are you okay?” So Denise and I started to have this conversation and I’m going to let you go Denise because, you’re the one who wants to talk, so…
Denise Wolf [16:29]:
Sure. So, I’m a professor and also a therapist in private practice working with trauma for little over 20 years as well. And so trauma became something that I was exposed to, right, like this concept of trauma theory. It wasn’t really part of my graduate education. I was working in residential care with adolescents and I had the opportunity to start attending trainings. I was trained in the neuro-sequential mode of therapeutics, which is a really neuroscience brain-based approach to treating trauma. And so this idea that the behaviors that we do are oftentimes a result of trauma, right? It changes the brain.
And so I do this for 20 years, thinking about the context of why people do certain behaviors, right? Why people that we find reprehensible, right? Their actions unfathomable or disgusting. I’m looking at them with compassion, through the lens of trauma, through the lens of brain changes that impact the way that we engage with the world. So this becomes my work, I dive into this, this is my clinical practice, this is my teaching, and one informs the other, right? I can come into class and talk about what’s happening in my clinical work and clinical work is informed by the contemporary literature, so this is a really nice synergy.
And then, Shea talked about, we are moving into the pandemic, right, and into living with COVID. And then on top of that, so that’s already one collective trauma that we’re living in. And then on top of that, we find ourselves living in a collective trauma of racism. So after the murder of George Floyd, and that’s my personal opinion, right, of how I see that as a murder. I called Shea and I said, “Shea we are two smart educated women with lots of access and some privilege, but what can we do? Right. I’m feeling like this is our opportunity.” The kids would say, “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” Right? So how can we take this amazing cocktail mixture, right, of like Shea’s legal super powers, and Shea’s boots on the ground understanding of this system and my understanding of trauma.
And not just trauma, but trauma in systems, right. Working in residential care, working in schools, what can we do together? So this is like the beginning of our dream, which is this opportunity to work with the police towards de-stigmatizing mental health care. Right? And treating trauma. And looking at what looks like and what is called police brutality, not just as acts of hateful racism, but as responses to trauma that the police officers… what they see and do and experience every day, impacts their brain, just the way that it changes anybody else who’s not a police officer. Not saying that their behaviors are okay, approving of them, but understanding them and then working to create change.
Shea Rhodes [19:41]:
Yeah. And that’s something that I’ve thought about for a really long time and I tried a lot of violent crimes cases, right? And when you are a prosecutor, you are seeking to do a number of different things, but you’re using the criminal laws and the criminal statutes, and you go on trial and you have to prove that someone was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for meeting the elements of a crime. Right? And I can’t tell you how many times I didn’t have the language, Denise has taught me a lot about the language, right? That I would leave and just like not have the ability to think anymore.
But I did have a really clear understanding, that I was asking people who had been victims of gun violence or their homes been invaded or other things like to get on a witness stand and explain to a whole bunch of strangers sitting in the jury box, what had happened to them. I’m asking them to in effect, relive the trauma, and those are the ones who were the victims of that actual crime. But also asking police officers and detectives to get on that same witness stand and talk about why they went to that location? What they saw when they got there? Why did the detectives take those photographs? Who went to the hospital just to see if the victim was going to survive that particular incident of gun violence?
I always went out to the crime scenes if I was going to take a case all the way to a jury trial and I would try to go at the same time of day that the crime occurred. So if it was crime that happened in the dark, I wanted to be able to put myself into the positions of the responding police officers and see what they were seeing like, “Where were the streetlights? Were they using flashlights?” And they’re asked to do this day after day, after day.
And again, not having a language I had during my prosecutorial career, but having it now is like the trauma isn’t necessarily having to… they’re not experiencing it themselves personally and physically, sometimes they are, right? I mean, I know police officers who’ve been shot at, who’ve been hit by cars, who’ve been dragged by car, I mean terrible, awful things. But I also know the wonderful, good things that they do right, they’re asked to respond to domestic violence calls to stop violence, they get people out of burning buildings and burning cars and they see a lot of things, that you and I don’t see in real time.
We might see it on the nightly news at night time, but they’re seeing it and they then have to get back in their patrol car and go to the next call. And this is a national thing, right? Don’t have feelings, show up, be professional, do your job. And I’ve noticed that even myself being like a hardcore Gen Xer working round the clock, not knowing, thinking these words, self-care for social workers, sorry Denise, but like, that’s what you social-working people do, right? Like self-care, what’s that? It’s like, “Put the file in the drawer and get another one out and keep going.”
Leaving that day-to-day practice of law and running this institute inside of academia has just been really brilliant, I’ve learned so much from Denise about my own vicarious trauma, right? Why I would try a six cases in a row, and then basically be a crybaby for a month before I geared up to do it. It’s vicarious trauma, it gets on you, it gets in your skin. But we’re asking police to not recognize that in themselves, and just get up and keep going and get up and keep going, and show up at the next call and help the next person, and we don’t ask them to take care of their brain.
Alyssa Scolari [23:37]:
Yeah. It’s an impossible ask, right? And I don’t think that I even realized that myself until I started working with the local police department as the therapist with them. And I remember this very clearly, I had just started working with them, and there was an incident where a beloved member of the community was in a terrible accident, when she passed away, and her daughter was in the car, the daughter was alive, but just seeing how the police officers reacted, being on the inside and seeing how badly that had shaken them up, I thought to myself like, “Oh no, we’re not dealing with monsters, we’re dealing with people who have been deeply, deeply traumatized with little to no support and that’s a big problem.”
Denise Wolf [24:47]:
And then vilified, right? And vilified as well to boot. I feel like most of them, well, a lot of the police officers that I spoke with join the police force because they want to serve the communities. It’s almost social worky and it’s sort of worked, right? And I understand as well the history of policing in this country growing from old racist roots to protect White property, right? I mean, that’s the roots of the police in this country. So…
Alyssa Scolari [25:16]:
They return runaway slaves to their masters, let’s be super clear.
Denise Wolf [25:20]:
Right. Thank you. And it’s a both and, right, modern, I think contemporary police largely are to protect and serve the communities that they live in. And continual exposure to what therapists talk about as big T and little t trauma, like capital and lowercase trauma. The small sort of collective traumas, known as the bigger traumas of living in a dangerous environment, being shot at, not having a social support, spending time in dangerous areas or war torn areas. Right? So all of these things we know, have an impact on our brains, which impacts our ability to think clearly, right? And make good decisions.
Shea Rhodes [26:01]:
Yeah. Touching on something, Denise, it just brought up something for me. Our police systems were created for certain reasons, has a lot to do with systemic racism that we’re still seeing and trying to solve and get better at, I believe as a society. But society has asked for policing and they continue to ask for policing and investigations is a huge part of it, right? Anybody who comes home and their house has been ransacked and hopefully they’ll call the police, and that the police would be able to solve who broke into their home, because living in a house that’s been broken into has got to be terrifying.
I think that we as society again ask police officers to show up and be professional all day, every day with their gun and their badge and their handcuffs. Literally their toolkit that they take to work on a tool belt that they wear around their waist. Right? Yet we as society have not said to them, “You must take care of your brain.” And you take your brain to work with you every day, and you use your brain every single day, and then you leave work and you take your brain with you, and that doesn’t mean you can compartmentalize and shut it off.
Police officers put on that uniform every single day and they’ve all taken an oath to protect and serve, and they have that tool belt with their tools on it, around their waist, their gun and their badge and their handcuffs. And hopefully they only use certain tools like their gun once a year, when they have to go to the range to qualify, to prove that they can still shoot it effectively, right? I’m pretty sure every single police officer that I’ve ever spoken to is like, “Yeah, that’s the only time I’ve ever used my gun on duty, is when I’ve been at the range qualifying.”
And that’s how most of them really feel. But they use their brain every single day, and we don’t ask them to do de-briefs after witnessing a horrific car accident or responding to a horrific car accident or terrible instances of child abuse, interpersonal violence, sexual violence, gun violence on the streets, if you’re talking about a major urban city. We don’t ask them to look at their brain as a tool and that you have to take care of your brain.
And they shoved the feelings down and let’s be super clear, your feelings come from your brain. And if you keep shoving them down and not taking care of them, it’s not going to continue to be healthy, and that’s really scary. It’s really scary. I’m not scared for society, I’m scared for them.
Denise Wolf [29:02]:
Alyssa Scolari [29:02]:
Shea Rhodes [29:03]:
Obviously, I’m scared for society, right? But I’m truly scared for them. I want them to be healthy. I want them to go home to their husbands, and their wives, and their kids, and their moms, and their dads, and their friends. And I want them to go home and be healthy and sleep at night. I don’t sleep at night.
Alyssa Scolari [29:22]:
Denise Wolf [29:25]:
As a therapist educator, I talk about, this idea of self-care a lot. And self-care becomes this really sort of overused and almost silly word in contemporary culture, in terms of, I think therapists and police officers and lots of other people I’m leaving out. But the idea is our body is our tool, right? We’re not [inaudible 00:29:45]-
Alyssa Scolari [29:46]:
Denise, emergency room physicians, it’s the same thing.
Denise Wolf [29:49]:
Right. I mean doctors, nurses, I mean, ambulance drivers, there’s a whole list of people who are, our body is our tool. We are not operating a machine, we’re not like, I don’t [inaudible 00:29:58] I can’t give any other examples, but our physical self and our person and our brain is our tool. And so like, “I drive my car every day, I take that, I get it, I get oil change, all of the things.”
And so in therapist role, this is a growing idea, of this idea of how do we take care of our person with the therapist, right? And for police officers, what does this mean? We ideally want a police officer who’s going to be able to make good decisions quickly and protect the needs of the community and yet we’re not giving them any hope or tools to care for themselves.
Alyssa Scolari [30:36]:
Shea Rhodes [30:37]:
And I think that it’s an accumulation, right? This has been going on, I feel pretty much the last two decades. This is something that we’ve really been talking about, right? Like, how are we going to solve issues of police brutality, of the systemic racism within not just policing, but within society at large. And Denise and I talked about this so much, we might be looking at it, not in the right lens. We need to treat the trauma, like where does this come from?
Alyssa Scolari [31:20]:
Absolutely. Because we’ve got, let’s be clear that yes, there is systemic racism and that is not at all, we are not negating that. And this is really not about choosing political sides, this is about taking what’s going on and looking at it through the lens of trauma, which really is the goal in this podcast and in all the episodes, and all the topics that I discuss is, can we look at this through the lens of trauma? And can we try to look at police officers not as monsters, but as humans who have been so deeply traumatized with such little support that they’re constantly in fight or flight mode. And when you’re in fight mode and you’re in that mode constantly, these things are going to happen, because their nervous system is never regulated.
Shea Rhodes [32:18]:
Yeah. And that’s a problem. I can just relate it to my profession, right? I work with and on behalf of survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, all day every day. I’ve been doing that exclusively for the last seven years at this institute that I created a Villanova. But before that working with victims of violence, right? And it impacts me, my ability to think on my feet as a lawyer, to solve someone else’s legal problems and there is no me in my feelings when it comes to solving the legal problem of someone who’s experienced really horrific trauma, but their trauma impacts me.
And what do I need to do to take care of myself so that I am the best lawyer, the best advocate, that shows up for my clients and the people I advocate on behalf of every single day? And if you’re doing it day in and day out and day in and not taking care, like if I don’t take care of my brain, then I’m not going to be the sharpest lawyer I can possibly be to make the best legislative and policy changes to write a petition in the best fashion, making the best arguments in court, or even showing up for the lawyers I supervise and being their best supervisor and that’s really I think important for anyone who’s working with a population that’s experiencing trauma. And let’s be super honest, police officers are working in a community and responding to what could potentially be catastrophic, traumatic events within that community.
Denise Wolf [34:12]:
Well, what we’re working on now, in terms of like accessing the officer’s in some ways, is like we’re pushing up against stigma, right? And stigma that exists I think that generally culturally in mental health, but more specifically in the police force as far as, what does access to services look like and what does services even look like? So Shea and I have conducted some focus groups with urban police district.
Shea Rhodes [34:39]:
Yeah. I mean, I would say it’s particular law enforcement agency that expands. It’s not exclusively urban, but it’s also suburban and they’re multi-jurisdictional, but have a specific role within policing that also makes them incredibly unique.
Denise Wolf [34:55]:
I love your words. So we’ve been implemented in a few focus groups via Zoom and asking some of like part of it was didactic like, “This is sort of a one-on-one understanding of trauma, here are some of the big T and little t traumas, here are some of the variances of trauma that might impact you.” Or like, “Here’s what trauma looks like, sort of behaviorally and emotionally for the impact of trauma.” And then we moved into a discussion of, what would services look like? Would they be internal or external, right? Would this be sort of through your EAP or would it happen in your in-house?
Would you attend a debriefing after a critical incident or use of lethal force? Would you refer someone to services? How would you feel if you were referred to services? And we’re really bumping up against, a bit of a wall in terms of, in these focus groups people for the most part, people are engaged and openly discussing, but these are our focus groups, they’re not necessarily representative of the extent of the force.
Shea Rhodes [35:59]:
And this is not been surprising to me at all, right? They’re incredibly thoughtful, they are really concerned about the community that they serve, they’re very concerned about their colleague community, and they don’t readily have the tools that they need at the ready to solve the issues as they see percolating. And it’s almost like, “I recognize it, but I can’t do a warm handoff. Or I can’t say, call Denise and do that debriefing that she discussed. Or call this number and somebody is going to be immediately there, it’s going to be confidential and non-judgmental and all of those things.”
And it’s great that Denise and I have had these really thoughtful, wonderful conversations, but also we’re looking to give them the concrete tools that they’re asking for, which is so important, right? It’s one thing for them to start realizing like, “Hey, wow, we do need this.” Or, “Yeah, I saw that in my colleague, and I’ve noticed that over the past six weeks since that incident happened, that they have just not been bringing their best self to work, now what do I do?” That’s there’s a gap, they just don’t have it at the ready. It’s not something that’s an internal [inaudible 00:37:33].
Alyssa Scolari [37:34]:
They don’t have it at the ready and I think that it also, they’re stopped because of stigma, right?
Denise Wolf [37:34]:
Alyssa Scolari [37:40]:
So theoretically, I think that they do buy into that and they do understand it, but when it comes to putting it into practice, it’s very difficult to do because of stigma and this idea that they should be, mental health is equal to weakness and I think a lot of police officers almost look at. And when you mentioned EAP, Denise, I just want to be clear for the listeners out there that, that is basically support through your employers. And a lot of police officers are trained to not trust, right? They’re trained to serve and protect, but they’re also trained to not trust, especially, if they’re in a high-risk situation, so they have a very hard time trusting support that even is available to them.
Denise Wolf [38:30]:
Right. And it’s also, it can feel really sort of like the opposite of a one handoff. If you contacted your employee assistance program or EAP and that you might get a referral and there might be 15 or 20 different people on this piece of paper or an email and so how do you pick the right one? And it becomes like, “Forget about it, I’m not going to do it anyway.” Right. Because of trust, and because of ease of access.
Yeah. Interestingly enough, we asked if there were going to be like therapeutic or counseling, seems like a more palatable with the police force than therapy. So instead, if there’s going to be supportive counseling, would that person be internal or within the police force or external? And I think our experience largely was that it was pretty split and people made a really strong case for either.
Shea Rhodes [39:17]:
Yeah. I think that stigma in mental health, is something that is not profession specific. I think that there is a stigma just surrounding the issue of mental health, just globally, right? And there’s no stigma against people who have a heart condition, or who have diabetes, but there’s, you take medicine for that and you could potentially take medicine for a mental health diagnosis. It’s just, the conversations that Denise and I have had and even I using some of the tools and information that Denise and I have really drilled down in over these years, I’ve developed a curriculum for lawyers on how to be a trauma-informed lawyer and that’s in dealing with your clients. But also a component of that is how to ensure that you were showing up and being the best lawyer you can to solve someone’s legal problems.
And I think that the way that we decided to approach these particular focus groups was like, “Let us tell you what trauma is. Here’s how trauma impacts your brain.” It’s almost like if you slam your finger in the car door, you’re probably going to break it, right? I don’t know, I’m not articulating it very well Denise, but like explain to them like the impact of traumatic events over a long period of time on the different parts of your brain and how we as human beings are just an incredibly resilient species in the sense that our brain takes care of our bodies. Right? Which is why you have specific trauma response, fight, flight, freeze, or even fawning, right? That’s the new one that we’ve all been talking about and we do that because we’re biologically wired to survive.
But when you’re not recognizing a trauma or having the ability to process it, it just gets shoved down. And that’s when you were saying, Alyssa, “It just gets flipped on. The switch gets flipped on and you don’t have the ability to distinguish a reaction based on that moment in time, it’s sort of like your body going into pattern behavior.” Denise, what’s that one thing you always talk about? You get in your car and you meant to go someplace, but you ended up at work.
Denise Wolf [41:52]:
Oh, right. When brains are lazy, right? And so the trauma response becomes sort of the lazy road or the user road. The more you’re exposed to trauma, the more your brain is going to just go into fight, flight, freeze or fawn instead of regulating the nervous system and getting to the prefrontal cortex, where thinking and logic happens. And so I gave the example of, you ever get in your car and you were like trying to, you maybe want to go to your friend’s house, and instead you find yourself almost all the way to work. Right? And so like what happened there? And when you sort of tuned out, your brain goes in autopilot and the trauma response becomes autopilot.
Alyssa Scolari [42:33]:
Yep. That becomes the default. And it’s a dark hole you get sucked in. But the two of you are doing the work, so basically just as I understand it, these focus groups are made up of law enforcement members, and right now you’re in the process of getting feedback on the best way to provide concrete services, as well as educating them on not just trauma and the theoretical aspect, but the concrete, what does this look like in your brain? What is trauma? How does it affect you? Neuro-plasticity all that good stuff.
Shea Rhodes [43:11]:
There shouldn’t be a stigma attached with it, that was my point that got off my tangent. But why should you be stigmatized for your brain doing what a brain does? Which is protect you and keep you alive. Right? Did I say that right Denise? Brain just does what it does.
Denise Wolf [43:28]:
Yeah. It’s your brain doing its job. Right? Why are we going to judge that any more than we’re going to judge your feet for having five toes?
Alyssa Scolari [43:36]:
Denise Wolf [43:39]:
So, yeah. And Shea can talk about the money, right, where that hopefully is coming from. So we have a proposal in with them, and it’s sort of multi-tiered, there’s some psycho lag that’s happening in the proposal for all of the law enforcement, there are some smaller trainings for like peer support, so sort of like, train the trainer and get in that kind of in-house desire that was expressed in the focus group. Part of that also contains debrief, training for internal debrief groups after a critical incident, or say like recovery of a body, or other traumatic events. And then, the last part of that is individual counseling or support that would also happen in-house, so yeah. And Shea talk a little bit about where that money is hopeful to come from.
Shea Rhodes [44:29]:
So Pennsylvania’s legislature just passed into law, it was Act 69 of this year 2020. And in this particular new law, they’re talking about providing for trauma and suicide awareness and impact in officer training programs through a third-party provider, right? So what the law is asking or mandating at this point is that law enforcement must provide psychological support imperative to help officers maintain their health and high levels of job performance, right?
They’re saying to police like, “You have to do this.” Our legislature in Pennsylvania is like, “We have to help be part of the solution, which is rooted in a trauma response to police officers have the tools that they need to keep their brains healthy, to keep showing up every single day in a professional capacity, and going home to their kids or their wives, and their husbands at the end of their shift.”
Alyssa Scolari [44:29]:
I love it.
Shea Rhodes [45:34]:
Right? And it’s just like going to the range and qualifying every year with what you need to qualify to make sure that you can still shoot a gun and hit the target. We need to make sure that our brains are functioning in a healthy way and the legislature recognizes this. And so hopefully Denise and I will be able to build a training, that we can get funded through what the law has mandated, which I just think is really important. And I think we bring something really unique to the table A, in our partnership and our skill-sets, but also in the way that we go about our trainings are very conversational and we’re really grounded and rooted in reality.
Alyssa Scolari [46:18]:
I love it.
Denise Wolf [46:19]:
Alyssa can I read? Would it be useful if I read? Or I’d like to read a paragraph from our proposal. Or is that-
Alyssa Scolari [46:25]:
Yeah. Oh yeah. I would love that.
Denise Wolf [46:30]:
Shea I’m going to start with not the trauma theory stuff, but current political and civil rights. Current political and civil rights crises have pushed forward a call for trauma-informed policing. But police officers are often deployed to deal with social problems such as substance abuse disorder, mental illness, and homelessness, there’s often a gap in training preparedness for these events. This reality is in confluence with legislative changes for revising policing procedures as outlined in Pennsylvania House Bill 1910, now Act 59, mandating mental health evaluations for law enforcement officers, Which calls to address trauma-informed policing.
Specifically the new law calls for law enforcement agencies to quote, provide law enforcement officers with mental health evaluation for post-traumatic stress disorder, by a licensed mental health professional upon request of the officer, upon recommendation of a police chief, or other supervising law enforcement officer, or within 30 days of an incident of the use of lethal force during the course of law enforcement duty.
Shea Rhodes [47:31]:
Alyssa Scolari [47:31]:
Beautiful. That says it all.
Shea Rhodes [47:34]:
I can’t tell you I think it’s wonderful, but I think that we’re at a real crossroads right now, just in society and how it is that we’re going to start and continue hopefully taking care of one another. And I think that’s something that we’re living in a really polarized world right now. Polarized on so many things, right? Like if somebody is in a different political party than you are, or we’ve lost the ability to just be genuinely kind and take care of one another.
I don’t see how we can continue to sustain ourselves in whatever professional capacity we do in the midst of a global pandemic, people rightfully protesting, we have just getting your voices heard and also just really taking care of one another. Right? It’s the most wonderful things that I’ve seen are police engaging and there’s no other ring anymore, right, than providing hugs and playing basketball in the neighborhoods while they’re in uniform, or doing the car karaoke’s and all the things that are just like the normal part of every day, when they get up and go to work, it gets missed. And I just think that we need to get back to the roots of stuff, which is like genuinely taking care of one another.
Alyssa Scolari [49:28]:
I love that. I mean it and I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that instead of polarization, instead of choosing either back the blue or defund the police, it’s let’s shift and figure out how do we take care of each other in this, instead of hating each other through it. So I love that, I love what the two of you are doing. Like I said, “You both make the perfect cocktail. You are both power-house women.” So, bless the universe for bringing the two of you together, because you all are doing great stuff. If people want to find out more about what you’re doing, is there any sort of website that they can go to? Now I know, Shea you’ve given some bad ass TED Talks.
Shea Rhodes [50:18]:
Oh, I have. Yes, I did.
Alyssa Scolari [50:20]:
That I’ve watched.
Shea Rhodes [50:21]:
I was really nervous during my TED Talk [inaudible 00:50:23].
Alyssa Scolari [50:24]:
Well, you killed it, because they’re damn good. But yeah, if people like want to learn more, is there any kind of resources or tips or websites that people can refer to? Anything like that?
Shea Rhodes [50:37]:
So Denise, I know you’ve got a new website up and running. You can always go to our website, which is the cseinstitute.org, we are constantly encouraging law enforcement and prosecutors and lawyers and those who serve victims of exploitation and or personal violence, sex trafficking to do so through a trauma-informed lens, we offer tons of trainings, we do people research, we provide direct legal services, there’s all kinds of really, I think amazing stuff that, it’s not me, it’s my team that they just tirelessly work on all day every day, the lawyers and my students and my research assistants are just phenomenal.
I know that Denise has got a ton of ready tools and I mean, I am a nerd. I love to read and I think I’m proud of my nerd hashtag. But there’s just so much information out there. Denise, do you have all of those sort of research, cool stuff up on your website? I really want people to read them.
Denise Wolf [51:42]:
Yeah, I will momentarily. But yeah, I’ll load all of that Shea and I’ve been archiving related articles from contemporary literature and newspapers and magazines, so I would load that into my website and all that can be accessed there.
Shea Rhodes [51:58]:
That’s perfect. And one of the things that we always try to do, and we did this before we did the focus groups, there is an amazing YouTube video out there, it’s an animated YouTube video, it’s called Trauma and the Brain. Just Google, YouTube Trauma and the Brain. It’s animated. It’s I don’t think quite 10 minutes long?
Denise Wolf [52:19]:
Mm-mm [negative], nine minutes and some 40 seconds.
Shea Rhodes [52:22]:
It’s so good. It’s just so good. And it gives a really clear, concise overview of how trauma works in your brain, and what your brain’s responses are. It’s just, I’d love this little short animated video. We always, before we do these focus groups or anything, I send it to my students. I’ve played it in front of a million people, it’s awesome.
Alyssa Scolari [52:49]:
I actually think I know exactly what video you’re talking about and this will sound familiar to the listeners out there, because I have posted it in the podcast Facebook group, and I’ve referred people to it in previous episodes, where I sort of talk about the nuts and bolts of trauma, so to speak. It’s like a cartoon video on YouTube, like an animation. And, yep, this should sound familiar to those of you who have listened to previous episodes. I’m going to post that video again, because that’s a sign that we all need to watch it again, so I love that video.
Shea Rhodes [53:26]:
Alyssa Scolari [53:27]:
Yeah. And I just thank you so much both for coming on today. It’s been awesome to hear what you’re doing. Keep up the good work.
Denise Wolf [53:36]:
Thanks Alyssa. We’ll keep you posted.
Shea Rhodes [53:37]:
Yes. Thank you for having us.
Alyssa Scolari [53:40]:
Thank you. Take care.
Denise Wolf [53:44]:
Alyssa Scolari [53:44]:
Thanks for listening everyone. For more information about today’s episode and to sign up for the Light After Trauma newsletter, head over to my website at alyssascolari.com. The really great thing about being a part of this newsletter is that not only do you get weekly updates on new podcast episodes and blog posts, but you also get access to the private Facebook community, as well as access to all sorts of insider tips, resources, and info-graphs that supplement what we talk about on the show. You also can connect with me and other trauma warriors. I’m super active on the Facebook community and I look forward to talking with you.