Treating Uniformed Professionals: Specialists Needing Specialized Care

Ken Smith
Ken Smith
June 3, 2019

Uniformed professionals work in a variety of professions vital to the community’s safety and welfare.  These include all levels and categories of law enforcement, corrections officers, firefighters, EMS personnel, and other emergency services professionals and first responders. 

We know that such professionals experience extremely stressful, life-threatening situations, often daily.  We also know that this same work environment routinely features grueling shift rotations and frequent overtime hours.

In a very real way, uniformed professionals are specialists who excel at a specific line of work that at times is taken for granted and unappreciated.  This is certainly a contributing factor in why such professionals, especially those in law enforcement and firefighting, are engrained in an insular culture, the job pressures of which they do not believe outsiders can fully comprehend.

The job demands, environment, experiences, and culture are all factors that contribute to and exacerbate the prevalence of substance use disorders (SUDs) among uniformed professionals. This also presents unique challenges for SUD treatment professionals who work to guide this special population to sobriety and sustained recovery. 

Surveys and studies indicate severe alcohol use disorders remain the number one substance use disorder among uniformed professionals – alcohol is legal, available, and socially acceptable, especially within the close-knit fraternity common to uniformed professionals.  There is also growing evidence that severe opioid use disorders are increasing among this sector.  This disorder is on the rise partially because of the frequent injuries uniformed professionals experience performing their job duties, and the subsequent role pain medication plays in the treatment of those injuries.

It’s crucial that successful treatment of uniformed professionals’ substance use disorders be specialized.  The following components are part of an overall modality we use to successfully treat uniformed professionals:

  • The integration of work and home environments into treatment
  • Ensuring that family interaction is an ongoing part of the treatment process
  • Employing Qualified Health Professionals (QHPs) skilled at helping uniformed professionals understand the need to take responsibility for how their behaviors have impacted family, friends, and work
  • Providing group and individual therapy specific to uniformed professionals under the direction of QHPs who know how to treat these professionals’ grief and loss, resistance and distrust, guilt and shame, and often Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Providing initial and ongoing mental health assessments as indicated
  • Workplace reintegration featuring back-to-work conferences with employers when indicated and the arrangement of appropriate aftercare plans

Treating uniformed professionals is challenging yet rewarding, especially when they return to their families and careers, as sober, safe, healthy, and productive individuals. 

Ken Smith

Clinical Director

Kenneth Smith, LCSW, QMHP, Clinical Director, joined Tully Hill Chemical Dependency Treatment Center in January 2009. Mr. Smith most recently served as the Clinical Director for the Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County. He was previously employed at Tioga County Department of Mental Hygiene as the Clinical Supervisor for Alcohol and Drug Services. Mr. Smith completed his Bachelor of Science in Social Work at Cornell University and completed his Master of Social Work degree at Syracuse University. Mr. Smith is an OASAS certified dual diagnosis treatment provider.