How correctional officers can connect with faith to achieve balance
While officers understand the importance of physical and mental fitness, many ignore or neglect their spiritual health
This article is featured in the magazine, Rebuilding Resiliency: A Treatment Guide. This free publication provides in-depth information to help officers and their families better understand treatment options so they can remain strong and resilient.
By Robert Michaels, contributor to In Public Safety
We are all born with a body, mind and spirit. Law enforcement officers understand the importance of the first two – valuing physical and mental fitness. However, many officers ignore or neglect their spiritual health. Sometimes an officer’s spiritual side is silenced by the very nature of the job, by the violent and traumatic incidents that they regularly witness.
As a former officer, I thought my faith was strong but time on the job saw my faith take a back seat.
I started my career in military police in 1971 and then became an officer in the Norfolk (VA) Police Department from 1973 where I rose to detective. During that time, I witnessed many incidents that left me callous. As a rookie, I fell out of touch with my church, working weekends and nights. The longer I stayed away, the easier it was to drift. And the farther I drifted, the less my faith impacted my actions and thoughts. In a sense, my faith haunted me because I knew I was drifting. It didn’t take long before the drifting resulted in a person who was angry, vulgar and more prone to violence.
So what changed me? I happened to have a partner, Drew Grant, who was strong in his faith. He would challenge me on things like word choices and actions. One night, I was arresting a guy and he spun around. I grabbed him by his throat and got ready to tune him up. Drew calmly put his hand on my shoulder and asked why I was going to hit the guy. “Because he’s a jerk and needs it,” I said. Drew challenged me to make a different choice. I did, and from then I decided to make a lot of different choices.
After 11 years in law enforcement, I walked away and earned a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies. Going to a Bible college was like spiritual rehab and reconnected me to my core beliefs. After graduation, I worked in the private sector eventually becoming the vice president of marketing for a record label. It was a good gig, but left me feeling unsatisfied. I knew there was a void in my life.
In 2011, while sitting in church, I felt compelled to reconnect with my law enforcement background. I launched a company called Serve & Protect, which helps officers and first responders find trauma-related resources including therapists, service dogs and chaplain services.
Chaplains are instrumental in helping officers revitalize their spiritual side, and those who are trauma-informed can identify stress and trauma in officers. I currently have more than 100 chaplains in the network and I only recruit those who have worked in public safety because they get it. They have firsthand experience of the stressors and understand the unique challenges facing first responders.
Chaplains provide officers with spiritual support including:
- Being present where officers are. Many chaplains refer to their work as a “ministry of presence.” They regularly visit departments and simply walk around, saying hello, and do not get in the way. If an officer needs their help, however, they are there.
- Listening more than speaking. Chaplains are masters of listening and are eager to hear what officers have to say. They aren’t interested in converting anyone. Instead, chaplains are there to listen, encourage and be a beacon of hope.
- Recognizing signs of PTSI or suicidal ideations. Many chaplains have studied trauma. When they identify warning signs, they can refer officers to a trauma-informed professional therapist for more help.
At no time in my professional journey did I imagine I’d become a chaplain. But it has been an incredibly rewarding experience to help fellow officers renew their spiritual side. When officers work on their overall health, it’s important that they realize their spiritual health is just as important as their physical and mental health. Faith is part of a holistic view of emotional wellness: body, mind, and spirit.
About the Author
Robert Michaels is CEO and founder of Serve & Protect. He served as a MP and detective with Norfolk (VA) Police Department. Rob received his B.A. from Columbia International University and M.A. from Wheaton College. He is a longtime member of the Fraternal Order of Police and serves as Tennessee state chaplain. Rob is also chaplain for the FBI Memphis Division and received the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award in 2017. He is a member of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and is a guest lecturer speaking on “Plain Talk About PTS and Suicide.” To reach him, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.