A recent study by the University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) developed a means to measure police officers’ mental resiliency and psychological skills to assess the efficacy of mental health training programs, and eventually improve them and broaden their use.
Researchers say the findings will help in the development and implementation of training programs for law enforcement.
The study was conducted by associate professors of kinesiology William Land and Jianming Guan in collaboration with Bexar County Sheriff’s Department staff psychologist Brandi Burque.
Burque said the research was insightful.
“This research has been invaluable to law enforcement performance and wellness training,” Burque said. “(With) the collaboration and the insights gained, we have been able to develop and modify training to enhance officer’s performance on the job and at home, thus increasing job and life satisfaction and overall resilience.”
The purpose of the study was to measure officers’ use of psychological skills and stress-management techniques on the job in order to determine the impact and usefulness of current mental resiliency training programs like Burque’s Performance, Recovery, and Optimization (PRO) program.
The study confirmed the researchers’ assumption that psychological skills can improve officer mental wellbeing and job satisfaction and performance.
It also found that younger officers, newer officers, and officers of lower rank were more likely to utilize mental skills, lending support to the use of mental training programs during police academy training.
In particular, the study assessed the key elements of Burque’s PRO program, measuring seven mental skills: attention management, winning mindset, combat breathing, muscle control, mental practice, physical recharge and self-talk.
“These strategies have long been used by elite athletes to handle the demands of high-pressure situations,” Land said. “Importantly, the efficacy of these strategies are now being realized for use in other domains of human performance, such as with law enforcement and the military.”
Land, who has prior experience researching the impact of stress on officer performance, also developed a questionnaire in consultation with law enforcement experts assessing mental health strengths and weaknesses, and sent it out to over a thousand police officers via their departments.
The professor hopes that the results will demonstrate the efficacy of psychological training programs in improving officer performance, and thereby increase budgetary support and administrative acceptance of mental skills training.
“Given the negative impact of trauma and critical incident stress on the mental and physical wellbeing of law enforcement officers, providing evidence-based support for mental resiliency programs can have important and meaningful benefits to officers’ job performance and overall quality of life. Such outcomes are not only important for officers, but also the communities they serve,” Land said.