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First Responder Mental Health Resilience Conference October 2022

The Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council is proud to offer our inaugural First Responder Mental Health Resilience Conference.

Join us for this exciting virtual experience which will provide leading-edge approaches to foster mental health resilience in first responders. Every Thursday in October (6, 13, 20 & 27) 2022 from 10:00am to 2:30pm.

Each day includes a featured subject matter expert speaker and practical and applicable skills workshops specifically tailored for first responders.

Registration will open in late summer 2022.
Click here to sign up to receive notice when registration opens.

Tentative Line Up 
(We are finalizing all the details)

Day 1 – Thursday October 6, 2022 10:00am to 2:15pm

10:00am – 10:15am Opening Address: Lt. Col. Tom Grady, Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office, WRHSAC

10:15am – 11:15am Featured Speaker: Dr. Stephen Porges
Title: Polyvagal Theory Applied to Mental Health

Join the conversation with Dr. Porges and a panel of local first responders to understand the Polyvagal Theory and how our nervous systems impact our responses to the environment.  By understanding the Polyvagal Theory, we can go from states of shutdown or mobilization to a state of safety and connection. We will discuss psychological stress injury, injury prevention, and the potential for healing and integration.

11:30am – 12:30pm Skills Workshop #1: Deb Dana, LCSW
Title:   Polyvagal Theory in Practice

Guided by Polyvagal Theory, we have a deep appreciation of the ways experience shapes the nervous system and of the pathways that lead to healing. With an updated map of the autonomic circuits that underlie behaviors and beliefs, we have a new understanding of the patterns of fight, flight, and shut down and can reliably move out of adaptive survival responses into the autonomically regulated state of safety that is necessary for wellbeing. In this presentation we’ll explore how to use the body’s regulating circuits to regain a sense of safety and skills to engage the nervous system’s natural pathways to regulation.

1:00pm – 2:00pm Skills Workshop #2: Stephanie d’Angelo
Title:   Be the Calm in the Storm: Polyvagal-Informed Embodied Mindfulness (PIEM)

Be the Calm in the Storm: Polyvagal-Informed Embodied Mindfulness (PIEM) Real-Time Stress Survival Skills. Aren’t we all just seeking peace in a chaotic world? I began my career as a caseworker for social services and a newlywed to a police officer. We learned quickly how ill-prepared we were to handle the amount of stress and trauma surrounding us every day. I had some skills, but not what was needed. I realized without these physiological Stress Survival Skills, we get sick, we break down or become so disengaged from the things and people that used to make us feel happy. Something had to change. So, I spent most of the past thirty years cultivating skills, learning, and teaching how to be the calm in the storm no matter what is happening in the moment. These practices restore foundational stability and yes, even bring joy back into your life!

DAY 2 Thursday October 13, 2022 10:00am to 2:30pm

10:00am-10:15am Opening Address: Chief Jennifer Gundersen, South Hadley Police

10:15am -11:15am Featured Speaker: Dr. Robert Macy
Title: The Traumascape and Trauma Informed Approaches to Toxic Stress Reduction and Compassion Care

Disaster response is difficult work. Frequently, the people who are doing this work are also impacted by the crisis at hand. This reality increases the need for disaster response workers to (1) understand, develop and sustain psychological capital and (2) to be trained in and practice toxic stress reduction protocols and compassion care programs as a means of professional development, competence and a reflection of the values that Emergency Response Teams wish to uphold. Our discussion will help us identify and assess major stressors in the workplace, explore how they can impact an organization, and discuss methods of managing and diminishing unnecessary toxic stress chemical production from our everyday lives.

11:30am – 1:00pm Skills Workshop #1: Dr. Robert Macy
Title: Toxic Stress Chemical Reduction Tool Kits

This seminar is very interactive and informative. Participants will gain skills to bring into their workplace and personal lives to practice stress reduction and increase a sense of competency and health. We will explore approaches to daily stress perception techniques and the utilization of pulse-breath-mindfulness work to build custom stress reduction tool kits.

1:30pm – 2:30pm Skills Workshop #2: RISE Kripalu, Sam Chase
Title:   Keeping the Body in Mind: Embodied Tools for Resilience

As a first responder, how you train your attention to assess your surroundings has huge consequences in critical moments where milliseconds make a difference. But we don’t often dedicate the same time and training to paying attention to what’s going on inside. Scientists call this interoception – a literal ‘sixth sense’ that attunes us to what’s happening within the body. Recent research connects the skill of interoception to our capacity for resilience, suggesting that our ability tune into what’s inside impacts our ability handle what’s going on around us. In this workshop, we’ll explore several evidence-based exercises for building interoception and sharpening your inner attention. These tools integrate easily into the rhythms of the day, so that the time you invest inside will leave you ready, responsive and resilient in the moments that matter most.

DAY 3 Thursday October 20, 2022 10:00am to 2:30pm

10:00am – 10:15am Opening Address: Bruce Arbor, Fire Services Chaplin

10:15am-11:15am Featured Speaker: Rollin McCraty, Ph.D.
Title: Maintaining your Composure in the Midst of Chaos and Confusion

This presentation will discuss a practical framework of resilience and the importance of learning and practicing energy self-regulation techniques. Practices shown to dramatically impact first responders’ ability to maintain inner poise, composure, and clarity, even in rapidly changing, complex and chaotic environments. Dr. McCraty will provide an overview of new research on the physiology of optimal performance and a measurable state called “physiological coherence” and how this optimal state increases cognitive performance, health, and well-being.

11:30am – 12:30pm Skills Workshop #1: Police Chief Jen Hart
Title:   Creating Calm in Chaos

The work we do is rewarding and meaningful, but it is also physically and emotionally taxing. Daily, we face challenging, dangerous, and draining situations. We are impacted by limited resources, uncertainty, and constant change. If unmanaged, this operational stress can diminish our performance, deplete our energy, and erode our wellbeing. As the demands of our jobs continue to increase, learning to build and sustain resilience is more vital than ever.

In this skills workshop, you will learn practical tools to manage your energy, diminish the harmful impacts of operational stress and increase your personal resilience. HeartMath’s research-based tools are designed to help you reduce energy drains and restore calm so you can maintain balance and composure, even in the face of chaos and adversity.

1:00pm – 2:30pm Skills Workshop #2:  Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, Senior Vice-President and Director of Shay Moral Injury Center
Title:   Recognizing and Addressing Moral Distress and Moral Injury in First Responders

This workshop will provide information about conditions that put first responders at risk of experiencing moral distress that, when unaddressed, can intensify into moral injury. The workshop will cover the relationship between them and how to recognize them, as well as strategies that support recovery from them. It will include a demonstration of an online, small group, peer-facilitated program for first responders offered by Volunteers of America, Resilience Strength Time (VOA|ReST), designed to mitigate moral distress and forestall or lessen the intensity of moral injury.

DAY 4 Thursday October 27, 2022, 10:00am to 2:00pm

10:00am – 10:15am Opening Address: Chief Michael Wynn, Pittsfield Police Department

10:15am -11:15am Featured Speaker: Tom Greenhalph
Title:   Peer Support and Emerging Sciences: Blending the New with the Traditional for Enhanced Wellness and Resiliency

Peer support has existed for decades. Research over that time has shown it to be very useful in helping with life challenges. Emerging sciences such as neuroplasticity show how the brain can change in ways once not thought possible. In this presentation we will explore some of these emerging sciences and how they relate and can be integrated into peer support, with a goal of enhancing wellness and resiliency

11:30am – 12:30pm Skills Workshop #1:  Tom Greenhalph
Title:  Enhancing My Personal and Professional Skills for Enhanced Wellness and Resiliency

Very often caretakers spend all their time taking care of others, often at the expense of themselves. “I don’t have time for that” is often heard when someone is asked what they do for themselves. Not recharging their personal battery, caretakers often pay a significant price in terms of their own health, wellness and resiliency, but also deliver services to others that may not be at a level they perceive it to be.

Attendees of this workshop will explore a self-reflection and evaluation as to where they may stand in terms of how well they are doing in terms of self-care, suggestions for improvement, and tools they can carry forward to those that they serve.

1:00pm – 2:00pm Skills Workshop #2: Robin Carnes
Title: Healthy Sleep: Your #1 Resilience Skill

At a time when more people than ever suffer with sleep issues, the latest science reveals just how essential quality sleep is for every aspect of our mental and physical health. First Responders face elevated risks for sleep problems due to the nature of the jobs they do in service to their communities.

In this workshop you will: be briefed on the latest findings on the essential functions of sleep, learn the underlying cause of most common sleep dysfunctions, and learn how to address common sleep problems through simple lifestyle changes and mind-body practices.

The heart of the workshop will be experiencing a variety of evidence-based practices to support and enhance your sleep, including a guided iRest meditation designed specifically for sleep. Participants will come away with practical materials and recorded practices to improve this essential function of human life.

Complete this form to receive updates and notification when registration opens.


Virtual Training

10am to Noon

Building Healthy Workplaces: How to promote mental health in first responder organizations training is a series designed to help first responder leadership promote positive mental wellbeing within their organizations.

This virtual training, delivered in four, 2-hour, live, virtual sessions offers deep discussion and planning leadership can follow to build healthy workplace environments. The session will be held on the following dates and times. Registration is required, please complete the form at the bottom of this page to register. 

  • Thursday, March 17, 2022 – 10:00am to noon
  • Thursday, March 24, 2022  – 10:00am to noon
  • Thursday, March 31, 2022 – 10:00am to noon
  • Thursday, April 7, 2022 – 10:00am to noon

Attendance at all four sessions is recommended as each session builds on the last. This is an interactive training and access to audio and visual capabilities are required. Complete the form below to register.

Participation in the training is prioritized for first responder leadership in Western Massachusetts. Submitted registration will be reviewed to ensure participants are in a leadership role. Complete the form below to apply. The training is free. Class size is limited, so please submit your interest soon.

The self-paced, online Introduction to Building Healthy Workplaces is a prerequisite for the virtual series. This introduction provides background and overview of common mental health topics and evidence-based information which the virtual session will explore more deeply. The introduction training is free.

Registration for this training is closed.