Working with First Responders in a Substance Abuse Setting: Occupational Culture Considerations

Course Summary:

Our nation’s first responders are trained to react at a moment’s notice to respond to people in crisis. The question that is not often always asked is who helps our first responders when they need help? First responders often put the lives of others before they take care of themselves. In turn, this often leads our first responders to struggle with taking care of their physical, mental and emotional needs while experiencing high rates of occupation-related stress and trauma. This may result in the development of unhealthy ways of coping that lead to addictive behaviors and the use of controlled substances. First responders as a culture often shy away from getting help due to the negative stigma associated with addiction and mental health treatment, often preferring to self-medicate rather than seeking help.

This course will explore the roadblocks and stigmas that often keep first responders from seeking help for addiction issues, what a clinician can expect from a first responder in a clinical setting, and how to work effectively with a first responder client by having an understanding of their occupational culture.

Course Objectives:

  • Participants will learn who first responders are, what occupations are considered part of this profession and which are considered, but not truly classified as, a first responder.
  • Explore the occupational hazards associated with being a first responder and how stressors influence “escapist” behaviors including addiction.
  • Discuss the occupational “culture” of first responders, and the “brotherhood” and “sisterhood” dynamic.
  • Learn about the Hyper vigilance Roller Coaster Model, which reinforces addictive behaviors.
  • Explore the “Magic Chair” principle and its effects on family relationships.
  • Learn about the evolution of first responder enthusiasm and motivation over the course of a typical career and the influential attitudes that contribute to addictive behaviors.
  • Learn how cynicism, burnout, and compassion fatigue play roles in contributing to addictive behaviors in first responders.
  • Discuss expected behaviors of the first responder in a typical counseling session including the “testing” of the clinician and the challenges of trusting someone who is not a first responder.
  • Review the types of trauma associated with first responders.
  • Review self-care and bias awareness in working with first responders and the impacts of Vicarious Trauma on the clinician.


Brian Turk is an Inpatient Primary Counselor for Glenbeigh Hospital’s Rock Creek Center. He began with Glenbeigh in 2010, first as an Intake Specialist, then a Shift Supervisor, and Counseling Intern. He graduated from Lake Erie College with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 2010, and received a Master’s of Science in Social Administration from Case Western Reserve University in 2016. He is licensed as both an Independent Social Worker and Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor and Internationally Certified as an Alcohol and Other Drug Counselor through IC & RC. In 2021, he completed a 50-hour intensive training program to become a Certified First Responder Counselor and is one of 9 clinicians with this certification presently in the State Of Ohio.

Brian is also a first responder himself, and has served on the Windsor Fire Department in Windsor, Ohio since 2002. He started in their Fire Cadet program at age 14 doing apprenticeship training until age 18 when he became certified as a Firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician. He was promoted to Fire Lieutenant in 2014 and then Fire Captain in 2018 where he stills serves in this role. He is also on the support team for the department’s K9 Search and Rescue Division, and helped to start the department’s Drone Unit. In addition to specializing in working with first responders, Brian specializes in working with Dual Diagnosis clients, with a focus on using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Strengths-Based Approaches, Motivational Interviewing, and promoting self-efficacy in recovery.

Thursday, August 26, 2021
Presentation: 9:30 AM - 11:00 AM

This is a ZOOM platform virtual education program. Please RSVP at this Glenbeigh Rise and Shine link
Note: You will receive an email confirmation upon registration. This email include access information for the event. 

1.5 Continuing Education Credits have been applied for through:

  • The Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board
  • The Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & Marriage and Family Therapist Board
  • The National Association of Social Workers

For more information, please contact Carrie Artman by phone at 440-710-3244 or by email. 

Glenbeigh provides educational events at no cost as part of our community benefit initiative. Glenbeigh is a non-profit hospital providing the highest quality healthcare to those in need of alcohol and drug addiction treatment and supports ongoing addiction recovery efforts.