5 Trauma Coping Skills for High-Risk Professionals

5 Trauma Coping Skills for High-Risk Professionals

by Laura Geftman, LCSW 

I have a number of friends who have high risk jobs involving trauma. I often call them “superheros.” I joke they should wear capes and have comic books written about them. But the one thing I don’t joke about with them is their self care.

While my friends can’t fly or scale the tallest buildings, their jobs often subject them to experiencing, witnessing or hearing about all kinds of traumatic events. Often it’s not just one event but many, and time after time. High risk professions are most associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

So who are these brave people and what do they do…


Here’s the list of the seven types of high-risk professionals:

  1. Military Personnel
  2. Law Enforcement
  3. Firefighters
  4. Emergence Medical / Ambulance Personnel
  5. Healthcare Professionals
  6. Journalists
  7. First Responders (rescue workers, medical workers, volunteers) 


If you have a high-risk job that made the list- and even if your’s didn’t- let’s review the effects of trauma. The effects of trauma really vary from person to person depending on the type of trauma, age of the person who experienced the trauma, and frequency/severity of their exposure.

Symptoms include: flashbacks, nightmares, painful memories, strong emotions. Scary stuff…that can be managed.


So how do you deal with the scary stuff? Good question. Glad you asked. Really. Avoidance is all too commonly used as a coping strategy. It is very acceptable as it’s natural to avoid the memories, people, places, and situations that are associated with traumatic events.

In order to effectively cope with trauma, you should consider understanding your experience and processing it. Some people do so as a self-guided process and other with the support of a trained professional.

It can often feel overwhelming or frightening to seek help. This a common worry. Asking for help and finding the person to understand isn’t always an easy process but when you do it’s so affirming and healing.

Many are afraid to seek help fearing they will have to talk about their traumatic experience. They worry about how they will cope following their appointment. It’s important to know that therapists aren’t going to make you talk about anything you don’t want to. They don’t want you to be retraumatized or re-live your trauma. They want to help you process your thoughts and feelings such that you can move through.

Whether you choose to go it alone or with the support of a professional, here are some coping strategies:

1. Reach out for help. Whether you talk to a  coworker, friend or a therapist, it’s important to talk about your thoughts and feelings about what you’ve encountered with someone who is a source of comfort. Don’t bottle it up. Talk it through.

2. Plan for self care. Yup, just like planning to go to the gym, incorporate self care into your schedule. Actually making time for it in your day will ensure that you do it. 

3. Creating a Safe Space. It’s important that you surround that you find a place- real or imagined- where you feel safe. Think pillows, candles, blankets, etc…all that things that help you feel okay. It’s important that it is an accessible place you can go to whenever you need it.

4. Grounding strategies. Activities where you focus on your five sense- see, hear, smell, touch, taste- help to ground you. Find what works for you- relaxation breathing, visual imagery, meditation, yoga, mindfulness.

5. Self-compassion. Gaining more understanding about your response allows you to have more compassion for yourself and your experience. It’s important to find way to remind yourself that the way you respond is understandable given the experiences you have had.


Trauma is brought on when a person perceived incidence as unexpected, unpreventable, uncontrollable, resulting from intentional cruelty, and possibly related to a childhood event. In the lines of work above, these experiences are plentiful.

It’s important to learn more about responses to trauma and develop strategies to prepare to respond to potential trauma. Do you have more suggestions about way to cope with trauma? Let’s help each other. Comment below with your suggestions.

About Laura Geftman, LCSW

Laura Geftman, LCSW is the Founder of The Calm, Cool & Collected and a practicing therapist. Beyond all things cannabis and mental health, Laura is passionate about developing greater understanding for kindness and acceptance. In her free time, Laura can be found on her yoga mat, in a kayak or singing karaoke.

Pin for later!

This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. I think that #1 is something that people often do not do because they do not want to bother others, or it feels embarrassing, or for whatever reason. People need people, though.

  2. Meagan

    I don’t think I could ever be strong enough to do any of those jobs. I hate when people discredit those who have jobs that demand so much of them emotionally (and physically). These people willingly handle some of the most traumatizing and heartbreaking situations…

    All of these tips are so important! I like that you said PLAN for self-care. Instead of waiting until you’re at your worst to think you need to take care of yourself, it should be part of life.

  3. Holly Bird

    Great information! Sometimes we do not think about the trauma that effects us and how we can help ourselves or others that are struggling! Thank you!

  4. Katie

    Self-care is so important for anyone! Definitely something I need to work on.

  5. Leigh Ann

    Thank you for sharing these tips – can really make a difference when you’re experience high risk jobs and trauma.

  6. Angela Greven

    Really wonderful post, my dad and brother were both Marines. It can be a fine line between sanity and the point of no return. Nice to see that these professionals that risk their lives daily have more resources to stay healthy. Thank you. ?

  7. jen

    I think having a safe space to unload is vital. A good partner/spouse is also vital for these type of jobs.

  8. Tricia Snow

    Great strategies. My SIL was a prison guard and got out quickly because he already suffered from PTSD. He used EMDR (I think) and he is a different person.

  9. Anna

    Yes !!!! YOGA is for sure the way to cope with trauma. Just make sure you visit classes for grounding energy, Moon energy or THA energy. Otherwise, it can cause the opposite effect. Thank you for the article. A lot of people can benefit from it

  10. Pauline

    Second hand trauma is real. I don’t think there is enough awareness in those high-risk fields. I definitely think that employers should be more aware and offer more help to those affected. They offer EAP plans that are really limited. Being in the mental health and social work field, these skills I use daily. Great reminder.

  11. Ramae

    I taught at a school in which many of the students were impacted by trauma. Several of our inservice days were spent on how to understand and best reach students with a lot of traumatic experiences in their lives. I remember a student asking me one day why I didn’t yell at the kids who fell asleep, came in late, or were disrespectful. I responded with, “because I don’t know what’s going on in that student’s life.” Patient, understanding, and love go a long way with everyone but particularly people who’ve endured more than their fair share of trauma.

  12. Junell DuBois

    Great reminders! I know a lot of high-stress professionals who forget to ask for help when they need it!

  13. Rachel Newlon

    I work with a lot of Vets – the stories they tell me are horrific. I see why it can be so difficult to deal with circumstances. Asking for help is so often viewed as a sign of weakness – we need to change that!

  14. Brittany

    Thank you for sharing. It took me 20 years to face my trauma and talk to a professional. I am so happy I did!

  15. Stacey

    This is helpful. My husband is a respiratory therapist in a hospital, and sometimes he works the ER or ICU. Self-care is so important, and we need to look out for each other!

  16. Kat

    What a great reminder to take care of yourself. It’s so easy to just get absorbed and not reach out for help

  17. Michele Vadnais

    This is so true! Many of those in the business of helping others forget to get help for themselves when they need it! A great reminder!

  18. Great tips! Trauma is so tricky to navigate, but reaching out for help, even if you don’t think you need it, is key! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Janine

    Self compassion is so important. We are so hard on ourselves and its always smart to remind ourselves that we are not perfect (nor is anyone)

  20. Jennifer Morrison

    Planning for self-care is so critical, but often put aside. I think in any profession it is important for people to make sure to care for themselves, and then they will have so much more to give to others.

  21. Cindy

    Trauma has such long term effects, if not dealt with. My son is a police officer. He deals with a lot. Trauma affects the family of those in high risk jobs as well!

  22. Susan Franklin

    I have friends who are in the service and also in law enforcement. Some of the stories I’ve heard have been horrific and I can only imagine how the trauma has affected them. Not experiencing it myself, I can only imagine, but have complete empathy, respect and gratitude for the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for us each and every day. This is a great reminder to me about self-care and encouraging others who face this to seek help. Thank you for what you do in providing helpful and practical information on subjects such as this.

    1. Susan- I’m so grateful for your comment and perspective. I appreciate your praise of my efforts! Thank you so much! Self-care and wellbeing is so very important. Happy and proud to be a part of the effort to educate people about this option!

  23. Shirley Florence

    Great post!! you provided some very important guide lines. And it helps for us that are not in one of these positions to help someone that we know that is in one of these positions. Thanks

  24. Carmen

    Great advice. We often think we’ll just get over it, but sharing and/or hearing about other’s experiences can be very healing. Empathy is important.

  25. Sarah

    I know people that work in law enforcement and I can’t imagine some of the things they’ve encountered, but I know it definitely affects their mental health. Self-care is a necessity in these professions. I know for me even being involved in a minor trauma I was replaying it in my head over and over again so I can’t imagine witnessing them on a daily basis.

    1. Hi Sarah! Trauma is experienced by individuals differently. There are what we call “Big T” and “Little T” traumas but each has its effects, and both can be treated. Happy to help you find resources if you need them!

  26. T.M. Brown

    Great coping strategies ~ not always easy to incorporate, but good to learn and keep in the back of your head as trauma unfolds.

  27. Nicki

    Self care is so important! It is so hard too though.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.