Armor Up, Armor Down: The Inner Life of Cops, Firefighters and Medics

A Webinar Series on Cultivating Wellbeing in First Responders

The greatest psychological and spiritual challenge facing cops, firefighters and medics today is not psychological breakdown leading to psychopathology. The greatest challenge is losing heart for a role they once saw as a great adventure and means of serving society.

Recently, many cops, firefighters and medics have expressed high levels of frustration amid the social unrest, the pandemic and political divisions. Some are doubting their choice to do this work. This is unfortunate. Their initial instincts were sound. Dedicating one’s self to the adventure of serving and helping others on the frontlines of danger, crisis and acute need has always been a noble and worthy calling. It still is. But the intrinsic rewards are not a given nor are they automatic and may be more difficult to realize during these times.   

These four 90-minute webinars take a different approach to first responder wellbeing. Rather than focus on breakdown, we present an introduction to the inner life of First Responders – their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, concerns, values and character – and how these are impacted by the role, identity and work.

We move beyond the problem-oriented approaches to reframe the role and work as a spiritual path, where adversity is an expectation and experiences are leveraged into personal development, growth, insight, maturity and depth. The sessions are designed to provide insight, guidance and tools to First Responders and those working with them in the roles of peer support, counselor, psychologist, chaplain and leadership.

Our approach is based on ongoing research that simply listens deeply to First Responders and seeks to represent their lived experience without imposing theories of breakdown or psychopathology. Today they report the greatest stressors to be: everyday operational demands and shift work; poorly run organizations; ineffective leaders; a toxic political environment; growing social ills; and the difficult interface between one’s work life and home life. 

A common need is balancing what it takes be a great cop, firefighter and medic with what it takes to be a good partner, spouse, parent, friend and human. This is the ongoing ability to consciously and appropriately armor up and armor down. We ask, is it possible to be a cop, firefighter or medic long-term in today’s world and still have a satisfying and meaningful life? If so, what are the knowledge bases, skills, disciplines, practices and support needed?


The four evening webinars, will be conversational and practical. We will present the concepts with useful skills and practices, and where appropriate, will bring in guests to share personal experiences. Time is left in each session to entertain questions and suggest resources for further study.


Matthew Domyancic, M.A. served as a police officer for a large department in the Metro DC area where he worked patrol, peer support, SWAT, and was a full-time police academy instructor. He was also the Wellness Coordinator for his agency, where he integrated sports nutrition, strength and conditioning, combatives, stress management, heart rate monitors and scenario training long before the “tactical athlete” concept became widely popular. 

Matt also worked as a strength and conditioning coach at Georgetown and Yale Universities. Prior to coaching, Matt played linebacker and was a competitive powerlifter for the Air Force Academy and Colgate University. He is a graduate of the West Point Leadership Course for Law Enforcement and has Masters’ degrees in Pastoral Theology, Sports Psychology, and Forensic Science. He also has additional training as a certified Spiritual Director. Matt believes all First Responders can have careers that provide deeper meaning and add richness to their spiritual lives, which is why he volunteers as a chaplain and peer support for various departments and nonprofits.

John Becknell, M.A., Ph.D. is a community and organizational psychologist and consultant who works with First Responders in the areas of living well, personal growth, organizational culture and leadership.

John has worked with emergency services for more that 40 years. His 18 years as a paramedic immersed him in the challenges and possibilities of First Responder work. He found that the popular framing of the First Responder experience as psychologically traumatic did not fit for him or many others. John began to study and research the lived experiences of First Responders and eventually focused on the differences between those who flourished and exhibited psychological wellbeing over time and those who did not. He found that preparation, perspective, growth, maturity and community were more predictive of psychological wellbeing than traumatic calls, events or work environment and circumstances.  John is former editor-in-chief of The Journal of Emergency Medical Services and the author of Medic Life and numerous articles. His current passion is working with individuals, organizations and leaders in viewing First Responder work as a calling and life path filled opportunities for growth, insight, development, maturation and deep fulfillment and satisfaction.

Jim Clarke, M.A., M.Div., Ph.D. has an extensive academic background in the fields of spirituality, adult education, counseling, ritual and depth psychology, and currently serves as Director of Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Senior Lecturer of Spiritual Theology at Loyola Marymount University.  He is also an Associate Spiritual Director at the Cardinal Manning House of Prayer for Priests. Fr. Jim’s books and CD series serve to enhance his continuing public ministry of retreats, workshops and conferences throughout the United States for priests, women religious, parish and school staffs as well as parishes at large.