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

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.   

A Webinar Series on Cultivating Wellbeing in First Responders

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. 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.

  • How we think about who we are and what we do really matters. A first step in making the most of one’s cop, firefighter or medic experience comes with reclaiming the narrative about the role, identity and work. Society, the media, the entertainment world, psychology and family and friends often frame our work in limiting, inaccurate or overblown terms, images and expectations.  So too, as cops, firefighters and medics face the realities of the work they often frame the work as just a job or career. 

    In this webinar, we will explore what it means to be a cop, firefighter or medic in today’s world and in a mythic context. Specifically, we will look at the unique psychological and spiritual demands of the role, identity and work and how these demands challenge our other life roles and identities. We will introduce the concept of life journeys or paths and consider the first responder experience as an amazing path for personal development, growth, maturity, insight and depth.  We will suggest practical exercises, and actions for revisioning the first responder experience.

  • Another key step on the journey to make the most of the cop, firefighter and medic experience is cultivating a warm and compassionate relationship with one’s self.  As the first responder role is pregnant with opportunities for growth and personal development, it also has the potential to undermine one’s personal, moral, philosophical, spiritual and relational grounding. Dealing with tragedy, social ills, trauma, loss and violence often magnifies personal struggles, character issues and addictions. Victim mentality, an unnecessary martyr complex and stoicism often surface. We also can get stuck in the identity and lose the ability to move in and out of the role and experience the fullness of life.   

    This webinar introduces and explores inner work and the cultivation of an interior life; engaged work on one’s character, adult maturity and moral compass; the study of philosophy, biographies, spiritual paths and traditions; and the cultivation and use of the expressive arts. We will suggest practical skills, exercises, and actions for cultivating a compassionate and forgiving friendship with yourself.  

  • We assume adversity, struggle, challenge, fear, heartbreak, frustration, failure, lack of control, big traumatic events, social ills, accumulated misery, poorly run organizations, inequities, bad bosses, boredom, waiting, disrespect and balancing the role with home life will all be part of the First Responder experience. 

    Cops, firefighters and medics that flourish have a unique relationship with struggle and adversity and thrive in all kinds of departments and work environments. For them, wellbeing is not an aspirational state of mind, but the skills needed to reject victimhood and take ownership of their lives, happiness and wellbeing. We explore one’s inner relationship to adversity, and the skills and practices needed to leverage adversity into insight, maturity, wisdom and forward movement.

  • In always being prepared to run toward danger, vigilance and stress become normalized to such a degree that the First Responder may lose touch with what it means to be calm.  He or she may lose the ability to turn off stress and vigilance becomes a way of being in the world and the inner life forgets how to not be on duty. The armor is always on. Can we get the armor off and stop being a cop, firefighter or medic when it matters most?

    This webinar is about rediscovering and cultivating calm and the disciplines and practices associated with recognizing and mitigating everyday stress. We distinguish between dulling and calming, and articulate what it means to cops, firefighters and medics to cultivate equanimity, including calm and peace in the body, mind and spirit. We will suggest practical exercises, and actions for rediscovering and practicing calm.  


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.