Mindfulness Training for Police Officers Takes Next Step

A diverse team of collaborators from Pacific University, Stress Reduction Clinic, and Hillsboro Police Department continue momentum on a grant funded training and research project designed to enhance resiliency and performance of police officers.

Late in 2015, the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary & Integrative Health awarded Pacific University's School of Professional Psychology a grant of $379,500 over a two-year period to further develop and study the effects of Mindfulness-Based Resilience Training (MBRT) with police officers.

MBRT is a mind-body fitness course that brings contemporary neuroscience, medicine, psychology, contemplative tradition and experiential learning together in the classroom. Participants learn skills enhancing mental clarity, personal health, and mindful exercises emphasizing range of motion and injury prevention. Participants also learn practical skills to assist mitigation of stressors in the field, office, and at home. The training emphasizes self-awareness and compassion as grounding components of an empathic police ethos.

This training offers an opportunity for police officers to learn evidence-based skills to enhance resiliency and resources for officers to shift toward a skillful and healthier relationship with the occupational and personal stressors in their lives. This unique, preventative training strives to teach officers proven methods of cultivating resiliency as a preventative well-being strategy.

Michael Christopher, an associate professor in the School of Professional Psychology and principal investigator, said the grant allows the collaborative to further examine the feasibility and impact of the training on specific stressors experienced by officers.

Christopher, whose research interests include mindfulness training among diverse groups, and assistant professor and principal investigator Matthew Hunsinger, whose research interests include mindfulness practice and intergroup relations, began their work with the collaborative in 2013. 

Lt. Richard Goerling of the HIllsboro Police Department, a nationally recognized authority on mindfulness in police trainings and Brant Rogers of the Stress Reduction Clinic at Yoga Hillsboro, a nationally recognized mindfulness-based trainer certified by University of Massachusetts Medical School, initiated the collaborative police trainings in 2006.

Three groups of police officers have completed the MBRT training taught by Rogers with assistance from Goerling, and Christopher and Hunsinger investigated the preliminary impact of the program on officer resilience. 

The initial findings, Christopher said, were very encouraging.  "We found a variety of positive outcomes, including improvements in resilience, mental health, physical health, better sleep, less anger, and lower fatigue" he said.

To build on these preliminary findings, using a more sophisticated research design the researchers will measure outcomes such as stress hormone levels, unconscious social bias and its relationship to split-second decision-making, and mental clarity under duress. All of which are crucial elements of job performance in this very high-stress profession.

Any law enforcement agency or individual officer is welcome to participate, Christopher said. So far, a number of departments, including the Hillsboro Police, Portland Police, Beaverton Police, Forest Grove Police, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Clark County Sheriff’s Office, and Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office have all expressed interest in the training, which is expected to begin next month.

Interested agencies or officers can contact Christopher at 971-470-9272 or MBRT@pacificu.edu. Officers can also contact Lt. Richard Goerling at rgoerling@pacificu.edu for details on the training.

"This has the potential to improve the effectiveness and health of officers as well as the well-being of their families and the communities they serve," Christopher said.

Jan. 26, 2016