School of Graduate Psychology Research Suggests Meditation Can Help Police Officers Reduce Stress

Preliminary research by the Pacific University School of Graduate Psychology suggests that meditation and mindfulness training may play a significant role in reducing chronic stress among police officers.

The research, led by professors Mike Christopher and Matthew Hunsinger and published in the June 2018 addition of Psychiatry Research, looked at the feasibility of implementing a mindfulness-based resilience training program for law enforcement officers, and its potential effectiveness in helping them cope with the daily rigors of their careers.

Christopher and Hunsinger, in collaboration with Lt. Rich Goerling of the Hillsboro Police Department, compared a group of local officers who underwent the training over eight weeks with a control group of officers who received no such training. Preliminary results support the feasibility of the training, and its potential effectiveness at targeting key physiological, psychological and health risk factors in law enforcement officers, with the potential to improve officer health and public safety. 

Christopher highlighted the research as part of a recent NBC Nightly News story, noting that officers undergoing the eight-week training program have seen improvements in stress levels and decreases in burnout. “We also found that officers reported less aggression, that they were less likely to inflict physical harm and less likely to have anger outbursts,” Christopher told reporter Joe Fryer.

The research also suggests that follow-up training “booster” sessions may be needed to help officers maintain benefits derived from the initial interventions. An additional longitudinal randomized trial is warranted, the authors say. Christopher and colleague Dr. Sarah Bowen recently received a major National Institutes of Health grant of nearly $2.5 million over the next four years to conduct the study, “Mindfulness-Based Resilience Training for Aggression, Stress and Health in Law Enforcement.”

The study, to be implemented at both Pacific and the University of New Mexico over the next four years, is the next step of an overall objective to develop an intervention that will reduce violence and increase resilience among law enforcement officers, and subsequently yield significant benefits for communities and residents they serve.

The award, classified as a Research Project Cooperative Agreement, is the first-ever of that type granted to Pacific, according to Jo Isgrigg, director of the university’s Office of Scholarship and Sponsored Projects.

The School of Graduate Psychology is one of eight schools that comprise the Pacific University College of Health Professions. Located at the university’s Hillsboro Campus, the college offers a wide range of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs that prepare students for careers in healthcare practice and health-related research. Curricula emphasize an interprofessional model of learning in which students work together across programs to better understand the complexities of the changing healthcare system, and learn to collaborate in the best interest of the individuals and the communities they will serve.

Oct. 24, 2018