POWER Training: on the Cutting-Edge of Scientific Research on the Physiological Benefits of Council

Trainers with Beyond Us & Them’s (formerly Center for Council’s) POWER Training Program for law enforcement officers traveled south to San Diego for the last session of a three-month intensive workshop involving officers from the police departments of four local universities: University of California San Diego, California State University San Marcos, Palomar College and Miracosta College.

​POWER (Peace Officer Wellness, Empathy & Resilience) provides first responders with tools for self-regulation, stress management and self-care, while supporting wellness and relationality.​

POWER a new solution to an endemic problem

In addition to the operational challenges inherent in the job of policing, the toxic climate of dysfunctional agency culture, local community resistance and distrust, and the national political discourse around policing all serve to increase the stress that first responders bear. The accumulation of stressful incidents over the course of an officer’s career can lead to a host of adverse health outcomes: increased incidents of injury and illness, diminished cognitive performance, mental health impacts including anxiety, depression, addiction and elevated risk of suicide, increased incidents of domestic violence and reduced life expectancy.

LAPD officers sat in council circle as part of the POWER program run by  Beyond us and them

The POWER training program curriculum

The POWER curriculum provides a novel approach to these risks, using a trauma-informed lens to educate officers in scientific understanding of the physiology of stress. Participants learn mindfulness practices and compassion-based communication exercises, training in skills that foster greater self-awareness and self-regulation, cultivating authentic, positive relationships with self, others and the environments in which they operate.

POWER includes 32-hours of in-person training, delivered over 12 weeks. During these sessions, participants learn about the autonomic nervous system and how stressors impact our physical, mental, emotional and relational health. Participants are introduced to innovations in neuroscience through discussion, videos of officers in previous POWER cohorts, mindfulness activities and interactive assignments like automatic writing and scavenger hunts, as well as a series of large and small-group council sessions.

In addition, the program provides 12 weekly online units that include self-directed activities, TedTalks, Podcasts, articles and journaling suggestions. Each week, small groups meet together in self-facilitated “council huddles” and address topics that mirror the 12 weeks of online assignments. Skills taught in the in-person workshops support self-facilitation of their independent huddles throughout the program (many groups continuing to meet in their huddles well after the program ends). Like previous cohorts, the feedback from officers from the recent group of San Diego campus police agencies was very positive.

Positive feedback for Peace Officer Wellness, Resilience & Empathy training program

The POWER program’s council huddles continually receive enthusiastic feedback and are what separates POWER from other wellness programs. Council huddles give officers an opportunity to come together to practice council; sharing stories and offering one another non-judgmental regard. Some comments from the recent San Diego cohort:​

  •  “We all shared powerful moments in our lives and learned some pretty amazing things about each other and reflected on how strong we are inside and out.”
  • “Council Circle has been something I look forward to during my work week. It provides me with a safe space where I can share struggles and victories with an amazing group of individuals.”
  • “I continue to be open to learning from myself and our Council members. Being grateful and acknowledging such feels good!”
  • I feel more grateful for the little things in my life. I feel more in tune with my body and more connected to my family. I have had a very stressful year and have used breathing in stressful situations.”
  • “I’ve developed more self-awareness when it comes to my emotions and how much work load is affecting me.”
  • “The huddles helped me to express thoughts and experiences with others, and finding out many of us have a lot of similar experiences” ​​
  • “It’s become a part of the week that I look forward to the most. Getting to connect with my peers and check in feels good for my soul. A lot of us go through similar struggles and stressors so getting to talk about how breathing exercises have helped in a positive way and comparing what works well for each of us has been nice.”
graffiti-wall from POWER training cohort with participants thoughts - highlight reads "no rain, no rainbows"

The POWER workshop that our team delivered recently in San Diego was a bit different from others, as our trainers collected biometric readings from officers both before and after the training program for a research protocol developed by our Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Ann Seide. While the data is still being analyzed, the results, so far, are quite striking.

Collecting evidence-based research for the POWER program

Dr. Seide, the only practicing physician who is also a certified Council Trainer, became interested in what was happening on a physiological level to participants in POWER after hearing anecdotal reports from officers that their health was improving. During the height of the pandemic, Center for Council offered a pilot POWER program for 150 LAPD officers. Feedback from those officers described considerable improvements in their health: better sleep, more energy, loss of weight and, in one particular officer’s case, such a significant decrease in blood pressure that medication prescribed by his physician was no longer necessary.

Dr ann seide chief medical advisor beyond us and them

In designing POWER, we had hoped to mitigate the increased incidence of heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and shortened life-span seen in law enforcement personnel. Through technology available through a company called HeartMath, Dr. Seide is now able to measure Heart Rate Variability (HRV) both before and after training in a variety of domains that relate to measures of overall health. 

One of the notable trends in participants she studied was a visible increase in the Very Low Frequency (VLF) domain of HRV. Increases and decreases in VLF have the strongest correlation with health — increased VLF translates to decreased risk for cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. The significant increase in VLF over 3 months time is notable, both with respect to the relatively short time-frame in which this developed as well as the fact that such an increase may well translate to decreased risk of ill health and a longer life-span. These results are striking and suggest the value of more extensive research.

Jared seide measuring heart rate variability on a POWER training partipant

Watch a video of Dr. Seide discussing her research below:

In March 2024, instructors from the POWER Training Program will present findings on the research conducted in San Diego at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Officer Wellness Conference, in Louisville, KY. Moderated by our friends at the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office, our team will lead a session entitled: Curbing Empathy Fatigue: Skills for Building Compassion and Wellness.

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Beyond Us and Them team

Beyond Us and Them team

Beyond Us and Them is the leading solution-focused organization providing dynamic and scalable practices to combat the loneliness epidemic and foster social connection.

It creates programs and delivers training for law enforcement officers, healthcare providers, educators, policymakers, and community-based organizations, among other populations and individuals, to cultivate wellness, relationality, compassion, and resilience.