My name is Dr. Megan McElheran and I am a Clinical Psychologist and CEO of Wayfound. For the past 16 years, I have had the privilege to work almost exclusively with uniformed service personnel and have witnessed the devastating psychological effects operational stress can have on those who serve our communities. I was motivated several years ago to develop the Before Operational Stress (BOS) program out of a desire to provide public safety personnel with an intervention that could support greater psychological protection relative to their occupational roles. I am steadfast in my commitment to finding proactive ways to support public safety personnel and will continue to disseminate and evaluate BOS to ensure its effectiveness and utility for the members it serves.
Dr. Megan McElheran,
CEO & Chief Clinician
My name is Dr. Milena Spasojevic and I am thrilled to introduce myself as the Chief Clinical Officer of BOS. I have had the privilege of being involved with BOS since co-facilitating the pilot group in August of 2018, and have since joined Dr. McElheran in training clinicians across Canada on its delivery. Developing and disseminating this cutting-edge and empirically-supported program has become my passion and it is an honor to serve in this role.
Dr. Milena Spasojevic,
Chief Clinical Officer, Before Operational Stress
Our national awareness regarding the impact of operational stress on public safety personnel in Canada has grown substantially in the last several years. Influenced by the experiences of soldiers returning from Afghanistan in the late 2000s, we have come to understand the far-reaching and long-standing negative effects operational stress can have. The gathering of epidemiological data of the public service personnel experience in Canada continues. A recent study of Canadian public safety personnel determined that almost 45% of those surveyed reported symptoms consistent with an operational stress injury.
Operational stress injuries alter the personalities of public safety employees. They render employees vulnerable to persistent anxiety, anger and irritability. Nightmares and intrusive reactions develop, which make it increasingly difficult for public service employees to leave their houses, or to feel a sense of safety anywhere within their environments. Relationships are impacted. When the effects of operational stress begin, social isolation and emotional disengagement become the norm. Spouses and children suffer as a result. If the effects of operational stress continue, functional impairment becomes commonplace, and a common effect is that public safety personnel are rendered unable to work. And that does not have to be the only story.
A recent study… determined that almost 45% of those surveyed reported symptoms consistent with an operational stress injury.
Our evidence tells us there are things we can do to mitigate the impact of operational stress so that public safety personnel can do their jobs, be exposed to operational stress without it resulting in tragic consequences.
Will public safety employees be exposed to operational stress? The answer is ‘yes.’ Will they need to take precautions and do some work to address operational stress when it occurs? The answer is also ‘yes.’ But public safety employees are not destined to have their lives ruined by the effects of operational stress.
BOS empowers public safety employees to be in charge of their mental health. We know that there is information these employees need to protect
themselves from the effects of operational stress. We know there are experiences these employees need to better protect themselves from operational stress. And we know they need practice and support to incorporate this knowledge and these experiences into their operational roles. BOS delivers on these three objectives.
BOS is a group-based intervention that provides participants the opportunity to receive and offer support in the context of the group as issues related to operational stress are processed. Different than classroom-based learning, a key feature of BOS is the care that will be given to developing the group. Therapeutic change is enhanced when group members are supported to know each other in a more in-depth and supportive fashion. We set rules of engagement for the group that allow it to be a safe place for issues to be processed. Once the group is established, specific information relevant to operational stress can be provided and its relevance explored by group participants. The group dynamic is a powerful change mechanism in and of itself.
BOS also uniquely combines theoretical and experiential learning procedures to enhance understanding of how to mitigate the effects of operational stress. Within each module, participants will receive education and the content of that module and its impact on participants will then be discussed and processed within the group.
Another important component of BOS is embedded peer support. A public safety employee who is in the latter stages of recovering from an operational stress injury will provide peer leadership within the context of the group. A vast research base has consistently highlighted over and over again the importance of peer support in terms of protection and recovery from the effects of operational stress.
Once the group is established, and the rules of engagement have been determined to support safe and effective function of the group, the next phase of work within BOS can begin.
Wayfound values our relationships with academic research partners to ensure that the interventions we are providing are effective and efficient. We have been working with a team of independent researchers from the University of Regina since 2018, who have conducted an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of the Wounded Warriors Canada BOS program since that time.
We are thrilled to announce that preliminary results of the BOS research project are in! The results of a longitudinal, mixed methods study have provided evidence of statistically significant reductions in symptoms of PTSD and depression, as well as increases in reported social support and quality of life. There is also evidence that BOS program significantly reduced reports of stigma faced by participants relative to their mental health challenges. The results support BOS as an intervention and places BOS as the only program of its kind in Canada to demonstrate positive empirically-supported results. We look forward to sharing the published results as soon as the peer-review process is completed!
Wayfound, in partnership with Wounded Warriors Canada, will continue to research the BOS program and to refine the intervention based on ongoing research results so that we can consistently maximize our effectiveness in supporting the mental health of public safety personnel.
BOS is proudly partnered with Wounded Warriors Canada.
Contact us for more information and program registration.