Today, to celebrate Valentine’s Day, Officer Thom Spratt and his wife, Nancy, are going to a Dierks Bentley concert in Ontario.
But keeping their marriage rumbling along smoothly like a twangy country tune is something the Spratts practice all year long.
Which is why, on Feb. 23, they’ll be attending a workshop in Anaheim aimed at helping first responders and their significant others understand the unique stressors they face, and provide them the tools to make their relationships even stronger.
“Public Safety Couples Resiliency Day,” offered in two four-hour sessions Feb. 23 (see information at end of story), is presented in partnership with the Orange County Association of Peer Supporters (OCAPS), co-founded by Heather Williams, a doctor of psychology and regional peer support coordinator for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Williams, who helped form OCAPS in the wake of the Salon Meritage massacre in Seal Beach, will serve as facilitator during the two sessions, which will be taught by Jessica Burke, the wife of a Stockton police officer and a forensic educational consultant who studies mental health issues in law enforcement.
This is the first time Burke will be presenting her workshop, “Policing Stress on the Homefront,” in Orange County. She reached out to Williams, who has held similar workshops for public safety couples – including the Spratts, who have been married for seven years.
Thom Spratt is a motor officer for the Laguna Beach PD. He transferred to that agency four years ago after a 26-year career at the OCSD. Nancy Spratt works in the direct sales industry.
The Spratts have participated in “Significant Other” workshops led by Williams.
“It helps us to have a group we can connect with,” Nancy Spratt says. “It’s just a different life (we in law enforcement) live. They (officers) leave the house, they put on a gun and badge, many people don’t like what they do for a living, and the hours can be crazy.”
Williams says she liked the idea of Burke presenting her workshop in O.C. to get a different perspective on helping spouses of police officers, firefighters, dispatchers, EMTs, and others strengthen their relationships.
The divorce rate for a person marrying for the first time to a spouse in public safety is 75 percent, Williams said.
“The ultimate goal (of “Policing Stress on the Homefront”) is to prevent the deterioration of relationships by improving healthy communication,” Williams says. “It takes special people to work in public safety, and it takes special people to marry them.”
Cost of the four-hour workshop is $40 per couple. A person can attend alone for $20.
Burke, who lives in Valley Springs, a small town in Calaveras County, says studies show that more than 80 percent of police officers surveyed said they felt the support of their romantic partner was crucial in developing psychological resilience.
And some studies show that as many of 40 percent of people who work in public safety meet the diagnostic criteria for having PTSD, Burke says.
“Most police officers have the attitude of ‘leave work at the door’ when they get home, but that’s not a healthy coping mechanism,” says Burke, who with her husband, Daniel, has two young sons.
Not feeling they’re able to talk about their jobs with their significant others leads many officers to feel resentment and have extramarital affairs, says Burke.
She advocates for embracing the job and exploring different ways to open lines of communication.
And that’s part of what Burke’s workshop will be about.
The workshop also will include a presentation on existing literature and research on public safety and the career’s stressors, as well as a discussion on what Burke calls “tactical thinking,” an approach that springs from cognitive behavioral therapy.
The deadline for signing up for the “Public Safety Couples Resiliency Day” workshop is Feb. 18. Email Heather Williams and indicate which presentation you will be attending (8 a.m.-noon or 1 p.m.-5 p.m., Feb. 23, at Straub Distributing, 4633 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim) at firstname.lastname@example.org