Chapter 2: Development of the resilience training program

This study involved the development of a resilience training program as well as the formulation of trainer manuals and participant handbooks. This process involved a number of systematic steps, which are outlined below.

Review of the literature

Given the relative absence of resilience training programs, the resilience program that was developed was based upon the theories and the types of skills and techniques suggested in the literature to be possibly useful in preparing an individual for a stressful situation. A link was then made of how these theories, skills and techniques could be extrapolated to develop personal resilience training modules (refer to Table 3.1 below).

For instance, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the most successful treatment methods for people diagnosed with PTSD. A commonly used CBT exercise is to teach people Beck’s (1964) model (the connection between events, thoughts, moods and behaviours) and to teach them to identify these connections through the use of ABC sheets (Beck & Emery, 1985; Resick & Schnicke, 1993). Exercises of this type were then selected for inclusion in the current program, following the hypothesis that they would develop adaptive thinking patterns and hence enhance resilience (Table 3.1 presented below outlines the exercises incorporated in the resilience training program).

Further design elements that were specific to this program were as follows: a psycho-educational training approach to resilience and stress; face-to-face training groups rather than individual sessions; skills training in the form of group interaction and shared experiences; and provision of handbooks containing all the course materials to enable practice of learnt skills.

Table 3.1: Exercises included in the resilience training program

Exercise to be included in training program



a) Viewing graphic photographs and videos of murder scenes or car accident scenes

b) A talk-through by an experienced, well-respected officer on the emotional impact of each scene

Serial approximation / desensitisation

Barlow (1988); Heimberg & Barlow (1988); Foa & Kozac (1986); Kozak et al. (1988); Rabavilas, et al. (1976); Steketee, et al. (1989)

Thought-challenging questions

Enables negative thoughts to be challenged and replaced with rational ones

Foa & Rothbaum (1998)

The ‘ABC’ worksheet. Participants are taught to identify: the Activating event; the negative thought or Belief; the Consequences of the thought or belief

Teaches individuals to make connections between events, thoughts, moods and behaviours. Teaches them to consider threats as problems to be solved and to identify which aspects of both the situation and their own reaction are amenable to change.

Beck (1964); Beck & Emery (1985); Resick & Schnicke (1993)

Guided self-dialogue

Involves teaching statements that a stressed or anxious person can say to themselves when preparing for, confronting or handling a stressful event

Keyes (1995); Meichenbaum (1975); Neck, Steward, & Manz (1995)

Calm breathing exercise

Involves teaching participants a controlled breathing exercise (also known as diaphragmatic breathing), which has been shown to be an effective way of reducing anxiety

Bonn, Readhead & Timmons (1984); Clark, Salkovskis & Chalkley (1985); Rapee,(1985); Salkovskis, Jones & Clark (1986)

Muscle relaxation

The Jacobsonian (1938) deep muscle relaxation technique has been shown to reduce anxiety and can be used to stop individuals from fainting when seeing blood and injury.

Jacobson (1938); Luebbert, Dahme, & Hasenbring (2001)

How to recognise problem drinking worksheet

Educates participants about the dangers of alcohol and increases self-awareness

National Health and Medical Research Council (2001)

Structure of the resilience training program sessions

Resilience training program

The next stage in the development of the training was to identify how to structure and present the program to the police officers. It was decided that the first session should present a program overview of the resilience training and also introduce the officers to the types of unpleasant situations and experiences they may encounter as part of their job. These images and videos were presented by a well-respected member of either the Homicide unit or the Major Collisions unit, who also discussed the feelings and emotions that are associated with such scenes. It was important that these images be shown in a supportive environment, and that officers were told at this time about the coping strategies that can be used in difficult times, as well as the different professional help services available to them.

In Session 1 of the resilience training, Policing expectations, included the modules: (1) Introduction, (2) Policing expectations and serial approximation/desensitisation, (3) Physical responses to trauma, (5) Social support, and (7) Help services available.

In Session 2, Coping skills, the recruits were taught skills for coping with stressful, traumatic or upsetting events. This session presented the material of Module (4): Thought-challenging, cognitive re-structuring and guided self-dialogue.

For Session 3, Coroner’s Court, the researcher accompanied the recruits on a field trip to the Coroner’s Court and the morgue. Here the recruits were shown two bodies: one pre autopsy and one post autopsy. At this session there are usually one or two people in every group of 20 who either faint or leave the room because they are overcome with physical symptoms. It was therefore decided that this would be an opportune occasion to teach the recruits methods for dealing with the physical symptoms of anxiety.

On the trip to the morgue, the recruits were taught the controlled breathing and the muscle relaxation/tension exercises upon arrival at the location. Muscle relaxation/tension was used to compete with a vaso-vagal syncope that can occur when people are exposed to blood, injury or death and results in fainting. Just before entering the viewing area at the morgue, the recruits were once again reminded to use the exercises that they had been taught less than an hour earlier. These exercises were drawn from Module (3): Physical responses to trauma.

Session 4, Drugs and alcohol, taught the recruits about the dangers of excessive alcohol use and drug use. The recruits were provided with information and statistics specific to policing. They were also taught how to recognise if they or someone else, such as a colleague, had a drinking problem and were given contact numbers of professional help organisations. The session covered the content of Module (6): Drugs and alcohol.

Session 5 of the program re-capped all of the information that had been taught in the previous four sessions. The information was all tied together to form a cohesive program, and the recruits were given another opportunity to ask questions about any elements they were unsure of. A booklet summarising the material was also provided to the recruits. This session covered the material in Module (8): Conclusion.

The training program formed part of the academy syllabus, and all of the material was potentially examinable. The recruits were informed that they would be examined on the training content.

Control training program

The non-treatment control program was designed to account for any observable effects in the resilience condition being due to recruits having a number of sessions with a trainer and spending time together as a group. The non-treatment sessions were designed to be interesting and of some relevance but were not intended to specifically improve resilience in new-recruit officers.

In Session 1 of the control training program, Critical incidents, the recruits were shown the same photographs of critical incidents used in resilience training Session 1. However, those in the control condition were taught about such scenes from an operational perspective, learning how to preserve evidence and the crime scene and also how to deal with the victim’s family and friends. They did not receive any information on the type of emotional impact these events might have and were not given education or information about coping strategies for such incidents.

The content of the following training modules was included in this session: (1) Introduction, (2) Critical incidents, (3) Preserving evidence and the crime scene, (4) Role of clinical services and (5) Dealing with the victim’s family and friends.

The fact that the control condition group was shown crime scene photographs is a significant limitation of the current study. Unfortunately, this situation was unavoidable, as the academy’s course administrators felt that it would not be possible for half of the squads to attend a presentation of crime scene photographs given by a well-respected guest lecturer while half did not. It was felt that cross-contamination would occur, with those who received the talk giving those who did not receive the talk detailed accounts of what was discussed, and it was also considered that a number of complaints would be filed by officers who did not receive the guest lecturer’s talk. It was therefore decided that the best solution was for the guest lecturer to give talks to both groups but present an alternative session to the control group.

For Session 2 of the control training, Sexual offenders, a talk on sexual offenders was delivered. The focus of this talk was to dispel some of the myths surrounding sexual offending, and topics such as different types of offenders (male vs female; adult vs adolescent; preferential vs situational), offending rates, rehabilitation potential and recidivism rates were discussed. This session covered the content of Module (6): Sexual offenders.

In Session 3, Victims of crime, the recruits received a presentation designed to give them an understanding of the experience a person goes through when they become a victim of crime and informed them about the thoughts and feelings a victim may have. It also taught them about the importance of being empathetic and understanding with victims, and that being subjective is the number one predictor of who will and who will not do well after being victimised. The recruits were also given a copy of The Victims’ Charter (Victims’ Charter Act, 2006), which they were taken through point by point to ensure they were made aware of the principles criminal justice agencies must follow when dealing with victims. The content of Module 7 was covered in this session.

Session 4, Conclusion, recapped the material presented in the previous three sessions. Recruits were given a final opportunity to ask any questions they may have had. The content of Module 8 was covered in this session. The training program formed part of the academy syllabus, and all of the material was potentially examinable. The recruits were informed that they would be examined on the training content.

The training modules were delivered in five sessions for the resilience condition and four sessions for the control condition. Table 3.2 shows the sessions and the modules covered during each session.

Table 3.2: Training sessions and corresponding modules

Resilience condition

Control condition


Name of session (duration)


Name of session (duration)


Session 1

Policing expectations (3 hrs)


Policing expectation and serial approximation/ desensitisation

Physical responses to trauma

Social support; help services available

Critical incidents (3 hrs)


Types of critical incidents that may be attended

Preserving evidence and the crime scene

The role of clinical services

Dealing with the victim’s family and friends

Session 2

Coping skills

(30 mins)

Thought-challenging, cognitive restructuring and guided self-dialogue

Sexual offenders

(30 mins)

Sexual offenders

Session 3

Coroner’s Court

(10 mins)

Physical responses to trauma

No session

No session

Session 4

Drugs and alcohol

(30 mins)

Drugs and alcohol

Victims of crime

(30 mins)

Victims of crime

Session 5


(40 mins)



(40 mins)


For each session of the program the recruits were given a worksheet to fill in on the content of the session. This served two purposes: (a) to help the recruits retain the information presented through the process of writing it down; and (b) to provide material for recruits to refer to at a later date and to study for the upcoming exam.

In the final training session, recruits in the resilience training condition were given the Police resilience handbook, which contained all of the information presented during the resilience training program. Those in the control condition group were given the Strengthening police resilience handbook, which contained all of the information presented during the control training program. Handbooks were not given out until the final session, so that the recruits would not read ahead and use the examples provided, rather than their own examples, during the group discussions.

Three months after the recruits finished their training and graduated from the academy, they were sent a second copy of their respective handbooks. This second copy was to act as a ‘booster’ to refresh recruits’ memory of what they were taught as part of their training program and to serve as a reminder of it once they left the academy.

Manuals and handbooks

The final stage of the development of the resilience training program was to write up the trainer and new-recruit manuals so that the program would be standardised across groups. The trainer manual included copies of all presentations, exercises and worksheets, as well as the theoretical justifications for the use of each of the training components. The trainer manual was divided into two sections: Part 1, the resilience training program and Part 2, the control training program.