How Therapy Can Benefit EMTs And Paramedics

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated May 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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A first responder's career may cause complicated emotions and traumas to rise under pressure. Emergency medical technicians (EMT) and paramedics often witness distressing scenes while facing the profound demands of their work. It takes mental fortitude to face the emotional highs and lows of emergency calls and continue to feel healthy and positive.

Because of these unique challenges, awareness of comprehensive mental health providers can be vital to a first responder's overall well-being. Learning how EMT emotional therapy can help EMTs, paramedics, and other first responders process the emotions that come with the job and address trauma can be beneficial.

How therapy can benefit EMTs and paramedics

What are EMTs and paramedics? 

EMTs and paramedics are trained to provide medical treatment to those involved in a crisis, often arriving first at the scene of an accident, crime, or another emergency. The nature of their job exposes them to potentially traumatic events, which can have demonstrated effects on their mental health. The pressure they face to provide emergency services quickly and efficiently may further strain their well-being, making it crucial to consider healing strategies and transform emotions to maintain resilience.

Research, backed by evidence, shows that up to 22% of paramedics and EMTs have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compared to the 7-12% of the general population diagnosed. Workplace trauma may be referred to as vicarious trauma because the EMS professional might witness a traumatic event without experiencing it firsthand. However, they could also experience trauma that directly impacts them, causing a significant shift in their emotional well-being.

Public safety employees may not discuss traumatic events, as they might be interested in avoiding them to feel safe. However, this approach could make it difficult for them to release their emotions healthily and lead to increased stress over time, in addition to symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety. By utilizing mental health services, EMTs and paramedics can manage their emotions, confront the potential stress of their careers, and facilitate positive change.

Healthy coping techniques 

For those procuring productive, healthy outlets for their emotions, a few options can connect them with guidance and support. 

Workplace support 

A first responder's specific department may have mental health services staffed by individuals familiar with the challenges inherent to an EMT or paramedic's job. Talking about trauma or other concerns with an empathetic listener could allow employees to sort through their feelings and develop tools for addressing stress and trauma responses in the future. 

Support can also empower employees to follow through on healthy choices, such as exercise and nutrition. By taking the time to invest in their own well-being, workers could reduce the likelihood of physical pain or fatigue, which may influence how they process information or react to situations that happened in their line of work.

Peer support 

Some public safety departments may have specially trained staff called peer support representatives, skilled in active listening and language techniques, and chaplains on staff who can provide spiritual guidance and support. These individuals can help their colleagues navigate the emotional energy and memory of challenging experiences.


In addition to expressing themselves through counseling, EMTs and paramedics can engage in physical activity to reduce stress or other trauma-related feelings. Research grounded in science has shown that traumatic stress can be carried in the body for long periods. Exercise, whether running, yoga, biking, or other activities, can help reduce stress's physical and mental impacts and alleviate pain.


Regular meditation can also help EMTs and paramedics move past work-related trauma. It may be uncomfortable initially, but meditation has been shown to reduce the intensity and frequency of flashbacks caused by exposure to work-related trauma. However, you may benefit from talking to a meditation coach or therapist before practicing. 

Unhealthy coping methods

Trauma can bring physical and emotional symptoms that may be challenging to confront. Experiencing trauma can impact a person's immune system and cause sleeplessness, hypervigilance, disorientation, and the need for control over situations. Because of this, some people turn to coping mechanisms that may provide temporary relief, which can negatively affect them in the long run.  

Some EMTs and paramedics use substances to cope with the emotional distress from their job. Repeated use of this coping mechanism may lead to medical issues and worsening mental health concerns. Some people living with trauma might turn to alternative behaviors like gambling.

At times, first responders may try to avoid addressing their concerns in the hopes that they will eventually pass. Repressing your feelings, however, can negatively impact your emotional health in the long run.   

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

The benefits of therapy

EMTs and paramedics living with mental health challenges may find that therapy is a valuable source of support and advice. A therapist can help the individual better understand and address the sources of their concerns, deliver the right message, and teach them coping mechanisms that can help them during stressful times. 

Research shows that specific therapy modalities, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can reduce symptoms of PTSD. CBT often works by helping the individual identify negative thought patterns that may lead to maladaptive behaviors. A therapist may help the individual recognize and replace thoughts that may contribute to unwanted responses. 

If a first responder is experiencing suicidal thoughts, seeking emergency treatment is crucial. Suicide rates among first responders are high. Research shows that EMS professionals are 1.39 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. This statistic further highlights the need for early mental health care interventions that may help prevent individuals from feeling like they do not have options. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
How therapy can benefit EMTs and paramedics

Counseling options 

While many emergency services departments may offer free services like grief or trauma counseling to first responders, they might not be long-term solutions. While many emergency services departments may offer free services like grief or trauma counseling to first responders, they might not be long-term solutions. Many first responders have transformed the world around them for the better, but too often they come home from work feeling wrong by a system that fails to recognize the immense toll their job takes on them.

While no single situation may work for everyone, having regular contact with an experienced professional may be a healthy way of managing the symptoms of stress, trauma, or other mental health challenges. If your schedule doesn't open up much room for in-person sessions, you can consider online therapy for flexible treatment. Online therapy may be a great way of managing the following conditions: depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and more.

Recent research points to online therapy as an effective method of providing mental healthcare to those who may have experienced trauma in their job. For example, a study of 96 participants living with PTSD found that online cognitive-behavioral therapy could reduce distress and lead to a positive therapeutic alliance. Researchers noted that the positive results of treatment were sustained after three months and that comorbid anxiety and depression were also reduced after five weeks. 

An online therapy platform like BetterHelp can provide valuable resources and support as you work through emotions related to your career or other aspects of your life. With online therapy, you may not have to set aside time to travel to an office. Because many platforms have thousands of therapists with various specialties and areas of expertise, your chance of matching with someone specializing in your specific concerns may be higher.


First responders often provide supportive life-saving work that can benefit countless lives. However, their job can also cause serious mental health challenges. When those who provide emergency services require assistance, therapy can be a source of guidance. Seeking therapy can be seen as an application of the principles of physics, as it involves understanding the relationship between cause and effect and how to transform one's mental and emotional state into a healthier one. If you're seeking mental health care for trauma or related concerns, consider reaching out to a professional to manage your stress, focus on what matters, and improve your emotional well-being.

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