Trauma’s Front Line: Therapist Karen Lansing credits the officers who taught her how to help them



Cop whisperer Karen Lansing helps law enforcement officers recover from trauma. Photo Credit: J. R. Pittman
Cop whisperer Karen Lansing helps law enforcement officers recover from trauma. Photo Credit: J. R. Pittman

International “cop whisperer” Karen Lansing who helps police officers recover from trauma related to fatal incidents calls the Santa Cruz police force her “band of brothers.”

It’s not the company she expected to keep when she launched her private counseling practice decades ago in Aptos, says Lansing, a former pastor. But, one day in 1995, everything changed when a San Francisco police officer suffering the affects of post-traumatic stress disorder showed up in her office and discovered an unexpected ally.

Six months later Lansing’s young counseling practice had shifted to the highly specialized field of trauma recovery in the law enforcement community. In 2005, Lansing pioneered a research study that tracked the neurological impact of PTSD in brain imaging scans. She has worked with FBI agents, the Northern Ireland police force and military personal in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. In 2012, she published The Rite Of Return: Coming Back From Duty-Induced PTSD. Her office walls are covered in police commendations and her tactical gear is in a pile on a cabinet.

“Would I have ever imagined this in a million years?” she asks. She answers herself with “a resounding no.” It is, however, a calling she was unknowingly preparing for all her life, she says.

Lansing credits her early officer clients for insisting she join them in the field to experience the job, which helped her develop her own treatment protocol for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy for the “warrior-rescuer brain.”

She began to participate in actual police training, learning firearms, tactical and surveillance skills that helped her navigate a seven-year stint helping the Northern Ireland police force. Being in the field is also an effective way to connect with men who are suffering but not comfortable with traditional talk therapy, she says.

Although she’s trained clinicians all over the world, she says not every clinician can be effective with first responder-related PTSD.

“When you get into weapons and trauma have to know what you’re doing.”

Lansing, who has consulted on tragedies such as the school shooting in Sandy Hook, was in Oregon when Santa Cruz officers called her about a tragedy at home. Santa Cruz police detectives Butch Baker and Elizabeth Butler had been killed on a February afternoon in 2013.

“My cops here said, ‘You need to come back.’ I caught the flight the next morning.”

In a few months, Lansing and two local police officers plan to start the Solid Ground Training Institute, a nonprofit training and treatment organization.

“I’ve just been really blessed to be brought into that world and I’ve been embraced by it,” she says. “I’ve been able to get trained and invited into places that no other civilians would be allowed into. These guys have made me what I am. Without their nurturing and training and their trust and belief, I wouldn’t be any different than anyone else. That’s a gift I prize more than anything else.”


This article was published in Santa Cruz Woman, a Santa Cruz Sentinel Special Section.


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