Resilience Spotlight: The Story of Detachment Commander Brad Coulbeck

Posted on: September 2, 2011
2 comments so far (is that a lot?)


Resilience Spotlight: A New Initiative by Watch Me Bounce
Stories of resilience can come from survivors who have experienced resilience firsthand. They can also come from writers who have witnessed this phenomenon. Here at Watch Me Bounce, we want to highlight the stories that teach us about resilience from another, additional perspective: the hero. Just as stories of people being resilient can inspire us, so too can stories from people who train others in this very important area. These resilience builders are more than heroes: they not only save people, but help people learn how to save themselves.

To kick off this series, the team at Watch Me Bounce decided to debut with the story of Brad Coulbeck, a Detachment Commander and Resilience Trainer. The story is told via an interview, which was conducted via e-mail by Watch Me Bounce Editor-in-Chief Rocky Reichman. Read below to find out what you can learn about adversity, stress and how building resilience and stress immunity can save not only psychological lives, but physical ones as well.

WMB (Watch Me Bounce): Please tell us a little about what you do.
BC (Brad Coulbeck): I’ve been a cop for 20 years, currently a Detachment Commander with the Ontario Provincial Police. Before my current position I spent seven years as Team Leader of the Emergency Response Team, a police tactical unit.
I also speak and do workshops about stress. I use research combined with my experiences from policing to teach people how to become resilient and handle the high demands of the real world. And like yourself, I also blog about resilience!
WMB: What got you interested in resilience and stress inoculation?
BC: When I was Team Leader of the ER [Emergency Response] Team, I was trained in Critical Incident Stress Debriefings, and how to recognize symptoms of PTSD. But what really stood out during that training was instruction about “resiliency factors”, or traits that make people less likely to suffer from the negative aspects of stress. This captured my interest because I realized that harmful stress reactions can be reduced or eliminated, and nobody seems to know about this. This was more important and useful for us than CISD or PTSD awareness, and yet they only touched on it for a few minutes during a three day course. I thought “Why isn’t this bigger? Why doesn’t anyone talk about this? I’ve got to get this information out there.”
WMB: What does ‘resilience’ mean to you?
BC: It’s all about being immune to the negative aspects of stress, and bouncing back quickly after trauma. So resilience training is teaching someone how to handle a high stress load effectively.
WMB: What makes someone resilient?
BC: Research has shown that individuals that have certain characteristics, traits and behaviors called resiliency factors can seem to handle stress and trauma without falling apart. Briefly, some of these factors are:
• Having a good support system of loving friends and family
• Feeling in control of our lives, our circumstances
• Exercising
• Having a sense of humor
• Having self confidence
• Finding meaning in suffering
• Being optimistic
• Having an active coping style, attacking problems head on
• Practicing some type of body quieting such as meditation or yoga

WMB: Why, in your opinion and experience, is resilience/stress inoculation important?
BC: There was an article in the Harvard Business Review several years ago that quoted some research saying that more than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. I really believe that. I’ve seen it over and over again in policing, which is a tough working environment. It’s not the smartest or most educated that achieve the highest levels of success. It’s those that are mentally tough! If you’re smart and mentally tough, well then you’ve got it made.
It’s not just for policing either. The current business environment is more demanding than ever, constantly increasing in complexity, information overload and pressure to be always available. You have to be resilient to survive and to succeed.
WMB: Do you think resilience is an inborn trait, or something that can be learned?
BC: That’s an excellent question, because I think that is one of the best things that has been discovered. Resilience can be learned. Many people are born with the factors and are innately resilient, however those that don’t handle stress very well can become resilient through training. That is why the U.S. military is spending millions of dollars in training soldiers to be resilient. They know it will save even more in the long run by preventing stress injuries.

WMB: Do you think your experience (with police, personal, other) gives you a unique perspective on the topic? How?
I believe it does because as a cop on a tactical unit, we were placed in traumatic situations much more frequently than a member of the general public. It gave me a perfect opportunity to put into practice what I read, and also to observe my team members and members of the public during trauma and stress. I got to see first-hand what works. I saw individuals that handled a situation well, and others that folded in the same situation. I would try to determine what made the difference.

WMB: How do you train people in resilience/stress inoculation?
BC: I teach people how to incorporate and put into practice the resiliency factors I mentioned in the bullet points above.
The stress inoculation is unique and I’ll explain that a little more.
Stress inoculation is one aspect of resiliency training that has really been honed in police work. Compare it to regular inoculation; you are giving your body a weakened virus so that your immune system can overcome it. It has to be specific to the virus you are vaccinating against. In the same way, stress inoculation training has to be specific and realistic to inoculate against stress.
Let me give you an example. For riot cops, we go through very realistic training, where role players throw rocks and Molotov cocktails at us, where we are exposed to tear gas, and hit with boards. We realize that our training and equipment will ensure that we will prevail. If we go into a riot without that training we would be stressed because we would be unsure of what fire bombs would do… “Are we going to get burned? Will the Nomex really protect us?” etc. By doing the realistic training it protects us against that specific stress, of getting rocks and Molotov cocktails thrown at us, because we know that we can take it, it’s not a big deal.
This can work in the corporate environment too. I just design stress inoculation training specific to the stress that they want to be inoculated against. If firing someone is the most stressful aspect of a job, then we’ll role play firing someone and dealing with the anticipated response. Then the real deal is not so scary.
The key with this training is that is has to be as realistic as possible and deal with the specific stress you are inoculating against.
WMB: Can you discuss a personal experience (personal or a friend’s) about a time you had to deal with adversity?
BC: One of the guys on my ERT Team became stranded alone in a remote part of northern Canada when his snowmobile broke down while on a search for lost ice-fishermen. He didn’t expect to be out long so didn’t bring the survival kit. He was stranded all night with no fire or shelter in temperatures dropping to 40 below 0. It was a critical situation that could have easily cost his life. He walked in circles around his snowmobile all night to keep from freezing to death. It took almost 18 hours until he was rescued.
I interviewed him after about what was going on in his mind for that time. I knew that if a person had a failure attitude in a situation like that, they would most likely die. My friend kept his spirits up throughout the whole night though. While walking around the snowmobile he was thinking “This is easy overtime!” He was referring to the amount of money he was making while stranded. So he reframed his horrible situation in an optimistic way that kept him going! Our attitudes are critical in those situations.
WMB: What do you love most about what you do?
BC: I love the adventure of police work, but also the psychological aspects of trying to figure out why people do what they do, and constantly learning from it. The mind is always a fascinating subject.
WMB: Can resilience be inspired?
BC: Yes, I believe it can. Through websites like yours, though speaking and writing about it, promoting it. I find that most people out there, the general public, don’t know much if anything about it. If we can get the word out and let people see the potential to reduce the negative aspect of stress in their lives, I think they would be inspired.
WMB: Have you ever read a story(ies) that inspired you to fight against adversity? Can you recommend any stories, books or films that inspired you and may inspire others?
BC: “Man’s Search for Meaning” is always a classic, by Victor Frankl. He was an Austrian Psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps and wrote about his experiences. Another good book is “The Survivors Club” by Ben Sherwood. It includes lots of anecdotes about those that survive trauma, but backed up by research.
There are many biographies of great people that are inspiring, because it seems like most really great people had to overcome intense difficulties and face huge obstacles, from Steve Jobs, to Nelson Mandela, to Winston Churchill. Their successes were no cakewalk! Their stories inspire me to face whatever challenges I encounter.
WMB: Are you familiar or at least acquainted with the empirical literature on resilience? (resilience/stress/trauma)? What do you think are some of the most important points that can be gleaned from this literature toward practically building resilience?
BC: Yes. I do read research studies and journal articles. Then I try to put them into layman’s terms, and weave in real world examples to get the knowledge out there. I think some of the most important points are; having a level of spirituality and practicing meditation, yoga or other body quieting techniques are effective, and not just some woo woo new-agey thing for Californians.
WMB: On you website, you display a quote “Resiliency is Power.” What does that mean?
BC: I’m referring to the personal power resilience will give you. I believe that in today’s relentless and demanding environment resiliency is the most important trait you can have to help you achieve long term success in any field.

WMB: What do you think of Watch Me Bounce? What do you think of using story to inspire resilience? How can stories help survivors of adversity? And how can they help the people who read them?
BC: Watch Me Bounce is a great venue for inspiration. I think people relate to stories better than facts and empirical research. Stories touch the heart and affect us emotionally and on a subconscious level. That will help us through adversity better than knowing something only on an intellectual level. Even fiction is effective. When I was going through a difficult time in my life, I read “Slaughter-House-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut. It was a very unusual story, yet it brought me peace on some level and helped me to accept the pain, yet still enjoy life.

WMB: How can they help the writers?
BC: Getting your thoughts down on paper is cathartic, as anyone who writes in a journal can attest to. I prefer writing long-hand in a journal as opposed to a computer when it’s emotional based writing, but either way it’s healthy. I encourage your readers to write.
Thank you for your time, and for sharing your story, Brad.

More about Brad Coulbeck
“Empowering success through resiliency” Brad helps individuals and organizations build immunity to stress.
Brad Coulbeck is the Detachment Commander for the Ontario Provincial Police in Chatham Ontario. He has been an officer for 20 years, working for the Toronto Police Service and the OPP. Brad currently holds the designations; Level One Incident Commander, and Public Order Incident Commander.
Brad is trained in Critical Incident Stress Management and is a certified Hypnotherapist. Currently he holds memberships in the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation and the Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists.
Brad speaks and writes about stress resilience.
Brad has been married for 17 years, and has two children that help him practice stress management.


2 Responses to “Resilience Spotlight: The Story of Detachment Commander Brad Coulbeck”

  1. Angela Wheelock Says:

    Hi Watch Me Bounce,
    Very interesting interview. It’s timely for those experiencing trauma now. Sadly, when I was young, I went through a very traumatic period with virtually no support and didn’t know much about resilience. I got through on the power of music, song, and happy memories from my past. Thankfully, I had those happy memories to fall back on.

    I totally agree with Brad about the need for more awareness of this. Because as someone with complex PTSD, it is much harder to “cure” than to work with when traumas occur.


  2. LUCY KIATHE Says:

    Hi Watch Me Bounce,
    Brad you are great. You have an optimism that is contagious. I am a counsellor by profession and there is a lot of trauma in my country. These articles in here are so informative even as I work with client.

    Thanks and keep up the good work all ay WMB

    Lucy Kiathe

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