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Crisis Co-responding

You work as a what?


Summer of 2020 was an odd time for me.


Two years prior, I had made a decision, after many years working as a clinical social worker, to go back to school and pursue my PhD. I wanted to learn more in the social sciences and conduct my own research. I wanted to figure out where I could make an original contribution.


During spring semester of 2020, COVID shut down my campus, and my teaching and learning went online. I discovered that I am not cut out to work from home 24/7, and an intense restlessness took hold of me. I was wrapping up the coursework component of my doctoral program, and had taken coursework in ethnographic research, a type of research which calls for immersing yourself in a particular setting or culture. if only I could find some new venture that would get me out in the world again while also enabling me to study something deeply, something which would need to be so compelling and fascinating that I could build my dissertation around it. 


That "something" presented itself in the form of a job positing for a crisis co-responder position in Vermont. 


I had heard about this type of position, and as I read the job description, it intrigued me greatly. I would be going on crisis calls with police officers, working collaboratively with law enforcement to respond to people experiencing mental health emergencies. It was a natural extension of my work as a crisis clinician in Massachusetts, as well as a natural extension of a research interest: programs and services at the intersection of mental health and criminal justice. I applied for the position and began the new chapter of my life in August of 2020.


Since that time, I have thrown myself into my new job, passed my Comprehensive Exams, and embarked on my dissertation research. Much of it has centered around the concept and lived experience of co-responding.


My dissertation research is enabling me to talk with co-responders in different places around the United States, and the more I learn from them, the more I find that co-responder programs and the people who work within them are as different as the communities where they happen. I am also aware that some people do not support this particular model of crisis response, and I learn a lot by hearing and reading their views. 


As for me, I now believe there should be a mental health professional in every police department, and collaborations between mental health and other types of first responders in all communities, too. I have learned that no crisis response approach is a one-size-fits-all. And I have learned that co-responding can be fascinating, heartbreaking, inspiring, and humbling. 


This is a space I will use to reflect and share what I am doing, thinking, and learning with regard to co-responding and related subjects. For obvious reasons, I will not be sharing here about specific, identifiable individuals in crisis situations; instances which reference people at all will be written in such a way that their privacy is protected (I will change significant details, use composites of people, etc.). I hope you will find the subject of crisis co-responding as interesting as I do.


At its finest, co-responding features a collaboration between two professions in which each brings out the best in the other and is more effective, safe, and compassionate as a result. Though the work is sometimes hard and there are the good and bad days you would have with any other type of position, I feel lucky to be a part of it.