Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement   
"Nourishing the spirit of everyday heroes"

By: Chaplain Cary A. Friedman
"Nourishing the spirit of everyday heroes"

Reprinted from: FBI's Law Enforcement Bulletin

March 9, 2017


Embracing the Spiritual Dimension of Law Enforcement

By Cary A. Friedman

Some instructors, such as the author, feel privileged to teach law enforcement officers how to nurture their spiritual side. Usually, police trainers help officers negotiate the physical, emotional, and psychological challenges and dangers they encounter throughout their careers. However, the spiritual trials and necessary responses during a law enforcement career differ significantly from other tribulations and resolutions.

When officers confront ordeals in other dimensions, they aspire to survive them. They work hard and hope to remain unscathed, like when they first entered the profession. Most officers start out physically robust, emotionally healthy, and psychologically strong. They hope to retire in that same condition after serving a long career in policing.


Dealing with law enforcement’s physical challenges and threats accounts for most of the training officers receive. However, they rarely view the career primarily as a means of developing and enhancing physical well-being. Few young people have chosen policing careers because they aspire to cultivate and enjoy optimal emotional and psychological health. Stress and trauma become part of the job, and officers sometimes carry emotional issues due to their experiences. They endeavor to survive and remain unharmed.


Trainers often provide insights and practical tools to meet the physical, emotional, and psychological adversity of law enforcement. The greatest success occurs when an officer retires from a long, active career without too many scars. In such instances, spirituality seems to set itself apart from policing’s other aspects.

Individuals become defined by their spiritual dimensions—the place inside where values, aspirations, fears, hopes, and the essence of their being reside. The human spirit drives people to act and accomplish. The most intensely spiritual motivators that inspire people to pursue a law enforcement career appear to include a desire to make a positive difference in the world; champion noble ideals, like freedom, justice, and the sanctity of human life; protect the weak and innocent; and battle evil.

Many officers enter the profession motivated by spiritual ambitions just like these. They might not recognize their motivation as intensely spiritual, but if they become aware and train accordingly, that spirituality can grow throughout a career in policing.


The physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of a career equate to the details, but not the essence. Challenges, stressors, and efforts in those dimensions liken to the mechanics of getting the job done. They are technical facets of the profession, insofar as performing the duties of a law enforcement job require involvement and present significant challenges.

No person enters the profession and says, “I look forward to being involved in physical altercations with people” or “I can’t wait to experience the emotional and psychological traumas of this job.” These become incidental aspects of the career. They seem nearly inevitable, but they remain merely features of the career, not the career itself.

The essence of the career belongs directly in the realm of the spiritual. Officers may engage in physical combat and experience emotional and psychological trauma in pursuit of their goals to help people and champion justice; however, these tribulations do not establish the purpose of the career.


Imagine a Sunday afternoon when siblings decide to visit their mother. To get there, they must deal with the complexities of driving along highways or navigating public transportation. They decide to drive, but their car breaks down. Luckily, one of them knows something about car repair. So, after a quick fix, they hit the road again.

The purpose of their outing remains to visit their mother. The process of driving and the application of car repair skills are the mechanics needed to fulfill their goal. An unsympathetic, cynical observer might argue that they enjoy driving and riding, and chose their mother’s house as a convenient stop to use the restroom or get some food before returning home. But they know differently. They understand the reason for enduring the effort and inconvenience to make this trip.

This example demonstrates the difference between physical, emotional, and psychological aspects and the spiritual dimension. Although they may not use the term specifically, cadets enter law enforcement with deeply spiritual aspirations, and they recognize that fulfilling those goals requires involvement in the mechanics (physical, emotional, and psychological aspects) of their career.

The world of the human spirit proves significant. It motivates individuals to choose this occupation. Officers sometimes indicate that they considered a career in the clergy before deciding on law enforcement. Both professions convey deep aspirations of a noble human spirit to serve a transcendent cause to attend to the welfare of human beings.

As soon as cadets enter the law enforcement profession, they become distracted by its glamorous mechanics. No one ever seems to mention the spiritual motivations of the job that initially brought the new recruits into the field.

Psychologist Carl Jung observed a curious phenomenon about deeply spiritual people who do not nourish their spiritual side. If they withhold the spiritual sustenance their souls need, they begin to experience existential pain.1 When these individuals understand the source of their pain, they know how to address and resolve it. However, if they do not realize it, they engage in obstructive behaviors while hoping the pain will diminish. A person with unfulfilled spiritual aspirations becomes capable of wreaking havoc when dealing with this pain because attempts to relieve it can prove destructive. The pain does not go away, and efforts to alleviate it often increase it. Jung considered this the reason 12-step programs, with their heavy emphasis on spirituality, succeeded in helping so many people whose spiritual nourishment had been withheld and who tried to numb their pain with self-destructive, addictive behaviors.2

Cadets enter law enforcement careers aspiring to give expression to, nurture, develop, and exercise their spiritual side, which needs regular, sustained replenishment for health. If they obtain that nourishment, officers often become more profound human beings and achieve a level of mature idealism. If they do not receive that sustenance, realize they are spiritual beings, and know they need support on that plane, they likely will end up frustrated, confused, depressed, or dispirited.

Almost nothing in these officers’ careers will remind them of their innate spirituality. Several aspects of the job may distract them and convince them that their careers center on the physical dimension. Without proper recognition and guidance, their efforts will prove counterproductive, and their pain likely will increase. Their efforts to numb that ache will continue in the wrong direction.

It would be frustrating to aimlessly drive around for hours (or years) because of a forgotten destination. This would become tedious and taxing because of a lack of purpose. If officers recognize the spiritual aspirations that drew them to the profession; acknowledge, own, and celebrate that aspect of themselves; and use their career achievements—both victories and defeats—to nourish their spiritual side, they will experience the job as originally intended to enhance their spirituality and become more compassionate, ethical, and profoundly human.

Most officers prefer not to sidestep the spiritual aspect of their careers and themselves. They want to feel, embrace, nurture, and enhance it. Ignoring this essential part of their essence often weakens them. However, acknowledging and nourishing it strengthens and fortifies officers.


Law enforcement officers do not merely want to survive in the spiritual realm of their careers. They would rather thrive in it. If recent headlines taught us anything, it is that our society needs empathetic, moral, and deeply human officers. To achieve this, they must embrace their spirituality.

The author may be contacted at caryf@lawenforcementsurvivalinstitute.org.


Carl Jung to William G. “Bill” Wilson, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, letter in Alcoholics Anonymous (New York, NY: Alcoholic Anonymous World Services Inc., 2001), January 30, 1961, accessed September 1, 2016, http://www.barefootsworld.net/jungletter.html.


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Reprinted from: FBI's Law Enforcement Bulletin

July 13, 2016

Value of Spiritual Survival Tools for Law Enforcement Officers

By Cary A. Friedman

A young cadet, filled with energy and hope for the future and motivated by idealism and a desire to make a difference, enters the police academy. Ten years later, that officer has experienced years of exposure to human suffering and evil, an often critical and unappreciative public, corruption, and injustice. All of these factors take a heavy toll. The negative effects of police officer stress have resulted in countless initiatives, including mentoring programs, counseling, and emotional tools.

Not enough attention focuses on the spiritual dimension of a law enforcement career. Many departments have talented, capable chaplains who play significant roles in individual counseling and spiritual advising for those who take advantage of their assistance. However, chaplain services often remain unused by officers who sometimes perceive them as being associated with religious dogma. This perception occasionally makes chaplaincy unappealing to those unreceptive to messages with religious overtones.

Whether or not officers are religious, the career presents vexing questions and challenges of a spiritual nature that they cannot afford to ignore. Officers need a way to obtain spiritual sustenance and fortification for the difficult challenges they face without having to enter into a religious discussion. Spiritual survival tools provide an approach to matters relevant to the spirit that address the concepts of evil, suffering, and human beings’ role in the universe without being attached to a particular religious belief system.


Often, law enforcement officers suffering from spiritual malaise obtain no help from department services. When a crisis (e.g., line of duty death, natural catastrophe, or terrorism attack) occurs, the resources available to the agency might be numerous or appear all-encompassing, but often they arrive too late. Without advance spiritual fortification, officers sometimes cannot withstand the tragedy.

Spiritual survival tools must exist before a crisis occurs. The jobs of chaplains and trauma experts would become easier because officers would be more open to their messages. Many law enforcement officers routinely grapple with spiritual questions. When a crisis occurs, either personal or departmentwide, these ponderings sometimes escalate to adverse proportions.

  • Why am I in this profession?
  • Why are people so evil?
  • Why do the innocent suffer?
  • What happened to my youthful idealism?

Officers with strong religious affiliations might get their spiritual needs addressed by attending a church, synagogue, or mosque and developing closer relationships with clergy. However, officers without that association or relationship face a disadvantage.

Many officers’ questions remain unaddressed, and traditional methods used for decades become ineffective for the needs of a 21st-century officer. For these individuals, spiritual survival tools play a critical role in preparing them to confront the realities of a law enforcement career.


Emotional problems receive emotional solutions, and physical problems result in physical solutions; therefore, answers to spiritual issues must remain spiritual in nature. Law enforcement officers who routinely confront the worst of the human condition contend with moral questions more often than their leaders realize.

Spiritual insights provide officers with the survival tools necessary to achieve paramount spiritual health. These tools help officers find their own reservoir of morality so that when a crisis occurs, they have internal fortification for protection and strength.

Developing Spiritual Motivators

Law enforcement officers hold the greatest likelihood of success and protection from stressors if they remain aware of and in touch with the right kind of motivation. Spiritual survival skills help officers determine their own motivators and gain sustenance from them during a crisis.

Human beings contain endless spiritual reservoirs they need to tap into to remain effective.  Someone else’s motivator provides no value to an officer because individuals must learn about their own unique internal inspirations. What images, ideas, and people encourage officers to do their jobs well? Spiritual motivators amount to powerful tools that provide fortification even in the most despairing moments if an officer knows how to use them. A spiritual motivator can consist of almost anything—a picture, writing, memory, principle, or song. Officers need to know what inspires them. Each person’s motivators remain unique and a product of their own individual composition.

A spiritual mentor can help an officer identify motivators. However, a well-meaning mentor sometimes attempts to convince the individual to adopt the mentor’s motivator. This proves detrimental to everyone involved. Spiritual survival training assumes that the same stimulus does not work for everyone. Officers must connect with their own personal motivators by using the technique of developing their credo.

Writing a Credo

Unclear abstract ideas possess no power to inspire or fortify a person in the face of challenge or temptation. No matter how beautiful or profound, spiritual ideas provide little influence if vague and not immediately accessible to the person. Individuals must put these values into clear, succinct words to keep them from being shadowy, vague, and indistinct; buried; or powerless to inspire or strengthen. If officers define them in plain, concrete terms, these beliefs bestow the power to provide fortification that exists deep in the core of the individual.

A credo consists of a clear, concise, specific formulation of the most fundamental, cherished beliefs by which human beings live their lives. This individual personal expression constitutes the portal to that individual’s spirituality. A proud warrior spirit—an intense desire to make a difference, help the weak, champion justice, and combat evil—often motivates people to become law enforcement officers. Add power and responsibility, the public’s trust and mistrust, physical danger and emotional cruelty, and stakes and opportunities for ethical confusion and compromise, and it becomes difficult to understand how any officer manages to navigate through an entire career with integrity intact and ethical clarity unclouded.  Amidst the chaos and uncertainty of a law enforcement career, early ambitions can become lost and forgotten.

People’s credos encapsulate the essence of who they are, what they believe, and what they aspire to do in the world. A credo captures and connects officers to the nobility of spirit that first led them to a law enforcement career. A conscious, intense philosophy helps the officer remain anchored, calm, focused, and clear even in the face of chaos, confusion, and temptation. With a clearly defined, precisely articulated set of inner-guiding principles, officers can make sense of the experiences of the profession, both successes and failures. Temptations and disappointments exercise less power over individuals who have clarity at their core.

Like any tool on an officer’s duty belt, the credo must remain effective, familiar, immediately accessible, and unequivocal. Law enforcement careers may end due to ethical violations, perhaps more so than physical violence; therefore, the credo may be more valuable than any other piece of equipment.

Creation of a credo requires work and thought. Officers must learn how to articulate their fundamental beliefs and formulate a credo specific to and effective for them. The need to rediscover and replenish the idealistic internal motivations that brought the officer into the career remains greater in today’s society because community distrust and media criticism often exacerbate police crises.

Recognizing Inherent Goodness

For their safety, officers must view people as potential criminals or threats. It proves difficult to live a fulfilling spiritual life with the sense that evil lurks around every corner. However, this perspective remains a reality for police officers, and it comes with consequences for their spiritual lives. Family life and relationships suffer if an officer constantly looks for potential violence and depravity in people. Human beings recognize that while malevolence exists in the world, most people continue to be upstanding. Officers must learn to transition between a perspective of vigilance necessary to stay physically safe and a viewpoint that enables them to expect decency in other people. This technique, creating a transition ritual, is essential for a psychologically and emotionally balanced life.

Creating a Transition Ritual

Many officers perform rituals when they begin work to put themselves into a mind-set of enhanced vigilance. For example, an officer anticipating the beginning of a shift might look in a mirror and say, “Someone is going to try to kill you today. Do not let them.” This simple self-talk routine puts the officer into the mind-set of enhanced awareness needed to anticipate and identify the dangers of the job. At the start of a shift, stepping up the level of attentiveness is important for an officer’s physical safety and well-being.

Police officers also need to transition as their shifts end. At this point, it becomes appropriate to let go of the tactically sound operational principle of officer safety that perceives potential malice in people and step down to a lower level of suspicion that recognizes that most individuals are decent. Officers must remember that although some people are evil, most are respectable. At the end of a shift, lowering the officer’s level of suspicion is important for spiritual health and wellness.

Officers must remain physically safe and psychologically healthy. Achieving one at the expense of the other does not constitute a victory. Spiritual survival tools enable officers to enjoy both. Officers can learn to recognize the decency in people without undermining vigilance. The goal is to integrate two opposite approaches—one necessary for the job and the other for psychological and emotional health. With appropriate tools and training, officers can learn to balance and use different approaches.

Building a Rich Spiritual Identity

Developing an officer’s spiritual identity requires drawing upon the moral aspects of the individual’s multifaceted personality. The goal is not to see oneself as only an officer, but as a human being who chooses to do right in the world through a law enforcement profession. The badge and gun do not define the person. They only enhance the significance of what the officer can accomplish.

Officers who overinvest in one dimension of themselves—their law enforcement role—while ignoring all other aspects put themselves at risk emotionally and psychologically. The frustrations, disappointments, and injustices that exist in law enforcement can take on unhealthy connotations for officers. If they sacrifice all other dimensions of life, officers may feel powerless to control their own destiny and self-definition as human beings. Providing help to someone in need serves as a valuable technique for building an officer’s spiritual identity.

Helping Someone as a Private Citizen

Law enforcement officers should volunteer to, for instance, carry an elderly person’s groceries or serve food at a soup kitchen, simply because they want to exercise compassion and giving. This is an opportunity for officers to reclaim their true identities. They should lend a hand to remind themselves that before they pledged to serve and protect, they desired to help as human beings. Officers, of course, must exercise compassion toward their families.

Spiritual survival training provides an opportunity to create and nourish a rich, multidimensional identity as a person who strives to accomplish greatness in the world. An officer’s law enforcement position consists of only one avenue of expression. Officers must put career disappointments into a healthy perspective.


Some police departments are experiencing crises. Agencies need to fortify their officers. They must not overlook spiritual survival education; it should be a critical aspect of law enforcement training. Today’s officers deserve the best protection they can attain. The author presented some insights and described a number of tools that officers can use; however, many other ideas and techniques exist. A comprehensive training program in spiritual survival keeps officers healthy when faced with the moral onslaught in their professional lives.

For additional information the author may be contacted at caryf@lawenforcementsurvivalinstitute.org.

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Reprinted from: Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Gendarmerie royal du Canada) Gazette

Spiritual well-being for police officers

Vol. 68, Issue 3 2006

Tips for renewal

By Chaplain Cary Friedman

Everyone recognizes the physical demands and dangers that police officers face, but few understand that the job is no less demanding and dangerous spiritually.

It has taken some time for the police community to recognize that there are dangers, traumas and scars that are not physical. In the last few decades, much research has been conducted on the emotional and psychological stressors of policing. As a result, a number of protective measures have been put into place to pre-empt their effects.

But a career in law enforcement can also take a very heavy toll on an officer’s spiritual well-being. This dimension of police stress has yet to be addressed in any meaningful way by the law enforcement community. In fact, the effects of spiritual stress are just beginning to be recognized.

This new understanding is tempered by the challenge of addressing spirituality without pushing any particular religious system, a difficult balancing act for many chaplains in the field.

This article explores the topic of spiritual stress in policing, describes how it develops and provides some tools for spiritual renewal in a non-threatening atmosphere.

The problem

In the United States, about 150 law enforcement officers are killed in the line of duty every year. However, officers are eight times more likely to take their own lives than to be killed from any accidental or line-of-duty action. In addition, police officers suffer from depression, addictions, divorce and other spiritual/psychological ailments at a rate that is much higher than the general population.

These statistics are deeply disturbing, to say the least. What is even more disturbing is the lack of resources available to combat the spiritual ailments that afflict officers. Very little time or money has been devoted to developing protocols to ensure their spiritual well-being. This lack of attention creates severe repercussions. Clearly, any effort that can be expended in this direction can only bolster and strengthen the community as a whole.

But where do we begin? Most people who pursue a career in policing have very lofty motivations. There can be no more spiritual aspiration, professional or personal, than "to protect and serve." When asked, many officers acknowledge the religious or almost-religious motivation in their decision to become a cop. Some officers confide that they were torn between a career in law enforcement or the clergy. As such, many officers are not insensitive to the spiritual dimension of the job.

At the beginning of a career, an officer may possess an abundance of confidence - or faith - in God, humanity and self. An officer enters the field with naive idealism, but the tragedies, crises and wicked acts can quickly undermine and challenge that idealism. After about five years in the field, many report "hitting a wall." Officers may even question their decision to enter the field.

Every time an officer encounters evil and suffering, he or she makes big withdrawals from his spiritual bank account, which is filled with faith and hope. Daily exposure to the stressors of the job drains an officer’s faith, and deposits - as Joseph Wambaugh said - a "daily drop of corrosion on your soul."

If that account isn’t replenished by making frequent spiritual deposits, the officer can go into "spiritual bankruptcy" and the reservoir of energy, inspiration, idealism and passion dries up. Police officers need to make that daily deposit of healing and cleansing that can counteract corrosion on the officer’s soul.

Spiritual bankruptcy may be characterized by such feelings as anger, cynicism, disillusionment and despair, and by such acts as abuse of power, professional misbehaviour, infidelity, substance abuse and suicide.

But there is another way. Attention paid to an officer’s spiritual side can prevent spiritual bankruptcy and ensure his or her health and vitality throughout a long, productive career.

Attention paid to an officer’s spiritual side can prevent spiritual bankruptcy and ensure his or her health and vitality throughout a long, productive career.

The purpose of providing spiritual reinforcement is not to maintain or regain an officer’s naive idealism. Instead, the officer uses the spirituality infusions to maintain a sense of reality and balance.

Although many officers enter the field driven by spiritual motivations, most of them are not really aware of it. This lack of awareness makes them vulnerable to spiritual bankruptcy. Spiritual fortification begins when an officer becomes aware of his original spiritual aspiration and reconnects to it.

Tools for renewal

Both rookies and veterans can benefit from spiritual nourishment. The following exercises are designed to fortify and strengthen an officer’s spiritual health and replenish the "spirituality account."

Seek inspiration

Identify your own source of inspiration. Idealism is like a fingerprint: each one is unique. Where does yours come from? Is it religious or does it come from some other philosophy?

Try to remember what or who first inspired you to become a police officer and how you first became aware of this inspiration. Allow yourself to be inspired again. Return to your youth, if only for a moment. Who inspired you? Was it Batman or your Uncle Frank? The Lone Ranger or Mother Theresa? Or maybe it was your Aunt Theresa who worked vice for years at LAPD. Each in their own way fights for justice and decency. Think about the differences and the similarities between you and that individual.


Construct a prayer or meditation in your own words. Alternatively, use one that already exists and means something to you. It should be something that can inspire and help focus you. It might be your agency’s mission statement. Whatever words you choose, study them carefully. Use them as a text for quiet, sustained meditation.

The purpose of revisiting a prayer or meditation over and over again is to remind yourself of fundamental truths and values that can get lost in the course of a hectic life. What does your prayer or meditation say to you? If you like, use a picture or an object to meditate on and allow it to inspire and calm you.

See the goodness in others

Recognize the value and inherent "danger" of practicing officer safety - the danger being the assumption that every person may pose a threat. Recognize that officer safety is a strategy for survival; it is not a philosophy or a worldview.

What works well in the field and has great operational value may rob you of one of the best resources you have: your faith in human beings. Recognize the decency of non-police people. See their desire to do good and improve. Visit a soup kitchen, a hospice or an old age home where volunteers help people every day. Your goal as a spiritual human being is to learn to bounce between these two states-one a necessity on the job, one a necessity off the job.

Don’t confuse who you are with what you do

You help people not because you are a cop - you help them AND you are a cop. Your commitment to the noblest human values does not end when your shift ends. It is not about your job; it is about who and what you are. You champion those same values in all the roles you play in your life, albeit in different ways. There is always the danger of over-identifying as a police officer to the exclusion of all other roles. You’re not "just a cop"; you are a model of responsible kindness everywhere you go.

Help someone in your role as a human being and private citizen. Carry an old man’s groceries. Volunteer occasionally at a soup kitchen. Do it to remind yourself that even before you pledged to serve and protect as a cop, you yearned to help as a human being.

Confront the pain

Don’t disown the pain. Recognize and embrace it - it is the clearest proof of your humanity, compassion and nobility of spirit. If you can witness evil or tragedy without being affected or sickened, you shouldn’t be doing this job.

Confronting and fighting evil or taking a human life is painful. But the goal is not to be desensitized. That pain should communicate to you that the police department chose well when it gave you a badge, a gun and the authority to enforce laws and protect your fellow citizens.

Be proud of your scars

Those who work for the well-being of others are sometimes brought down. No police officer exposed to the sadnesses of the job ever totally escapes the hardening, contamination or jading of the profession. Don’t revel in the process, but don’t beat yourself up over it either. Recognize it for what it is: a sacrifice offered freely by each officer on behalf of others. That is the way that God understands and considers it.

Chaplain Cary A. Friedman is a consultant to the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and the law enforcement community in general. He has been a chaplain at Duke University and at the federal prison in Butner, North Carolina. Chaplain Friedman is the author of five books, including Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement, and numerous articles.