Online Counseling for First Responders

Stepstone Connect

Counseling Services for First Responders

Trauma-Related Support for Men and Women Behind the Vest

First Responders work under constant stress and pressure. Many suffer trauma because of this constant daily stress. Some self-medicate with substances that can cause increased mental health issues. Both trauma and related co-occurring issues are highly treatable.

A recent national survey revealed that the vast majority of first responders are exposed to traumatic events on the job, and most of those exposed suffer negative mental health symptoms as a result of this trauma. But despite readily available mental health services, the stigma associated with mental health treatment prevents most first responders from getting the help they need. In 2017, the number of firefighters and police officers who committed suicide was greater than the combined total who lost their lives in the line of duty. Ignoring the toll trauma takes is not an option, which is why Stepstone has removed obstacles that have too often kept most first responders from taking that first step and getting the help they need.

  1. Getting help is secure: Stepstone provides access to a team of trauma specialists through its encrypted, HIPAA-compliant video platform.
  2. Getting help is convenient: You select the time most convenient to meet with your trauma specialist, and your session is only a click away.
  3. Getting help is confidential: With the ability to connect to Stepstone’s video platform using any device equipped with a camera, you can connect from anywhere that will give you the privacy you need.

First to Help Others: Last to Help Themselves

First responders regularly put the safety of others before their own, and risk their own lives for the lives of others. Being a first responder is not a job – it’s an identity. But when caring for others comes at the cost of not caring for yourself, the price is too high.


Exposure to traumatic events can’t be avoided on the job. Most understand that a single exposure to a critical incident can cause PTSD. But mental injury can also result from repeated – or cumulative – exposure to traumatic events. Cumulative trauma spans a greater length of time, involves many traumatic events, and is often more difficult to treat. Unfortunately, first responders are even less likely to seek help when suffering from the effects of cumulative trauma because they see it as a sign of weakness. But its courage, not weakness, to care for yourself the same way you care for others. Taking the first step toward mental wellness can be difficult, but the trauma specialists at Stepstone Connect stand ready to help.

A Force for Change


When symptoms of PTSD or other trauma-induced injury are left untreated, those symptoms inevitably worsen, making the underlying injury more intrenched and difficult to treat. Left untreated too long, an individual will resort to any coping mechanism available to help deal with the pain, such as alcohol or drugs, and these unhealthy ways of coping often bring with them additional negative consequences.

Stepstone Connect’s first responder programs don’t just help you find healthy means to cope with the symptoms of PTSD and other trauma-related injuries, they address the underlying mental health conditions caused by the exposure to traumatic events. Stepstone is secure, convenient, and confidential. These are our priorities because they are your priorities.

  • Behind the Vest Online Counseling Services
    • One-on-one: Confidential, evidence-based trauma therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological and mental injuries.
    • Groups: A process group designed for, and available only to, first responders. This group allows those suffering the effects of trauma to work with their first responder peers to better cope with the trauma-related challenges that come with the job and help each other find healthy ways to deal with the daily stressors.
    • Family: A family process group specifically designed for the loved ones of first responders.


After spending 30 days in-patient treatment for PTSD at Deer Hollow, I didn’t know what recovery looked like.  Joe Gorton with Stepstone Connect helped me with the unknowns and was paramount in my aftercare.  Joe and I have grown a deeply personal and professional relationship because of the work we have done during our one on one therapy sessions (to include my wife who is also a Police Officer) and more importantly, during our first responder group therapy sessions.  Treatment saved my life, my marriage, and my career but without a doubt, the aftercare with Joe has been instrumental in my continued success in recovery.  The love and excitement that I have for helping first responders is my main mission in life.  Part of my recovery is sharing my story, spreading the message, being an advocate and paying it forward.  I understand that it’s not easy to ask for help, but it was the most courageous thing I have ever done.

- J.N.

I wanted to take time to thank you and others of Stepstone Connect for the services that they have proved for some of my staff. Initially, the idea of online counseling services seemed somewhat unorthodox, but after reviewing the platform and comfortableness of participating from the place of your choice it seemed very practical to me. The officers that have told me about their experiences with your group have been very excited about their participation and the information that they have received.

- M.H.

I am happy to learn that more department leaders are becoming better aware of the chronic and accumulative trauma that EVERY police officer experiences and left unidentified, or in some cases untreated can lead to long-term personal and professional damage. No one system will fit all clients or issues, but I believe your group has produced an option that can provide confidence and security particularly to the often reluctant law enforcement professional. I am encouraged that you are expanding to services that include spouses and other significant family or relationship members. As we have often ignored those that were in close proximity of traumatic events, but were not the focus officer, we too have not always included close family members who can detect when their loved ones have been exposed to such a traumatic event or events.

- G.J.

Stepstone's programs are thoughtful and engaging. They take the time to understand you and put together a plan of action that makes you understand your participation in your recovery. While they won’t hold your hand, they walks with you the entire way and will not leave you to fight alone. They have just as much buy in on your therapy and recovery as you do and that means so much! Joe is compassionate but also doesn’t hold back in ensuring that you are accountable and making sure that you are completely on board. Joe has helped me in so many ways to understand what I’m going through and to making me realize that I can make the changes necessary to promote my recovery and a better more productive and safe lifestyle.

- T.M.

First Responders: Survival Mindset

Join Barry, Kristin, and their guest, Chris Scallon, as they talk about his career in law enforcement and why mental health challenges became a part of his journey.

One Call, A Community of Support

Kristin and Barry speak with Nick Bauer about his mental health struggles after several first on the scene incidents in his long career as a first responder. They also discuss his need to help his colleagues navigate the trauma they experience on the job!

See All Resources in the Mental Health Network

Duty - Honor - Courage

Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Primary Symptoms

  • Bad dreams or distressing memories about the event
  • Reliving the event and behaving as though it is actually happening
  • Dissociation or loss of awareness of present surroundings
  • Avoiding thoughts, conversations, or feelings about the event
  • Avoiding people, activities, or places associated with the event
  • Inability to experience positive moods
  • Feeling pessimistic about the future
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability and uncontrolled outbursts of anger
  • Feeling easily startled
  • Sense of depression or general unhappiness

Secondary Symptoms

  • Relationship conflicts
  • Hopelessness
  • Life dissatisfaction
  • Family problems
  • Isolation
  • Substance abuse
  • Rage
  • Suicidal ideations

Why Online Counseling for First Responders?

The first responder community has a proud tradition of integrity and sacrifice. While admirable, even the bravest and best-trained may have a hard time processing a single traumatic event— let alone an entire career packed with trauma.

A commitment to self-care and the willingness to ask for help are essential for a career that demands so much.

When dangerous patterns of thought and behavior become ingrained, they may be harder to treat. For far too long, the prevailing image of the strong, silent type has created harmful expectations of what a hero should look like. Recognizing and admitting the need for help is not a sign of weakness, but proof of real strength.

Stepstone Connect’s first responder group is a safe, secure place for men and women from all over the country to come together and discuss the struggles and challenges of their jobs.


Online depression counseling is proven to reduce first responder absenteeism, shock, stress, and addiction.

Online Counseling: Invest in Yourself and Better Serve the Community

Exposure to traumatic events is an occupational hazard for first responders, and even the most mentally tough will struggle to process a critical traumatic event or deal with the negative mental-health consequences that come from cumulative exposure to trauma.

First responders also have their own lives, families, concerns, and day-to-day stressors. When not shouldering the burdens of the community, they are caring for the financial and emotional needs of loved ones. Many first responders can dissociate from the trauma they face on the job for a time, but everyone has a breaking point. And when that point comes, it negatively affects their physical and mental well-being, the well-being of their loved ones, and their ability to effectively protect the public they serve. 

Unfortunately, the image of the strong, silent type is alive and well in the first responder community. Self-care is still considered a sign of weakness, and asking for help can be considered an admission that you’re no longer tough enough for the job. These deceptive and dangerous stereotypes are responsible for an untold number of first responders who commit suicide or suffer in silence.

It’s time to change the outdated, tough-guy paradigm and appreciate that caring for self is as important, if not more so, than caring for others. Understand the toll trauma takes. Recognize trauma’s symptoms, and take that first brave step to treat the effects of trauma and improve your mental well-being.

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Stepstone Connect is proud to partner with Survive First, a resource for first responders and their families to speak confidentially with former law enforcement officers, firefighters, first responder professionals and/or mental healthcare providers who are familiar with your line of work. CONFIDENTIAL, comprehensive, 24-hour crisis HELPLINE for all first responders and their families, all emergency services personnel and their family members.

Stepstone Connect is proud to partner with Rescue the Rescuer podcast,who's mission is to put a spotlight on problems and help find solutions for First Responders. They help shred the shame and highlight strategies that work to alleviate and eliminate common stumbling blocks for First Responders like addiction, PTSD, relationship failure, and more.