How to take the clinical approach
By Mitchell Krugel
A scroll through the clinical services tab on the NJSPBA website leads to key indicators of how to unload the stress and trauma of life in law enforcement. And where to. Posted there is critical information about the mental healthcare providers who are specially trained to work with members experiencing anxiety, depression, addiction or trauma symptoms. And resolve symptoms and dysregulation from trauma. And provide mindfulness, clinical hypnosis and solution focused treatments. And address mood disorders. And help members recover from adverse life events, occupational stress injuries and substance abuse. And offer clinical expertise to teach members and their family members about complex trauma mental health resiliency.
At www.njspba.com/members/clinical-services, access to clinicians who practice public safety psychology in various forms and functions is only a QR code away. These clinicians are the magnificent seven who have joined the PBA’s longtime clinical services chief, Dr. Gene Stefanelli, to form the clinical arm of the association’s new Peer Response Team.
“We all have this strong cultural competency in the police world, and we all have some type of connection in some way to that police world,” explains Dr. Anastasia (Stacy) Pytal, a former law enforcement officer who is one of maybe 70 professionals in the country board-certified in police and public safety psychology. “I haven’t met more dedicated clinicians to the law enforcement community than these people.”
The specialties and expertise this dream team provides are detailed at the top of the next page. The way the PBA has set up this team enables members to reach out to a provider at their listed contact information to set up a free 15-minute, confidential phone consultation before scheduling an appointment.
The consultation helps members decide if the provider will be a good fit. The discussion will include reasons for seeking therapy, services the provider offers and finances. These providers are covered by most insurance plans.
Healing Hint: “The value is that these people are all trained, experienced clinicians familiar with law enforcement, which you don’t find regularly out there. We need to refer out to people who are competent and who understand law enforcement, if you don’t understand it, then you really shouldn’t be treating police officers.”
Dr. Gene Stefanelli, PBA Clinical Services
When a member finds the provider of their choice, then confidential treatment between the provider and patient is on. And whether a member is seeking to tune up or boost their mental health or work on dire problems that leave them on the cusp on suffering, addiction or worse, there are many reasons to believe what providers say will be the outcome of the therapy.
“The benefits to them?” Pytal states. “Usually people enjoy their job more.”
The cutting-edge aspect of the team is a result of this unprecedented compiling of trauma therapists who continually go to trainings to learn different techniques for helping officers understand what the stress and trauma is doing to them. Every officer.
Their approaches are scientifically based. Members might hear them talk about such concepts as EMDR and IFS when they call for that first consultation. Another benefit members will quickly realize when they make the call is that the clinicians are not here to do fit-for-duty assessment. They are there to help, and they each have unique and proven ways to do so.
“I think what the PBA has done with its Peer Response Team is brilliant,” submits Rachel Korenblit, a licensed certified social worker on the team. “I think it’s very needed. I think sometimes you’ll have EAP, which is wonderful, but they work for your employers, so that’s tough sometimes to go to them. To have a team of peers and clinicians together is amazing because sometimes people just don’t know who to reach out to or where to reach out. Also, we’re like a think tank, and the hope is to come up with new ideas and different services beyond just therapy.”
The presence of this clinician unit might even help smash the stigma of calling for help. Ideally, officers would become accustomed to getting mental health support from a professional from the time they enter the academy. Nobody would argue that the job can be so traumatic that early intervention is not only warranted but needed.
This team has been formed with an acute understanding of how repeated exposure to general trauma – in other words, the day to day of answering calls – is a blow to your system that in the moment you can’t really process. And so you end up sort of sticking the exposure in in something like a junk drawer to hide it away. And that needs to be unpacked on a regular basis.
“I see that people take this job on because they can handle it more than your average person,” Korenblit continues. “They are strong and resilient. The thing is that they’re also human, and we forget that piece. We expect them to deal with all of these high-stress situations, but then we don’t always give them the tools to figure out how to process them.”
Here come the tools from the clinicians. Certainly, there will be times when members need to come in and just sit and chat with a therapist. But the clinicians are equipped to take an empirically based approach. For example, if somebody’s coming in for anxiety disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy might be a successful way to address that.
Healing Hint: “We have a group of individuals that just clicked. Those clinicians are the best of the best, and it’s their life’s work. Their hearts are in it just as much as our members.”
Luke Sciallo, PBA Peer Response Team Coordinator
They also might get an approach like Pytal uses that enables officers to “clear the call.” If you just had a big call, this technique lets you clear that call from your mind before moving on to the next call.
“Because otherwise, we’re just stacking that trauma,” she relates. As a former law enforcement officer, she knows what therapy can do that everybody is looking for. “I would say a more peaceful home life,” Pytal adds. “Because people learn how to differentiate between home and work. They have more coping skills, more resources that they can use.”
Clearing the call is just one mechanism members will learn to use to unburden themselves and not carry the trauma around wherever they go, and especially take it home. But it’s important to note that unburdening does not necessarily have to wait until, as the saying goes, your hair is on fire.
“Sometimes, I think people feel they need to be in a bad place to reach out,” Korenblit comments. “But it’s not true. Seeing a clinician just allows for you to maintain mental fitness the same way you have a gym membership. You just have to talk things out with somebody. With the nature of the work you do, it’s just a good idea to have a sounding board. And it’s helpful sometimes to just not feel alone in what you’re experiencing.”
Meet the clinicians serving with the NJSPBA Peer Response Team
Anastasia Pytal, Psy.D.
39 E. Main St., 2nd Floor
Little Falls, NJ 07424
Dr. Pytal is a licensed psychologist and former law enforcement officer. She is board-certified in police and public safety psychology and is a diplomate in police psychology by the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology. Her area of professional interest and expertise is working with police officers and their loved ones on issues pertaining to trauma, depression, anxiety and officer wellness. She does training for local, county and federal law enforcement agencies. Dr. Pytal is proud to be a founding member and mental health liaison for Survivors of Blue Suicide. Dr. Pytal received her hostage negotiation certification in 2022.
Dayna Ceruzzi, LPC, LCADC, CEDS, CFRC
20 Community Place, Suite 102
Morristown, NJ 07960
Dayna is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor (LCADC), certified first responder counselor (CFRC) and certified eating disorders specialist (CEDS). She works with first responder/law enforcement clients who are experiencing anxiety/depression, addiction, eating disorders and/or trauma symptoms. In April 2023, Dayna completed a three-year trauma training called Somatic Experiencing®. This approach works with the nervous system to help resolve symptoms and dysregulation from trauma. In addition, Dayna utilizes other evidence-based approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to support change and growth.
Ange Puig, Ph.D.
1060 Kings Highway, North , Suite 311
Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
Office: 856-482-1650, Direct: 856- 482-7744
Ange Puig earned his undergraduate degree in business administration from Iona College in 1967. He obtained his doctoral degree in psychology from Columbia University in 1979. He holds memberships in the NJPA and APA Division for Traumatic Stress and has a certificate of proficiency in the assessment and treatment of alcohol and other psychoactive substances. He served on Acting Governor Codey’s mental health task force in 2005. With a professional background in mindfulness, clinical hypnosis and solution-focused treatments, he has provided seminars to a variety of agencies and groups, addressing issues such as stress, sleep issues and chronic pain.
Rachel Korenblit, LCSW
845 Bloomfield Ave., Suite 1
Clifton, NJ 07012
Available on Zoom
Rachel Korenblit, LCSW, is a New Jersey–based therapist specializing in treating first responders. She has extensive training in trauma treatments and modern psychoanalysis, allowing her to approach each client individually, integrating trauma techniques into the therapy work (i.e., IFS and EMDR). In addition to her private practice, Rachel leads a team of clinicians treating New Jersey first responders in recovery from substance and alcohol use at Full Recovery Wellness Center and facilitates a national virtual support group, Warrior Talk, for military and first responders. Rachel is a passionate advocate for enhancing policy to promote and protect first responders seeking mental health treatment.
Tricia Maliszewski, LPC
TAM Counseling LLC
Tricia Maliszewski, LPC, specializes in trauma, substance abuse, mood disorders and first responder treatment. Each client is granted a specialized and focused approach regarding their reasons for seeking therapy. Her clinical foundation includes psychoanalysis, trauma-informed care, internal family systems (IFS) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Her previous work experience includes providing services at inpatient and outpatient facilities, as well as the county jail. She currently conducts services via telehealth through her private practice. In addition to seeing private clients, she also works at an outpatient facility that provides substance abuse and mental health treatment to the first responder population.
Ana Pais, LPC, NCC, CFRC, CCTP
123 N. Union St., Suite 302
Cranford, NJ 07016
Ana Pais is a board-certified licensed professional counselor (LPC), certified first responder counselor (CFRC) and trained eye movement and desensitization (EMDR) therapist. She is the owner of Frontline Counseling Center, where she treats first responders and/or family members for various mental health concerns. Ana serves as a consultant/clinician at Full Recovery Wellness Center, a substance abuse IOP program in New Jersey, and she is a wellness support state member for Survivors of Blue Suicide. Her areas of specialty include trauma, depression, anxiety, adverse life events, occupational stress injuries and substance abuse.
Larissa Mason, LCSW
P.O. Box 247
Linwood, NJ 08221
Larissa Mason is a clinical expert in understanding and treating trauma. She focuses on neurodivergent learning and responses, as well as complex trauma resiliency and recovery, for both impacted individuals and their partners and families. She focuses on professional mental health and individual resiliency regarding law enforcement, and first responder stressors are emphasized. She was a supervisor at an adult partial care program for the severely mentally ill, where she created and implemented the first clinical trauma track as a way to expound on the connection between trauma and mental health and officer appropriate support.