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Turning the struggle into a mission

An Oklahoma-based counseling service provides custom-tailored treatment to first responders and their families – and fights the stigma along the way

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Understanding the struggles from experience, Inner Circle Mental Health provides therapy and counseling services to first responders and their families.

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The struggles of a first responder family are familiar to anyone in public safety: irregular schedules that make it hard to juggle home responsibilities with careers. Salaries so low that first responders often have to work side gigs for extra income or their spouses work one or more jobs to make ends meet. Working on holidays, being absent from family events, missing all the kids’ activities. Spending time off mostly recovering from the demands of the career instead of relaxing or having fun.

Collin Cooper is an army veteran who enlisted in 2012 at the age of 20. He got out four years later and started his career in law enforcement, serving as a patrol officer at three different departments and briefly as a school resource officer.

While Collin worked a shift schedule that often included nights, his wife, Kate, held the home together. This entailed working two jobs to make ends meet, raising the kids, attending school and sports events as essentially a single parent, and supporting Collin as best she could.

It wasn’t easy.

At work, Collin was a good cop. He showed up and did his job well. No one in the department had a clue what was going on in Collin’s private life. The innate challenges of living a first responder lifestyle made it easy to hide the fact that, at home, he was disappearing into a two-year depression. And, like many first responders, he was abusing alcohol to cope with the stress and unprocessed trauma.

“I’d put the uniform on, go to work, perform how I needed to perform and then come back home and go to sleep for 15 hours, get up and go to work,” Collin said. “I was nothing at home. I was just there. Zero quality time with the kids. Even on my days off, all I did was sleep.”

It was unhealthy for the family, too. Kate and the kids walked on eggshells when Collin was home. “The kids knew to be quiet,” said Kate. “As first responder families, we deal with the stress at home, like when he comes home and is mean or withdrawn or can’t handle a kid crying. Those are all things that impact the family trying to support him and his career and dealing with the secondary trauma of the things he is going through.“

Suicide is also a very real possibility among first responders and Kate was worried. “I was going to work and every single day I was fully convinced that he would be dead by the time I got home – to the point where I had his funeral planned,” said Kate.

“I was so disconnected from life that it almost didn’t even feel like it would have been a loss at that point,” Collin added.


Finally, Kate had had enough and had a heart-to-heart talk with Collin.

“She said, ‘I’m out. The kids are out,’” he recalled. “So, I was like, ‘I’m not losing my family. I’m going to turn around, ok? I want you to stay and this is what I’ll do.’”

Many first responder families would have broken up, but Collin followed through.

He quit drinking and started going to therapy. Kate and Collin also went to individual therapy as well as marriage counseling. They said it was important to identify their separate issues, injuries, needs and boundaries before coming together in joint sessions.

To deal with a traumatic memory of a horrific fatal accident, Collin even went through eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) – a relatively new psychotherapy method to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The technique uses a patient’s rhythmic eye movements to help process traumatic memories and reconstruct the pathways in the brain.

For weeks and months, he had struggled driving by the accident site. “It would amp me up, my heart rate would spike, and I would zone out,” Collin recalled. He went through several EMDR sessions – “It was not fun and gave me a bad headache” – but since the treatment, he’s been able to drive by the scene of the wreck and stay calm. “I still think about it, but I’m not stuck in it,” he said.

“We went through a pretty rough couple of years, and we want to prevent other families from going through what we went through,” said Collin. So, Kate and Collin Cooper turned their struggle into a mission. In April 2024, the couple launched Inner Circle Mental Health, a counseling service focused on first responders and their families – mainly law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMTs.


The poor state of first responders’ physical and mental health has long been a concern, but only recently made it on the public radar.

In the case of law enforcement, rates of depression, anxiety, burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder are significantly higher in police officers than in the civilian population. Some studies suggest that 30% of cops have a substance abuse problem. Alcohol dependence is at the top of the list. Over the last few years, more police officers have died by suicide than were killed in the line of duty, according to the first responder advocacy group First H.E.L.P.

The Coopers chose the name “Inner Circle Mental Health” with intention. Stigma and fear prevent many first responders from stepping forward. Often, they are concerned that admitting to emotional hardship could render them unfit for duty or be seen as weakness, says Collin.

That’s why the couple wanted to create a space where first responders are met by people they can trust, who speak their language, understand their codes and triggers – an inner circle of counselors and therapists who are culturally competent.

“There are not a whole lot of people that first responders will talk to about personal and emotional issues other than other first responders,” said Kate.

Collin describes himself as an “open book.” With a broad and inviting smile, he finds it easy to connect with people, especially with cops, and he freely shares his own struggles.

Kate has been a long-time advocate for mental health. Besides her professional degree – she completed her master’s in counseling – she also brings the perspective of a first responder spouse.


Some studies suggest the divorce rate runs higher among first responders than the national average, which is one reason why Inner Circle is determined to also work with families.

“We don’t want to see a first responder on their third, fourth, fifth marriage,” said Kate. “We don’t want them to give up and check out but rather do something before it’s too late.”

Bringing their own stories to their business helps the couple build credibility and trust among their clients and creates a sense of normalcy around first responders’ mental health. Inner Circle currently has two licensed therapists on staff. Kate manages the business side – scheduling and insurance. Collin serves as liaison to law enforcement and other public safety agencies and runs peer support sessions. The goal is to expand to several locations in Oklahoma and, eventually, go nationwide.

Inner Circle works with major insurance providers and offers an array of services, including individual counseling and family therapy, as well as Mental Health First Aid classes and peer support for public safety personnel. The company also runs specialized support groups, such as AA for first responders and a spouses’ group.


It’s their own painful yet powerful journey that Collin and Kate Cooper want to share with their clients. “We want them to know that we’ve been there, we lived it, and it sucked,” said Kate.

“We want to ensure the career you are called to is a career you can stay in. We don’t want your mental health to get in the way of your career,” said Collin. “We want first responders to know there are tools to help you get through and get well again.”

For more information, visit Inner Circle Mental Health.

Katja Ridderbusch is an award-winning print, radio and online journalist based in Atlanta. She reports on health care, criminal justice and law enforcement topics. Her work has appeared in outlets such as Time, the Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Kaiser Health News and more.
Laura Neitzel is Director of Branded Content for Lexipol, where she produces written and multimedia branded content of relevance to a public safety audience, including law enforcement, fire, EMS and corrections. She holds degrees in English from the University of Texas and the University of North Texas, and has over 20 years’ experience writing and producing branded and educational content for nationally-recognized companies, government agencies, non-profits and advocacy organizations.