Providing EP services for Clients with Physical Disabilities and Mental Health Disorders
Updated: Apr 11
One of the biggest misconceptions for new Executive Protection practitioners is that they have an innocent and naive belief that they will land the best client, the one who is aware about what Executive Protection is, the one who is very active and physically trained, the one who will be following up with security directions, the one who will care about his/her agents’ wellbeing and the one who will be easy going and friendly.
Yes, the perfect client does exist, but it may take you quite some time in your career to get one, if at all. Considering clients have their own character traits, let’s talk about those clients who, day to day, are facing a physical disability such as paralysis, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, or even a semi-permanent injury. And remember, being simply advanced in years may have a substantial affect on their movements and therefore create some unique challenges in providing protective services for them.
The German Politician Wolfgang Schäuble has been bound to a wheelchair since 1990 after an assassination attempt, actor Michael J. Fox has been fighting with Parkinson’s disease for decades and actress Selma Blair has been living with multiple sclerosis since 2018. What all these famous people have in common is also a protective detail and Executive Protection Agents providing services for them. So have you ever wondered what an EP agent must take into consideration when he/she is hired to provide services for an individual with physical limitations or disabilities? While the primary goal remains the same, ‘’Protect the Principal’’, the way in which you are achieving it may be a little bit different in these types of situations.
First of all, do your due diligence and get informed on the specific circumstances that surround your prospective client. There are a number of crucial items you should know. Medical condition, abilities/inabilities, current medications, private physician info, etc. The more you know, the better you will be when providing services for them.
At your first meeting, ask them about their needs and if they have particular expectations from you. Ask about any specific instructions for their care day to day.
Consider how much time it takes for them to go from point A to B and plan/design scenarios around having to evacuate them (with or without the wheelchair or any walking aids).
Learn all about their specific wheelchair functions and movement (Or any walking aids).
Always ask permission before jumping to help, especially when in public or in the company of other people. Don’t assume that they may always want or need your help. At this point in their lives, they can feel that an enormous amount of their personal freedom has been stripped away.
Always keep in mind, people with disabilities are still people and they still have a great many things they like or want.
Be patient and polite when offering any help. Don’t try to rush them. What for you may seem easy, for them may be hard, painful, or even seem impossible.
Recognize and respect their personal space and time. Yes, even a person who needs assistance to move around and depends on you will still have a need of his/her own personal space or time.
Don’t ‘’over-do it’’, let them breathe from time to time. You do NOT have to be in the room every waking second.
Always be prepared to make adjustments or accommodations to make their life easier and look for ways to develop methods to better assist them.
Always take into consideration their special needs (physical and medical) when you have to visit venues, attend events, travel to other countries, book a hotel room, make dinner reservations, etc. Have in mind, not many countries are as progressive as we are when it comes to customers with physical disabilities. Having a highly-skilled advance agent who can plan these details accordingly is a great advantage in these cases.
Ensure that someone from the team is ahead of you, taking care to be sure there is a clear path for your client to enter or exit with the wheelchair or walking aid, wherever you may have to go.
If there is no threat, give them their time and have patience while moving to discourage pressured or awkward moments.
In the event of an imminent moment of threat or danger, have you planned ahead, and are you, or a group of you, capable of lifting that person up properly and assisting in a quick and safe evacuation?
Be quite careful of your language both in the presence or in the absence of your client. While many professionals are aware of which words can be offensive for a person who has a disability, some may accidentally offend someone without meaning to. When you work for people with disabilities you want them to feel respected and empowered. In order to accomplish that, simply place emphasis on someone as the person first, by name, and then, only if needed, mention the disability if logistics would require it to avoid embarrassment or frustration
Now let’s talk about clients who are dealing with mental health disorders, which are the most common issues an Executive Protection agent may have to deal with and can be hard to detect unless you are told or you are quick to recognize.
Most common reported names and examples (as per their public confessions):
Elon Musk – Asperger’s Syndrome
Chrissy Teigen – Postpartum Depression
Demi Lovato – Bipolar Disorder
Steve Young – Social Anxiety Disorder
Donny Osmond – Social Anxiety Disorder
Michael Phelps – ADHD
Dan Reynolds – Clinical Depression
Leonardo DiCaprio – Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Daniel Radcliffe – Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Lady Gaga – PTSD
Adele – Postpartum Depression
Prince Harry – Severe Anxiety during royal events
Chris Evans – Social Anxiety
Jim Carrey – Depression
Why it is important to be aware of your client’s mental health disorders? Because what they are dealing with affects the way they see life, you, threats, others, etc. Just by simply being aware, you enable yourself to make the necessary adjustments in how you approach them, interact with them, and how you provide services to them. Imagine the client who goes into a full panic attack when walking through and dealing with crowds or the client who suffers from dementia and you have to introduce yourself for the 100th time.
Although we highly emphasize the importance of creating and maintaining a medical profile for your client and keeping the involved agents apprised of this information, not many companies practice this. Until you are informed about a disorder or medical malady by your supervisor, predecessor, or the client himself, it may take you quite some time with dedicated personal observation and study to discover what you are dealing with. Again, do your due diligence to find out what the condition is or may be. If you can consult with a therapist, do so while always maintaining the utmost discretion and confidentiality. In a case where this may not be possible, an easy way to find more information is by using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the handbook used by healthcare professionals as a guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. The book contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. However, as with “Googling” your symptoms on the internet, one must be very careful of how to use this handbook and the information it contains.
How you approach your clients who may suffer from mental health disorders is very important and can help by creating a healthy relationship and a positive protective detail while avoiding conflicts and awkward or embarrassing events.
These are some key points to have in mind:
During a crisis moment, pause, stand back, and assess the situation before approaching. What you see on the initial approach may not be as it appears.
Be careful with your tone, speak slowly and in a calm manner. You, your tone, and your body language have an enormous effect on the situational outcome.
If need be, introduce yourself again, explain why you are there and ask how you can be of assistance.
If they appear disoriented, reassure them, remaining calm yourself. This will have a drastic effect on their mental status as well.
Listen to what they would like and respect their wishes if possible.
Do not rush them, create space and give them their time.
Make sure you are providing a quiet and discreet place for them, if needed, kindly request that all other people present exit to allow them a few minutes of quiet.
Remain calm and have patience. Listen, don’t speak…Sometimes a willing ear is all that is required to assist in a peaceful outcome.
Try to identify the cause of their respective triggers and reduce any noise levels and confusion.
Keeping their triggers in mind, always take appropriate measures while traveling or attending events to eliminate awkward moments or embarrassing circumstances.
Know your limits and recognize the difference between what you feel comfortable handling and when it is time to ask for a professional intervention.
Never forget, you are NOT their therapist but their Executive Protection agent, concerned about their wellbeing.
If you are interested to learn more and being more prepared, there are many Psychological First Aid or Intervention to Crisis classes available online.
Dealing with someone who has physical disabilities or mental health disorders is no easy task, no matter how well-prepared you are, and especially when you are facing it from the aspect of an Executive Protection agent. However, when you have done your due diligence, sharpened your client awareness skills, and made all the required and necessary preparations, you can achieve calmer details with very few calamities and avoid unneeded conflicts and give your client security, confidence, and peace of mind.
Understanding that the people you interact with, provide assistance to or the very person you are directly protecting, is in pain, stressed, fearful, angry or extremely confused, etc, and being able to recognize these moments and have a plan of how to deal with it properly, will help to soothe these anxious and difficult behaviors at the earliest possible stage providing a stable, professional platform from which to provide services.
AUS Global Special Services Travel Team
Managing Partner LeMareschal LLC
Denida Zinxhiria Grow
Founder & CEO
Managing Partner LeMareschal LLC