Research Article: PTSD, STS and Job Field Conflict

Updated: Mar 20

"Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all." - Dale Carnegie

As our world faces the challenges & repercussions of wars, natural disasters and other socio-cultural tribulations, post-traumatic stress disorder becomes a more pressing issue for many people.  The Mayo Clinic defines Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event, leading to symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.  Anyone can suffer from PTSD, and although it is common among soldiers and people who live among war-torn areas, ordinary people can be affected as well. Car accidents, a tragic loss of a loved one, or a near-death experience are a few examples of incidents that can set PTSD in motion. 

Because PTSD can severely affect cognitive and emotional functions, it is important to consider PTSD in relevance to peacekeeping issues. International and domestic "peace workers" that encounter various job field trauma can be at risk from suffering PTSD symptoms. Humanitarian workers, nurses, paramedics, social workers, aid workers are amongst those who face PTSD-related challenges, and it can inevitably affect their performance and moral. A study released in 2008 examined the relationships between burnout, job satisfaction (compassion satisfaction), secondary traumatic stress (compassion fatigue), and distress in 53 Sudanese and international aid workers in Darfur (mean age = 31.6 years)" (Musa & Hamid, 2018). Results found worker burnout was high due to stress, second traumatic stress (STD) and compassion capabilities were affected by stress. "It was concluded that certain conditions might increase aid workers' psychological suffering and relief organizations need to create positive work climates through equipping aid workers with adequate training, cultural orientation, and psychological support services" (Figley, 2015).

Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) has been used to describe a secondary trauma experience and is a categorized as a direct form of PTSD--it can apply to domestic and international situations alike. The term PTSD has been used to refer to those traumatized by various types of traumatic events and can be described as the following:

"The essential feature of post-traumatic stress disorder is the development of characteristic symptoms following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor involving direct personal experience of an event that involves threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or other threat to one's physical integrityor witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another personor learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family" (Figley, 2015).

The latter part of the description emphasizes that people can suffer trauma without enduring actual physical harm or even direct threat; STS has been used to describe this secondary trauma experience. "What is missing [in traumatology literature] is a conceptual accounting of how and why people not directly at risk in traumatic situations nevertheless can become traumatized-that knowing and especially treating someone who is traumatized is the systemic connector that links the traumatic feelings and emotions of the primary to the secondary 'victims'" (Figley, 2015). Various peace workers, whether in the field or office, are at risk of suffering from STS, which can potentially affect their ability to give care to post-conflict communities and survivors.

Although it isn’t realistic to assign psychologists or mental health professionals to support all workers and cases, there are tangible and accessible treatment methods that can help manage STS symptoms. Complementary and alternative methods have been reported to be beneficial for veterans who suffer from PTSD--these studies can potentially give insights and provide further research opportunities on how the same treatments could apply to STS cases. "A 2015 preliminary study revealed that Brief Mindfulness Training (BMT) in veterans decreased PTSD more significantly than basic Primary Care (PC) treatment" (Possemato et al., 2015).  Another eight-week study offered Integrative Restoration (iRest) veteran classes at a San Francisco community health agency. "The 11 (veteran) participants who completed the study reported reduced rage, anxiety, and emotional reactivity, and increased feelings of relaxation, peace, self-awareness, and self-efficacy, despite challenges with mental focus, intrusive memories, and other concerns; all participants reported they would have attended ongoing iRest classes at the agency approximately once per week" (Stankovic, 2011).

Overall, more research is needed in regards to PTSD, STS, and complimentary alternative medicine. While gaining a better understanding of STS cases and treatments, we can obtain further insights into PTSD impacts on international and domestic communities. Furthermore, we can offer new support tools for those who suffer from PTSD symptoms and optimistically strengthen their respective job fields.


Musa, Salif Ali, and Abdalla Hamid. "PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS AMONG AID WORKERS OPERATING IN DARFUR." Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal36, no. 3 (2006). Accessed November 9, 2018. doi:10.5860/choice.43sup-0016.

Figley, Charles R. Compassion Fatigue: Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatized. New York: Routledge, 2015, p. 4

Figley, Charles R., and Charles R. Figley. Compassion Fatigue: Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatized. New York: Routledge, 2015, p. xvi.

Possemato, Kyle, Dessa Bergen-Cico, Scott Treatman, Christy Allen, Michael Wade, and Wilfred Pigeon. "A Randomized Clinical Trial of Primary Care Brief Mindfulness Training for Veterans With PTSD." Journal of Clinical Psychology72, no. 3 (2015): 179-93. doi:10.1002/jclp.22241.

Stankovic, L. "Transforming Trauma: A Qualitative Feasibility Study of Integrative Restoration (iRest) Yoga Nidra on Combat- Related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF YOGA THERAPY, No. 21 (2011): 23-37. Accessed November 9, 2018.

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