Completed Research Projects

1. Knights in Shining Armor: A Phenomenological Exploration of the Experience of Trauma in Emergency Service Personnel and the Impact of Psychophysiological Deactivation (Zettl, 1998)

The experience of trauma in 14 firelighters, police officers, and paramedics was explored through a self-administered questionnaire and a semi-structured interview. The impact Psychophysiological Deactivation, a body-centered psychotherapy, was examined in those who continued in the study. Three psychological lenses were used to explicate the experience of trauma: archetypal, self psychological, and psychophysiological. A theme that emerged from the interviews is that the archetypal energy of the hero allows the emergency workers to do their jobs, which involve sacrifice, skill, strength, and courage. The role of emergency service workers provides a psychological armor which consists of assumptions about courage, helping, control, and protection. When a critical incident punctures the armor, making it difficult to stay in the role of rescuer, the workers are more likely to be traumatized. Several developmental themes emerged out of the interviews with the participants, whose childhood histories were strikingly traumatic and difficult. Working in the emergency services field can be seen as a recapitulation of derailments at mirroring and idealizing in childhood. The individuals in this study are more prone to develop PTSD not only because of their exposure to trauma but also because of their childhood histories. The experience of trauma was more deeply understood by exploring the psychophysiological symptoms which the participants were trying to manage consciously and unconsciously. These symptoms were categorized into the four constituents of a traumatic reaction: hyperarousal, constriction, dissociation/ and freezing response in association with the experience of helplessness. Psychophysiological Deactivation provided dramatic relief from the symptoms of PTSD for all but one of the participants. Most of the participants reported an improved ability to deal with stress both on and off the job, and to love and nurture their significant others. Approximately 80% of the participants noticed a decrease in mood swings, anxiety, amnesia, flashbacks, or intrusive imagery, and an increase in the ability to concentrate. (find dissertation through your library’s databases)

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