Trauma during humanitarian work: The effects on intimacy, wellbeing and PTSD-symptoms.

European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Niveen Riskalla & Steven P. Segal

Objective: This study of Syrian refugee aid-workers in Jordan examined work-stressors identified as secondary traumatic stress (STS), number of refugees assisted, worker feelings toward the organization, and their associations to PTSD-symptoms, wellbeing and intimacy. It also examined whether self-differentiation, physical health, and physical pain were associated with these variables.
Method: Syrian refugee aid-workers (N=317) in Jordan’s NGOs were surveyed. Univariate statistics and structural equation modeling (SEM) were utilized to test study hypotheses.
Results: Increased STS was associated with lower self-differentiation, decreased physical health and increased physical pain, as well as elevated PTSD-symptoms and decreased intimacy. Decreased connection to the NGO was associated with lower self-differentiation, decreased physical health, increased physical pain, and with decreased intimacy and wellbeing. Lower self-differentiation was associated with increased PTSD-symptoms, decreased wellbeing and intimacy. Elevated physical pain was associated with increased PTSD-symptoms, and decreased wellbeing. Diverse mediation effects of physical health, physical pain and self-differentiation were found among the study’s variables.
Conclusions: Aid-workers who assist refugees were at risk of physical and mental sequelae as well as suffering from degraded self-differentiation, intimacy and wellbeing. Organizations need to develop prevention policies and tailor interventions to better support their aid-workers while operating in such stressful fieldwork.

Keywords: Secondary traumatic stress; physical health and pain; intimacy; wellbeing; PTSD-symptoms, humanitarian work.

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