The Psychology of the Firefighter

Firefighters experience a steady onslaught of trauma and intense human emotion. Perilous flames, collapsing buildings, the anguish of burn victims. Explosions, automobile accidents, suicide attempts. Even terrorist attacks, dismemberment and death. Such harrowing events come with the territory of first responders.

It would seem that such repeated exposure to adversity must, over time, take a psychological toll, challenging even the most seasoned firefighters. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case. Contrary to our intuitions, studies find no consistent link between the extent of on-duty trauma experience and the eventual development of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Some firefighters cope poorly, while others with far more horrific experiences remain symptom free. Why would that be?

Something must be moderating the drumbeat of trauma for these fortunate ones, protecting them from its psychological ravages. But this something has been elusive. A team of psychological scientists in Israel has been exploring a novel idea that might illuminate this puzzling relationship. Einat Levy-Gigi of the University of Haifa, Gal Sheppes of Tel Aviv University, and several colleagues have been questioning an old notion about emotional regulation and PTSD. Traditional thinking holds that engagement–reappraising and making meaning out of bad experiences–is always an adaptive strategy, while —> Read More Here


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