Dealing with traumatic experiences at work

Workers facing trauma in healthcare, the railway industry and fire services are receiving training on dealing with their experiences from psychologists at the University of Strathclyde.

The training is aimed at people whose work exposes them to the risk of experiencing traumatic events. It offers advice and guidance on coping with the trauma and reducing the risk of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), as well as when to seek professional help.

The course is also designed to promote understanding of trauma, in a historical and psychological context.

The training was initially developed following an approach from railway union ASLEF and the psychologists have delivered more than 30 webinars to professionals in various industries in the past year.

Dr Nicola Cogan, Clinical Psychologist and Lecturer of Strathclyde’s School of Psychological Sciences and Health, said: “Someone dies under a train every 31 hours, on average. Many train drivers are exposed to this directly or indirectly, as are people working in CCTV and control systems.

“There is approximately a nine-year gap between someone experiencing a trauma and seeking help and people’s problems can often reach crisis point. They can become socially withdrawn and self-medicate with alcohol or drugs and it can have a real impact on their families as well. There can also be stress signs, such as places and sounds which make people feel like they’re experiencing past trauma in the here and now.

“We want to help people facing trauma to realise they are not 'losing their minds' and they can be supported. We also want to empower employers to look at their own mental health support services and to show employees what help is available for them.

“In our training, we provide background on the stigma which First World War veterans faced around mental health, leading to the most recent evidence-based understandings of trauma, post-traumatic growth and mental health.”

The training, which was an initial pilot funded by Scottish Union Learning, was developed in collaboration and consultation with the railway industry. This included interviews with railway drivers who have experienced having a person under a train. It has also since been adapted and developed with the Fire Service.

Dr Liza Morton, Counselling Psychologist and Guest Lecturer in the School of Psychological Sciences and Health, said: “There is a lot of misconception about trauma and PTSD and we want to promote better understanding, along with strategies for preventing the development of serious mental health problems and when and how to seek support if more serious mental health difficulties develop”.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the psychologists have adapted this training for Health and Social Care workers to support mental health and trauma-informed practice during the pandemic, funded by UNISON. They have also been engaged in research exploring the impact of COVID-19 on the mental wellbeing of health and social care workers. This work has been in partnership with Dr Gillian MacIntyre, Senior Lecturer in Social Work and Social Policy.

Dr Cogan said: “We’ve also done an online survey, which over 2000 health and social care workers in Scotland have responded to. We believe the findings from this work will help inform policy and practice to better support staff mental wellbeing.”

Information on the training can be obtained from Dr Cogan.