PhD research to reduce PTSD in emergency workers


PhD research to reduce PTSD in emergency workers

Research by Charles Sturt University PhD student Reverend Mark Layson will explore using a ‘bio-psycho-social-spiritual’ model to reduce post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in emergency first responders.

  • A new Charles Sturt University study aims to empower individuals, organisations and pastoral carers with new ways to prevent, lessen and heal moral injuries and distress in traumatised emergency workers
  • The study will examine how theological insights when incorporated in pastoral and psychological practice could increase healing of those suffering trauma exposure
  • NSW Centre for Work Health and Safety will use research insights to support first responder in the workplaces

Rev Layson (pictured, with rescue dog Wallace) is an Anglican volunteer chaplain with NSW Ambulance and is studying with St Mark’s National Theological Centre in the Charles Sturt School of Theology in Canberra.

The research is funded by the NSW Government’s Centre for Work Health and Safety as part of its ‘Changing World of Work’ program.

Rev Layson said his study aims to empower individuals, organisations and pastoral carers to consider new ways to prevent and heal moral injuries and lessen moral distress in emergency workers who are exposed to trauma.

“The negative effects of excessive trauma exposure in first responders is a growing concern,” Rev Layson said.

“Over the last 40 years, the response to trauma exposure has utilised a bio-psycho-social model that has largely ignored the religious and spiritual elements and has too narrowly focussed on the impact of exposure to specific physical traumas.

“The result is that, over the years, PTSD has increasingly become the common diagnostic path walked by those exposed to traumatic events.”

Rev Layson’s background as a police officer, firefighter and ambulance chaplain gives him an inside view of this world, and he believes that good theology is not only truthful, it is useful.

“When theological insights are incorporated in pastoral and psychological practice there is great hope for increased healing of those suffering after trauma exposure,” he said.

“My research takes a new direction to include religious/spiritual (R/S) contributions and pastoral elements in a bio-psycho-social-spiritual (BPSS) model.

“Secondly, the research uses the inclusion of R/S to examine moral injury (MI) and parallel concepts that look at the larger moral and relational matrix in which the experience of trauma occurs.

“MI has been described as leaving ‘lasting psychological, biological, spiritual, behavioural and social impacts’.

“Numerous studies have only confirmed the view that R/S must be taken into account when dealing with the MI dimension that is related to PTSD.”

Rev Layson’s research is titled ‘Utilising a ‘bio-psycho-social-spiritual’ model to minimise the harmful effects of moral infractions associated with trauma exposure in first responder communities’.

It is just one of the Centre for Work Health and Safety projects focussed on reducing workplace psychological harm in NSW.

“The Centre became involved through its desire to fund innovative research into the workplace injuries of the future,” Rev Layson said.

“My research was funded under the Centre’s ‘Changing World of Work’ partnerships program through a competitive process.

“The Centre’s strong preventative emphasis and research capacity makes this partnership capable of applying the insights into first responder workplaces for immediate good.” 
Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Rev Mark Layson contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or via

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