Date of Award

Spring 2-14-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)


Graduate Department of Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Kathleen Gathercoal, PhD

Second Advisor

Luanne Foster, PsyD

Third Advisor

Mike Vogal, PsyD


Given the ubiquitous experience of trauma among first responders, there is a critical need to understand the traits that contribute to resilience in experiencing traumatic events. Strength of identity is associated with resilience in several meaningful life events including negative peer review, adjustment to significant change, and recovering from depression or anxiety (Kim & Choi, 2013). There is a scarcity of research that has examined ego strength as a trait that contributes to trauma resilience. The aim of this study was to explore the relationship between ego strength and the experience of trauma among veteran first responders (including, paramedics, firefighters, police, and emergency room doctors). This qualitative work seeks to understand first responders experience of trauma and to understand those experiences through the lens of ego strength. Methods. Qualitative research based upon interpretive phenomenological analysis. Twelve subjects are interviewed who are veteran first responders with at least 10 years of continuous employment. The interviews are conducted using a semi structured format with 10 prepared questions. Results. The research undertaken to understand ego strength and the experience of first responders developed into two distinct studies. The first study was in response to data uncovered during our interviews that revealed a high rate of post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among respondents. The second study undertook the original intention of this research effort, to explore ego strength and its relationship to trauma resilience. Discussion. The high rate of PTSD symptoms among these respondents was explored through the lens of narrative psychology and a theory of the trauma they experienced was developed called traumatic entropy. Ego plasticity and flexibility was identified as a priori traits for first responders to survive highly stressful and traumatic environments without psychic injury. Rigidity of ego and incoherent self narratives were identified as predictors of PTSD. Ego strength played an important role in maintaining plasticity and flexibility of the ego and meaning making systems that placed traumatic events on larger contexts that individual failures and triumphs was described by respondents as critical for resilience.