Posttraumatic stress disorder, ego defense mechanisms, and empathy among urban paramedics

Psychol Rep. 1996 Oct;79(2):483-95. doi: 10.2466/pr0.1996.79.2.483.


Although numerous studies have indicated that paramedics experience high occupational stress, there has been a lack of research addressing the mental health implications of this elevated stress on these emergency workers. Related constructs such as the coping mechanisms and personality characteristics of paramedics have also been neglected. Groups of experienced paramedics (n = 120) and paramedic students (n = 105) were, therefore, assessed for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, the extent and mode of ego defense utilization, and empathy. Analyses indicated that 20% of the experienced paramedics and 22% of the paramedic students appear to be suffering from trauma as measured by the MMPI-2 PK Scale. Denial and Repression scores were significantly high compared to normative samples for both groups, while Regression and Reaction Formation scores were significantly low. Both the paramedics and paramedic students had significantly low scores on Empathy. It is suggested that paramedics may be predisposed to these personality traits and that high denial and low empathy serve as functionally adaptive mechanisms in a chronically stressful work environment.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Allied Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Defense Mechanisms*
  • Denial, Psychological
  • Ego*
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • MMPI
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / diagnosis
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology*
  • Repression, Psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Urban Population*