Explain the difference between stress theory and crisis theory as it pertains to first responders (firefighters, police, paramedics, etc.) after trauma.

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Stress theory and crisis theory both relate to how first responders cope with the biological and psychological demands of their job responsibilities. Both theories help us understand how emergency workers and law enforcement respond to extreme stress in the line of duty.

Both theories differ in terms of focus. While stress theory emphasizes how societal support systems and personal characteristics alleviate stress in first responders, crisis theory highlights the factors that induce stress reactions in those responders as well as the results of ineffective coping mechanisms. 

Proponents of stress theory recognize the effects of ongoing stress on first responders. Current theories also recognize the differing male and female responses to this type of stress or allostatic load (the continued wear-and-tear on the biological and psychological resources of first responders). While men tend towards fight-or-flight responses to stress, women harness the power of community support systems to manage acute stress. Proponents of this theory also acknowledge the role personal efficacy or self-sufficiency plays in alleviating high stress levels. 

Meanwhile, proponents of crisis theory highlight the core characteristics of a crisis:

  • The first responder experiences extreme stress when he/she is faced with sudden, unpreventable tragedy (such as the accidental but violent death of a child or domestic pet).
  • A crisis occurs when the first responder has few emotional resources to process the tragedy.
  • Crisis-level reactions can only be sustained for short periods (from a day to a month at most).
  • A first responder in a state of crisis may resort to dangerous or harmful coping behavior such as suicide or violence towards others.

Crisis theory also explores the effects of ineffective coping mechanisms: impaired sense of personal worth, diminished professional capacity, and inability to obtain comfort from interpersonal contacts.

Source: In the Line of Fire: Trauma in the Emergency Services by Cheryl Regehr and Ted Bober.