Lindis Haiti
Photo: Médecins Sans Frontières

Research has shown that humanitarian personnel can experience both personal and professional growth after deployment. However, this does not exclude the development of stress reactions and despair.

Humanitarian work is more a way of life than a job. I am soon going back out there, I just don’t know when it will happen or to which country.

Lindis Hurum, humanitarian aid coordinator, Médecins Sans Frontières

Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is a positive change after a traumatic experience. It isn’t always necessary for PTG to come after the psychological strain. Research indicates that there is a linear correlation between PTG and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Being traumatised is, however, not a requirement for experiencing growth after dramatic incidents. Personnel may experience pain and joy at the same time and struggle to understand that these feelings can coincide.

Humanitarian personnel may experience growth in the following areas:

  • Relationships, empathy and closeness
  • A sense that new opportunities and possibilities are opening up
  • Personal strength and coping skills
  • Deepening of spiritual life, increased sense of meaning
  • A greater appreciation for life in general

While working in disaster zones, personnel may experience this oscillation between stress and growth. They report despair and enrichment, hope in the midst of destruction, dispiritedness over the situation and the satisfaction of a job well done. Even doubt, ethical dilemmas and frustration over the pointless suffering can promote deeper reflection, a new search for meaning and positive life changes.