Without Emotional Armor: A Phenomenological Study of Traumatic Work Stress Among Female Law Enforcement Officers



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Law enforcement work includes responding to difficult crime scenes, often proves hazardous and stressful, and the possibility of harm is inherent to a job ranked high by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018) for most on-the-job injuries. Male and female officers have different experiences, coping skills, and somatic responses and do not react to trauma in a universal way. This study utilizes a transcendental phenomenological approach to highlight the shared experiences of female officers regarding traumatic work stress. There is a paucity of research on traumatic work stress and female officers are often under-represented in empirical studies of police work. An intent of this study was to add to qualitative research on policing and the perceptions of traumatic work stress, especially to give voice to female police officers’ experiences. Other goals of the study were: (1), to provide a greater understanding of traumatic work stress experienced by female officers; (2), to identify sources of coping with traumatic work stress for female law enforcement officers; (3), to explore how traumatic work stress for female officers is experienced somatically; and (4), to inform and better prepare counseling clinicians who work with female officers. Themes and subthemes emerged to address these goals: Culture of Traumatic Work Stress; Personal Identity Connected to Law Enforcement Roles; Proving One’s Self; Cumulative Effects of Traumatic Work Stress with a subtheme of Hardened Personality and Numbing of Emotions; Work-life Balance; Agency Leadership Contributing to Traumatic Work Stress; Public Perception; Changing Roles or Leaving Law Enforcement; Importance of Support Systems with subthemes of Family and Partner, Peers and Friends, and Mental Health Services; and Somatic Experiences.



Police, Law enforcement, Female officers, Traumatic work stress, First responders, Qualitative, Phenomenology, Counseling, Support systems, Somatic experiencing, Public perception, Work-life balance, Coping, Burnout, Police culture