Background: Ambulance personnel, as well as other emergency services like fire-fighters or the police force, are regularly confronted with experiences of extreme psychological distress and potentially traumatizing events in the line of their daily duties. As a consequence, this occupational group is exposed to an elevated risk of developing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSS). Subsequently, symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress have been observed as potentially co-occurring with Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) in ambulance personnel as well. Therefore, in this study we hypothesized that Sense of Coherence (SOC) might play an important role as an underlying feature in enabling growth after stressful experiences in Austrian ambulance personnel. Methods: In this study, voluntary and full-time ambulance personnel (n = 266) of the Austrian Red Cross ambulance service completed an online survey including the Sense of Coherence Scale (SOC-29), the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) and the Impact of Event Scale Revised (IES-R) for the assessment of PTSS. In line with theoretical considerations, a two-step cluster analysis limited to four clusters and further ANOVAs were conducted. Results: Four clusters were confirmed and labelled PTSS-low/PTG-low, PTSS-low/PTG-high, PTSS-high/PTG-high and PTSS-high/PTG-low. Further ANOVAs revealed substantial cluster differences in SOC, with higher SOC-levels in PTSShigh/PTG-high than in PTSS-high/PTG-low (p < .01), in PTSS-low/PTG-high than in PTSS-low/PTG-low (p < .01) and in PTSS-low/PTG-high than in PTSS-high/PTG-low (p < .01).
Conclusions: Our findings point to a significant association between SOC and the development of PTG in ambulance personnel. Furthermore, the results suggest that growth and stress after critical incidents are independent from each other and can co-exist. Therefore, promoting SOC (e.g., meaningfulness) in ambulance personnel –e.g., through psychological interventions – might preserve and enhance psychological health after critical incidents.