Traumatology, Vol. 8, No. 4 (December 2002)
Victim Perspective of Bank Robbery Trauma and Recovery
Celeste A. Jones1
This study examines an expanded debriefing model used with bank robbery victims. The
model provides organizational consultation before a trauma and aids recovery after the
incident through individual assessment and organizational support. Victims’ perspective
of the bank robbery, the recovery process, and satisfaction with the intervention was
studied. Although victims’ stated their functioning level stabilized with a supportive
organization environment, continued efforts must be made to explore effective assistance
in dealing with traumatic workplace-related events.
Key Words: bank robbery victims, organizational consultation, trauma, organizational
support, recovery process, workplace-related trauma
Businesses and government increasingly recognize the impact of workplace
violence and trauma on occupational injury. Trauma in the workplace refers to events
such as industrial accidents, crimes, or personnel injuries and illnesses that occur in the
workplace and expose the employee to an unexpected crisis (Lewis, 1993). Trauma
responses can vary in severity, duration, and recovery.
House (1981) reports that a great deal of research in organizational psychology
and sociology suggests that social support can reduce occupational stress, enhance health,
and buffer the impact of occupational trauma. Resources are vital under ordinary
circumstances; they are especially important under conditions of stress. What’s more,
Hobfoll (1988) believes that traumatic stress is especially devastating due to the rapid
loss of supportive resources that follow the trauma event. Although support from
outside the work environment is important to the recovery process, work-related sources
of support including work supervisors and co-workers can also be effective in reducing
the stress and trauma experienced at the workplace (House, 1981).
Although workplace trauma among bank employees is not a new phenomenon,
there is limited literature specifically about bank robberies. Most of the literature
concerning bank robberies is discussed incidentally in the context of armed robbery
victims. Employee victims of bank robbery trauma have received little or no direct
attention. These employees may suffer the additional stress and trauma associated with
repeated exposure to workplace triggers and cues. The potential importance of the
physical environment as a cuing source for past memories and emotions has been studied
extensively (Smith & Vela, 2001). Although there is a consensus in the literature that all
armed robbery victims have some psychological reaction to the event, there is little
agreement concerning the impact, long-term symptomology, and recovery process
(Bamber, 1992; Wakefield, 1993).
Assistant Professor of Social Work at California State University, Chico, School of
Social Work. She can be reached at (530) 898 – 6874; email: email@example.com.
192 Victim Perspective
Traumatic Stress Interventions
A posttraumatic stress debriefing is a therapeutic intervention designed to prevent
or reduce negative long-term psychological consequences. Raphael, Wilson, Meldrum,
and McFarlane (1996) discuss the expansion of debriefing to include three distinct
debriefing protocols: one that is “didactic” or “teaching,” and two that are
“psychological” or “therapeutic.” Although the different approaches have distinct
emphasis and goals, they are not mutually exclusive and occur within 12-48 hours after
the traumatic event. The didactic debriefing process involves a more informational,
rather than therapeutic approach and includes education about stress, ways to recognize
it, and techniques of self-management. This approach is seen as preparatory to receiving
counseling. Dunning’s model (1988) is an example of this type of debriefing process
where the focus is on victim education of typical traumatic stress responses and on
strategies that can be used to help regulate stress. This model does not focus on the
therapeutic process or disclosure as a component of recovery.
Psychological debriefing focuses on emotional ventilation suggesting that a
catharsis promotes the healing process. This type of debriefing also involves a discussion
of the signs and symptoms of a stress response. One version of psychological debriefing
is Mitchell’s (1983) Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) which, in a group setting,
provides education about typical trauma responses and coping strategies, and allows
individuals to process their individual responses to the traumatic event. The purpose of
this debriefing is to encourage participants to discuss and ventilate intense emotions,
explore symbolic meanings in the event, generate group support, and initiate the grief
process. Mitchell’s recent work has expanded CISD to include psychologically based
support services, “defusing” sessions which are shorter and less structured, and follow-up
counseling and other services (Mitchell & Dyregrov, 1993; Raphael, Wilson, Meldrum,
& McFarlane, 1996).
An alternative and more comprehensive debriefing intervention developed by L.
Bergmann1 is used with employee victims and managerial staff following a traumatic
event in a workplace (personal communication, May 28, 1998). This enhanced
debriefing model (EDM) incorporates a structured, time-limited group-based intervention
much like CISD, but places special attention on work-place support in the recovery
process. Another unique aspect of this model is its’ emphasis is on consultation and
training of managers before an incident occurs. In this way, management can be aware of
the roles that environment and organizational structure plays in modulating employee
stress responses. With consultation and training before the trauma, an organization can
operationalize a supportive mentality and prepare for employee reactions to trauma.
Designed to address conditions of risk created by the incident, EDM differs from
other debriefing techniques. In addition to addressing the needs of the individuals
exposed to the trauma, EDM focuses attention on the environmental context before and
after the trauma. This is accomplished by providing an appraisal of workplace support
and making suggestions designed to increase organizational cohesiveness, especially
during the critical moments immediately following the trauma. For instance, EDM may
help the managerial staff of an organization identify possible non-supportive aspects of
the work environment that may interfere with victim recovery. The importance of work
environment support in the recovery process is emphasized to the organization through
on-going consultation with human resource directors and managers. Since much of the
consultation occurs before any critical incident, managers and human resource directors
are ready to respond supportively to employees when traumatic incidents occur.
Trauma symptoms can manifest mental health disturbances that influence
physical, social, emotional, and mental functioning level. The duration of symptoms and
associated impairment of functioning can be short-term (under 6 months), long-term (7
months or greater), or delayed. Symptoms that continue over three months may warrant a
diagnosis of adjustment disorder. If the symptoms remain for over six months, the
individual is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (American
Psychology Association, 1994).
Traumatic encounters confront an individual with experiences completely
different from what would normally be experienced in everyday life. Following a
traumatic event, many people suffer from intrusive thoughts about what has happened
(McFarlane, 1992). Furthermore, the personal meaning of the traumatic experience
evolves over time. Personal meaning often involves negative feelings such as anger, loss,
betrayal, and helplessness. For some, however, personal meaning may evolve into a
renewed appreciation of their lives (Lyons, 1991) and even for the organization in which
Treatment of traumatic stress is concentrated on alleviating acute and chronic
symptoms. Support from friends, family, co-workers, supervisors, and others can all play
a role in the recovery process and enhance the functioning level (House, 1981). Susser,
Herman, and Aaron (2002) studied trauma recovery from the September 11, 2001 attack
on the World Trade Center. They reported that a sense of community, trusted leadership,
and social cohesion strengthened individuals and assisted in their recovery from
Although many recipients of debriefing interventions report that counseling
following a traumatic event assists the recovery process, the current body of knowledge
offers little empirical evidence from outcome studies that suggest how best to treat
traumatic stress responses. Rose and Bisson (1998) indicate that given the lack of
effectiveness research, continued use of early psychological interventions without
evidence of its utility is problematic. They argue that research in this area should focus
on the type of stressor itself (the trauma), the host, and the quality of environmental
Bank Robbery Trauma. When exposed to a bank robbery, an employee victim
can often experience a traumatic response. A unique aspect of bank robbery trauma is
that it occurs at the workplace, where employees ordinarily feel reasonably safe.
Although this traumatic event occurs in the workplace, the response is similar to other
traumatic events and can lead to victims experiencing significant levels of post-traumatic
stress (Harrison & Kinner, 1998).
The response to workplace trauma is similar to other traumatic events with respect
to feeling threatened, unprotected, helpless, and frightened. However, by returning to the
same environment where the trauma took place, bank robbery victims can experience a
continued level of psychological stress well after the incident. Leymann (1985) found 5-
8% of bank robbery victims experienced psychological stress symptoms 6 months
194 Victim Perspective
following the event, while Tunnecliffe and Green (1986) reported that 11 out of 16 armed
robbery victims had clinical conditions up to 2 years following the event. In a recent
study of armed robbery victims, Harrison and Kinner (1998) found that even after 6
months the armed robbery victims were still experiencing significant levels of post-
Given the paucity of research in this area, this study explored aspects of an
enhanced debriefing intervention with bank robbery victims. Subsequent to EDM, all
victims were assessed from 0 -12 months after a bank robbery and on exposure levels,
trauma symptoms, general social anxiety following the bank robbery, and satisfaction
with the quality of the intervention.
Procedure and Sample
A bank in the southern part of the United States that contracted for EDM services
participated in the study. The sample was divided into two groups—those who were
victims of a bank robbery (victim participant group) and those who were employed at the
bank for at least six months but not exposed to a bank robbery (non-victim participant
group). All employees working the day of the robbery in the branch bank or the bank
headquarters that dealt with customers in everyday operations and were exposed to a
bank robbery were considered potential victim participants.
A list of the branch banks that had experienced a robbery within the past 12
months was generated. All victim participants had experienced an enhanced debriefing
intervention. The researcher visited each branch bank before their workday began or at
the end of the workday. The researcher discussed the purpose of this study and
questionnaire packets were distributed to volunteers. Everyone was informed that two
movie ticket passes were included in each packet, and the use of the pass was not
dependent on the packet being returned.
Participants were asked to complete the questionnaire packet within 48-hours of
receiving the packet and mail the self-addressed stamped packet back to the researcher.
Distributed were 86 instrument packets, 43 victim and 43 non-victim, at 13 branch
banking offices. A total of 51 instrument packets were returned during the data
collection period, 27 victim packets and 24 non-victim packets from all 13 branches. The
victim response rate was 63% and the non-victim response rate was 59%.
Victims were asked to report the date they were exposed to a bank robbery within
the last 12 months. Victim response packets were grouped into one of three time
categories depending upon the date of their robbery. There were seven (25.9%) victim
response packets grouped in the less than 3 month category (Group 1), ten (37.0%) in the
3 to 6 months category (Group 2) and ten (37.0%) in the 7 to 12 months category (Group
3). Table 1 summarizes the major demographic characteristics for the entire sample.
Frequencies and Percentages of the Demographic Characteristics of the Sample
All Victims Non-Victim
Variable N (%) N (%) N (%)
51 (100) 27 (52.9) 24 (47.1)
Female 42 (82.4) 20 (74.1) 22 (91.7)
Male 9 (17.6) 7 (25.9) 2 (8.3)
18-20 2 (3.9) 2 (8.3)
21-24 13 (25.5) 8 (29.7) 5 (20.8)
25-29 8 (15.7) 4 (14.8) 4 (16.7)
30-34 11 (21.6) 5 (18.5) 6 (25.0)
35-39 11 (21.6) 7 (25.9) 4 (16.7)
40-44 5 (9.8) 3 (11.1) 2 (8.3)
44 and older 1 (1.9) 1 (4.2)
African American 13 (25.5) 6 (22.2) 7 (29.2 )
AI/NA/AN 2 (3.9) 1 (8.3)
Asian/Pacific Islander 1 (2.0) 1 (3.7)
Hispanic 2 (3.9) 2 (7.4)
Non-Hispanic White 30 (58.8) 16 (59.3) 14 (58.3)
Other 3 (5.9) 2 (7.4) 1 (4.2)
Manager 9 (17.6) 8 (29.6) 1 (4.2)
Non- Manager 42 (82.4) 19 (70.4) 23 (95.8)
Note. AI/NA/AN = American Indian/Native American/Alaskan Native.
Exposure Questionnaire. Since no measure was available, an exposure
questionnaire was created. Nine questions about specific details of the bank robbery
were included. These items whether the individual saw the robbery, was in the same
room with the robber, was able to identify the robber, felt threatened by the robber, saw a
weapon, believed they or someone else could have been harmed, felt helpless or fearful,
was touched by the robber, or was physically injured. All of the questions had a “yes” or
“no” response. The “no” answers were scored as zero and the “yes” answers scored as
one. The number of “yes” responses determined the total score, with a higher score
representing a higher level of exposure.
Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-R). The Impact of Event Scale-Revised
(IES-R) is a general indicator of stress associated with traumatic events (Horowitz, Field,
& Classen, 1993). The 22-item self-report scale assesses the experience of post-traumatic
stress for a specific event that has occurred. The higher the score, the more symptoms
196 Victim Perspective
the individual is experiencing (Horowitz et al., 1993). Newman, Kaloupek, and Keane
(1996) reported that the IES-R is the most widely used instrument for assessing PTSD
related symptoms across several trauma samples. Fischer and Corcoran (1996) indicated
that the IES-R was an appropriate measure for monitoring an individual’s progress in
treatment. The IES-R measures three domains of response to traumatic stress: (1)
intrusive phenomena; (2) avoidance and numbing phenomena, and; (3) hyperarousal
phenomena. Reliability for the IES subscales is very positive. The internal consistency
for the subscales has coefficients ranging from .70 to .90 (Horowitz, Wilner, & Alvarez,
1979). Validity has been supported through significant sensitivity and difference to
change over the course of treatment (Zilberg, Weiss, & Horowitz, 1982).
Social Avoidance and Distress Scale (SAD). The Social Avoidance and Distress
Scale (SAD) is a 28-item unidimensional scale assessing two aspects of anxiety - feelings
of distress and discomfort and avoidance of social interactions (Fischer & Corcoran,
1996). Reliability using Kuder-Richardson Formula produced a correlation of .94,
internal consistency had a correlation of .77, and test-retest reliability with two samples
yielded correlations of .69 and .79 (Watson & Friend, 1969). This scale is a measure of
general anxiety rather than specific types of anxiety such as phobias. Evidence of
known-group validity was reported by Fischer and Corcoran (1996).
Client Satisfaction Questionnaire (CSQ-8). The CSQ-8 is an eight-item measure
that is used to assess client satisfaction with services (Larsen, Attkisson, Hargreaves, &
Nguyen, 1979). The CSQ-8 yields a global measure of the client’s perception of the
general value of the services. Scores can range from 8 to 32, with higher scores
indicating greater satisfaction (Larsen et al., 1979). The CSQ-8 has been tested with a
variety of populations and ethnic groups (Fischer & Corcoran, 1996). Larsen et al.
(1979) reported the reliability for the CSQ-8 yielded internal consistency alpha scores
ranging from .86 to .94. Concurrent validity was reported as good when comparing client
rating to therapist rating of client progress (Larsen et al., 1979).
Open-ended Questions. The qualitative part of the questionnaire was three open-
ended questions. One question asked participants to describe the bank robbery
experience. Another question asked participants to comment on how their life had
changed since the robbery. The third asked what it was about the help you received that
assisted you in your recovery.
The Exposure Questionnaire (EQ) has a possible total score range of 0 to 10. The
total score was the overall total of “yes” responses the individual reported. Participants’
scores on the EQ ranged from 1 to 8 with a mean of 5.93 and a standard deviation of
2.35. Scores on the EQ did not approach the maximum possible score of 9, but 37% of
the victims reported a score of 8 and 18.5% reported a score of 7. There were victim
participants from all three time periods—less than 3 month category (Group 1), 3 to 6
months category (Group 2) and 7 to 12 months category (Group 3)—that reported having
an exposure score of 8. A total of 74% of the victims reported a score of 5 or above,
indicating that the majority of victim participants experienced moderate to high levels of
traumatic exposure. Across the three groups the average exposure did not vary
significantly (Group 1= 6.71, Group 2 = 5.30, and Group 3 = 5.89). Frequencies and
percentages of the EQ are presented in Table 2.
Frequencies and Percentages of the Exposure Questionnaire (EQ) Totals
EQ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
(N) (N) (N) (N) (N)(N) (N) (N)
% % % % % % % %
Group 1 (1) (1)(1) (4)
Group 2 (1) (1) (2) (1) (2) (3)
3.7% 3.7% 7.4% 3.7% 7.4% 11.1%
Group 3 (1) (1) (1) (1) (3) (3)
3.7% 3.7% 3.7% 3.7% 11.1% 11.1%
Group (2) (1) (3) (1) (2) (3) (5) (10)
Total 7.4% 3.7% 11.1% 3.7% 7.4% 11.1% 18.5% 37.0%
Note. Group 1 = less than 3 month category, Group 2 = 3 to 6 months category and
Group 3 = 7 to 12 months category.
Impact of Event Scale-Revised
The IES-R scores for the sample group ranged from 22 to 82, with a mean of
46.48 for victims (SD = 18.45) and 25.25 for non-victims (SD = 5.65). Compared to the
non-victim group (p < .002), all three victim groups reported moderately high levels of
traumatic stress symptomology (see Table 3). Though significantly greater than the non-
victim group, victim group comparisons did not vary significantly.
Social Avoidance and Distress Scale
Scores ranged from 0 to 12 for the sample. The victim group (all 3 victim groups
combined) had a mean of 13.96 (SD = 2.23) and the non-victim group had a mean of
13.85 (SD = 1.75). There were also no differences between the three victim groups. All
groups reported similar levels of social anxiety and group scores did not approach the
Overall the groups had mean scores above the midpoint of 20 on a scale of 8 to 32
(Mean = 22.33; SD = 7.00). Over 70 % of the participants responded above 20 on
satisfaction with EDM services. Mean and standard deviations for each group are
presented in Table 4. Group 1 reported higher satisfaction than the other groups. Groups
2 and 3 satisfaction scores did not vary.
198 Victim Perspective
Mean and Standard Deviations of Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-R)
Subscales and Social Avoidance and Distress Scale (SAD)
Level of Intrusion Avoidance Hyperarousal SAD
Group N Subscale Subscale Subscale
Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD
Group 1 7 15.71 6.26 16.85 6.87 14.43 4.99 13.71 1.50
Group 2 10 15.80 7.54 16.40 6.54 15.30 5.79 14.50 1.78
Group 3 10 15.70 6.85 16.50 7.32 12.90 6.54 13.20 1.87
Non-victims 24 8.03 2.28 8.92 1.79 8.25 2.15 14.00 2.19
Note. Group 1 = less than 3 month category, Group 2 = 3 to 6 months category and
Group 3 = 7 to 12 months category.
Mean and Standard Deviations for Client Satisfaction Questionnaire (CSQ-8)
Level of N CSQ-8
Group Mean SD Minimum Maximum
Group 1 7 25.00 8.756 10 32
Group 2 10 21.70 3.561 14 27
Group 3 10 21.10 8.373 8 32
Total 27 22.33 7.000 8 32
Note. Group 1 = less than 3 month category, Group 2 = 3 to 6 months category and
Group 3 = 7 to 12 months category.
A summary of the qualitative findings suggest that victims of a bank robbery feel
as though they have something important to say about the recovery process. The first
qualitative question asking the victims to describe the experience received only 11
responses; only 40.7% of the victims chose to write about their robbery experience. In
contrast, 24 (88.8%) of the responded to the two remaining questions that focused on
Among victims who chose to respond to Question 1, the most common
description of the experience was that it was frightening (63.6%; 7 out of 11). For
Question 2, about how life has changed, many victims felt the robbery had made them
more cautious, alert, suspicious and watchful (79.1%; 19 out of 24). Finally, the majority
of the victims indicated that offering EDM following the robbery and talking about the
experience during EDM assisted in their recovery (79.1%; 19 out of 24).
Group Differences in Open-Ended Question Responses
Different themes appeared for the open-ended responses for the various times in
each victim group. When asked to describe the experience most of the respondents in all
the groups chose not to respond to this question. All three Group 1 respondents focused
on describing the experience from a personal perspective, focusing on their feelings,
being frightened or angry. The three Group 2 participants that responded focused on the
facts of the robbery act, discussing what happened during the robbery. In the Group 3,
there was only one participant who chose to respond, focusing on both feelings and
details of the robbery, feeling “frightened as she lay on the floor during the robbery.”
With respect to question 2, what difference had the robbery made in their life, of
the three Group 1 participants who responded, one focused on feelings of fear, another on
a renewed appreciation for life, and the third stated that the robbery experience made no
difference. Nine of the ten Group 2 participants responded to this question. Two
respondents reported that little or no difference was made, but the remaining seven
participants seemed to reflect a heightened sense of awareness and cautiousness in their
responses. For instance, “I look at customers more closely...I look at each one of them as
a potential robber;” “I try to be more observant,” “The robbery has made me more
suspicious of others and a little more ‘on edge’.” All ten participants in Group 3
responded. Two reported that that the robbery made little or no difference in their lives.
The remaining eight participants focused on feelings of fear and paranoia. One wrote, “I
look around more before I get out of my car and before I walk to the bank door.”
Another said, “I am a totally changed person…I am somewhat paranoid and extremely
scared.” A third responded, “I feel more aware of each person that comes into my work
place. It is an experience I will never forget.”
Finally, with respect to question 3 concerning what helped in their recovery, five
of the seven Group 1 participants responded. All five reported that talking about the
incident helped them. Two added that learning their feelings was a normal response to
trauma reassured them that they were not “going crazy.” One Group 2 participant did
not respond to this question. Three others reported nothing they did nor any assistance
they received was helpful. Another stated, “I don’t believe that the reason I recovered is
because of assistance. I think it is merely a question of time.” The remaining five
participants felt that the social support they received and knowledge that others had
200 Victim Perspective
similar emotional reactions helped them in their recover. Three Group 3 participants said
“nothing” helped in their recovery. One other commented, “I failed to make
appointments to seek help. I paid / am paying for that dearly.” Two others reported that
simply knowing someone was available to talk with helped in their recovery. The
remaining four participants expressed the importance of social support in their recovery.
Very little research has been directed toward understanding trauma associated
with either bank robberies or workplace trauma in general. The unique aspect of
workplace trauma concerns the possibility of significant personal harm where daily safety
issues are generally not an issue. Moreover, victims of bank robberies often continue
functioning in the environment in which the trauma occurred. This might help account
for the persistence of stress-related trauma symptoms reported by victims in this study,
even when victims received debriefing and otherwise had social support available to
them. Victims in all groups reported moderately high levels of trauma exposure as well
as trauma-related stress symptoms. This confirms earlier findings of persistence of
symptomology after a year (e.g., Tunnecliffe & Green, 1986) and suggests that the
recovery process requires more than one debriefing session following the robbery event.
There was no difference among the groups on the SAD. This suggests that
trauma due to their bank robbery experience did not affect their general social anxiety.
The victim groups reported social avoidant behaviors similar to those in the non-victim
group. However, the qualitative data indicated that anxiety about interacting with
customers did arise after the robbery. This suggests an increase in their workplace
There were interesting differences between the groups with respect to the
qualitative questions asked. Group 1 participants were more satisfied with the debriefing
than participants in the other groups. This finding may be due to the fact that they had
experienced the trauma and the debriefing recently. Perhaps they were more focused on
having survived the trauma as opposed to daily safety issues. In addition, the
permanency of possible long-term symptomolgy had not had time to manifest. Group 1
tended to focus on their personal perspective and feelings when describing the
experience. The participants felt the robbery had made them more fearful or appreciative
of life and thought that what helped with the recovery process was talking about it or
knowing that what they felt was normal.
Group 2 participants were less satisfied with the intervention and focused more on
the facts and details of the robbery when asked to describe the experience. These
participants felt the robbery had made them more aware and cautious of their
surroundings. They felt that either social support or sharing their feelings with the group
was helpful. The Group 2 responses were in sharp contrast to the Group 1 responses.
Group 3 respondents were also less satisfied with the intervention and also
focused on feelings and facts about the robbery when describing the experience. These
participants indicated that the robbery has made them more fearful and paranoid. In
terms of recovery, several mentioned the importance of having social support and
knowing that there were professionals available. This is consistent with Leymann and
Lindell (1990) who reported that social support for armed robbery victims is crucial in
reducing post-trauma distress.
In general, participants became less satisfied with enhanced debriefing as a
function of time since initial trauma and debriefing. Moreover, employees in the long-
term victim group (over 6 mos.) continued to be symptomatic; all groups reported similar
trauma-related stress symptoms. Actual recovery time following work-related trauma
may require more than three months and perhaps even more than 12 months. In work-
place trauma, the victims return to the scene of the crime on a daily basis. This may help
explain why trauma-related symptomolgy persisted for even the 6 month post-trauma
group. Repeated and continued exposure to the trauma context may trigger or enhance
their feelings of fear and paranoia and thus interfere with the recovery process.
Implications for Practice
The qualitative findings suggest that both enhanced debriefing and the bank
organization provided some victims with valuable support for their recovery. The fact
that the debriefing discussion was able to enlighten the victims about the recovery
process, allow them to share their experiences, and help them begin to rebuild support
indicates that these aspects of enhanced debriefing was valuable for some victims.
Group1 respondents were most satisfied with enhanced debriefing. The other participants
may have been less satisfied with enhanced debriefing because they wanted or needed
follow-up sessions. The qualitative remarks and evidence that the trauma symptoms
continued to remain months following the robbery suggests that follow-up educational
and therapeutic intervention was necessary.
Overall, victim employees continued to attend work on a consistent basis,
reported minimal levels of general social anxiety, and their ability to interact and function
at work was not affected to a debilitating degree. Enhanced debriefing may have helped
some to stabilize their functioning level and regain their daily work activities, but longer-
term trauma symptoms persisted.
Enhanced debriefing includes preparation of key players in the workplace before
trauma occurs. In addition, enhanced debriefing encourages victims to process their
feelings with others and thus help them transition to a normal daily routine. This view
suggests that trauma recovery may involve different dimensions and that enhanced
debriefing may be best suited to help individuals make the transition from the traumatic
event to group stability and functioning. It may not, however, be particularly useful in
eliminating trauma symptoms. Though enhanced debriefing was beneficial to most
victims in the days following the bank robbery, this single session debriefing did not
ameliorate longer term symptomology. Perhaps there should be shift in how trauma
recovery is considered, such that it is expected that some victims may need more
recovery time and/or therapeutic intervention. Follow-up sessions up to a year or more
subsequent to the trauma may be necessary for some.
The findings also suggest that some of the instruments used did not capture other
aspects of trauma that victims experienced. It is apparent from the qualitative responses
that the victims did have a variety of reactions from the robbery and that the robbery had
made some difference in their life, yet the quantitative instruments were not sensitive
enough to measure these differences. The value of victim perspective and feedback about
the trauma and their recovery process could enhance future instrument development.
202 Victim Perspective
Despite the relatively small sample, this study has provided insight into the
recovery process of bank robbery victims, especially with respect to the persistence of
symptoms over time. To foster a more informed view of evidence-based practice, this
study sought to deconstruct the psychological debriefing process and provide an
opportunity to explore the victim’s perspective of recovery. Avery, King, Bretherton,
and Orner (1999) suggest that the notion of intervention immediately following exposure
to a traumatic event may be inappropriate. These authors suggest that, rather than
symptom change, an outcome focusing on the quality of the recovery environment may
be a more appropriate goal for debriefing interventions. With the prevalence of trauma,
the demand for debriefing techniques that apply to workplace trauma will not diminish.
While the EDM addresses the recovery environment through social support and
managerial support, continued efforts must be made to explore what can be done to
provide victims with immediate and longer term assistance in dealing with traumatic
events that may be unique to workplace trauma. This is especially important given the
continued controversy concerning the effectiveness of debriefing techniques (Deahl,
Gillham, Thomas, Searle, & Srinivasan, 1994; Raphael, Meldrum, & McFarlane, 1995).
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Larry Bergmann is Director of Post-Trauma Research Center in Columbia, South