Train Drivers' Experiences of Witnessing a Railway Suicide: a Repertory Grid Study
Connabeer, Rebecca Ann
Over 200 railway suicides occur on the British Rail Network (BRN) every year. Research into the physical and psychological effects of this traumatic event on train drivers has been limited, and has focused very little on the mediating influence of personal factors. Kelly’s Personal Construct Psychology (PCP, 1955) was used in the current study to explore the relationship between train drivers’ views of themselves and others, and the psychological impact of witnessing a railway suicide. This was achieved through the use of repertory grid technique. Repertory grid measures of tightness of the overall construct system, level of elaboration of the self and others, construed distances between the self and others, conflict, extremity of ratings, and superordinacy were compared with participants’ scores on a measure of the psychological impact of the event (Impact of Event Scale Revised, IES-R, Weiss & Marmar, 1997). The fifteen participants in the study also completed a background information questionnaire. A content analysis of the constructs used in the repertory grids, and a thematic analysis of a follow up interview with two of the participants was also conducted. The findings indicated that most drivers experienced symptoms suggestive of a significant posttraumatic stress (PTS) reaction following the incident. For many this appeared to be short-lived, but for some the incident had longer lasting effects, and a third of the sample had been given an official diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Possibly due to the small sample size, many of the correlations did not achieve statistical significance. However, discrepancy between the self and ideal self, and the number of moral constructs employed by participants, were both positively associated with reported levels of psychological distress. The superordinacy of the traumatised construct, and the number of emotional constructs employed by participants, were both negatively associated with reported levels of psychological distress. These findings therefore gave some support to Sewell and Cromwell’s (1990) PCP model of trauma, and to the importance of emotional processing of traumatic events. The thematic analyses added information about the nature of the changes experienced by train drivers following these events, and the impact of contextual factors. The repertory grid technique proved useful in measuring the influence of personal meaning making on the impact of traumatic events. The findings suggest that drivers can best be supported clinically by reducing the discrepancy between their self after the event and their ideal self, increasing their ability to emotionally process their experience, and by giving consideration to issues such as anger and blame. Limitations of the research are presented, as well as suggestions for further research.