Mark Layson’s PhD research will investigate the harm that arises from traumatic experiences by examining spirituality as the fourth dimension of mental health, in addition to psychological, biological and social factors. His study aims to empower individuals, organisations and pastoral carers to consider new ways to prevent and heal moral injuries and lessen moral distress in emergency workers who are exposed to trauma.
This research is funded by the NSW Government’s Centre for Work Health and Safety as part of its ‘Research to Practice’ program. The CWHS became involved through its desire to fund innovative research into the workplace injuries of the future, and Mark was awarded a ‘changing world of work’ funding partnership after a competitive process. It is one of the Centre’s projects centred on preventing psychological harm in first responders.
Mark spent over 11 years serving as a police officer and firefighter before pursuing fulltime ministry as an Anglican minister for 19 years. During that time, he also became a chaplain with NSW Ambulance with the aeromedical unit. It was during his years in emergency services that he became passionate about the wellbeing of staff and that good theology is not only truthful but useful for understanding and healing.
“The negative effects of excessive trauma exposure in first responders is a growing concern,” Rev’d Layson observed. “Over the last 40 years, the response to trauma exposure has utilised a bio-psycho-social model that has largely ignored the religious and spiritual elements and has too narrowly focussed on the impact of exposure to specific physical traumas.”
“When theological insights are incorporated in pastoral and psychological practice there is great hope for increased healing of those suffering after trauma exposure,” he explains. “My research takes a new direction to include religious/spiritual (R/S) contributions and pastoral elements in a bio-psycho-social-spiritual (BPSS) model. Secondly, the research uses the inclusion of R/S to examine moral injury (MI) and parallel concepts that look at the larger moral and relational matrix in which the experience of trauma occurs. MI has been described as leaving ‘lasting psychological, biological, spiritual, behavioral and social impacts.’ Numerous studies have only confirmed the view that R/S must be taken into account when dealing with the MI dimension that is related to PTSD.”