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Addressing trauma as a missing element in security sector governance and reform

19 March, 2024



Security sector institutions are exposed to high levels of stress and trauma. The effects of trauma on individual and organizational wellbeing and performance can be profound and even increase the chance that security forces will use lethal and/or unlawful violence against citizens, exacerbating cycles of violence and mistrust. 

Although security sector institutions have begun to recognize and address the prevalence of trauma within their organizations and how it affects performance, there are key challenges remaining.

This study looks at how trauma in security institutions, in particular the police, affects the wellbeing of its individual members, the organization as a whole, and relationships between communities and security forces.

It offers:

  • an overview of the experiences and effects of trauma which are prevalent in the security sector;
  • a framework for understanding and addressing three levels of trauma (individual, organizational and collective) which affect the provision of security;
  • an overview of responses to trauma which are currently found in the security and other sectors;
  • considerations for “trauma-informed” policing, drawing from trauma-informed approaches which are now more common in other sectors;
  • recommendations for designing and implementing trauma-informed SSR programmes.

This research is highly relevant for SSR practitioners, who often work in contexts which are deeply affected by trauma, including those characterized by high levels of violence and conflict.

Ongoing DCAF work on police use of force, police mentoring, gender and security, and suicide prevention in the armed forces offers promising entry points to explore what trauma-informed approaches to SSR look like in practice.


The study is complemented by a "Quick reference guide: Entry points for addressing trauma in police reform programmes".

This guide is intended as a practical checklist in addition to the study and provides a summary of questions SSR practitioners, security sector institutions, and donors should consider when designing and implementing police reform programmes.