Child Psychiatry & Human Development

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 180–193 | Cite as

The Guiltless Guilty: Trauma-Related Guilt and Psychopathology in Former Ugandan Child Soldiers

  • Fionna KlasenEmail author
  • Sina Reissmann
  • Catharina Voss
  • James Okello
Original Article


Child soldiers often experience complex trauma as victims and perpetrators, and feelings of guilt may affect their psychological health. The relationship between the children’s traumatic experiences as victims or perpetrators, their perception of themselves as victim or perpetrator, guilt and psychopathology were investigated: of the 330 former child soldiers interviewed, 50.8 % perceived themselves as victims and 19.1 % as perpetrators. On psychopathology measures, scores within the clinical range were 33 % for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 36.4 % for major depressive disorder (MDD), and 26.1 % for externalizing problems. Low socio-economic status, traumatic experience as perpetrator, and guilt were significant predictors of PTSD. Significant predictors of MDD were low socio-economic status, traumatic experiences as victim, and guilt. A greater number of traumatic experiences as perpetrator and guilt were associated with externalizing problems. The current paper underscores the significance of guilt following traumatic experiences and has implications for the development of clinical interventions for war-affected children.


Child soldiers Guilt Trauma Posttraumatic stress disorder Major depressive disorder Externalizing problems 



We are very grateful to all the children and teachers at Laroo Boarding School who made this research possible. This study was funded by the Children for Tomorrow Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fionna Klasen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sina Reissmann
    • 1
    • 2
  • Catharina Voss
    • 1
  • James Okello
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and PsychosomaticsUniversity Medical Centre of HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Medical School HamburgUniversity of Applied Sciences and Medical UniversityHamburgGermany
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryGulu UniversityGuluUganda

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