Secondary traumatic stress in Norwegian SUD-therapists: Symptoms and related factors

Nordisk Alkohol Nark. 2019 Dec;36(6):522-531. doi: 10.1177/1455072519847014. Epub 2019 Jun 11.


This study examined the prevalence of secondary traumatic stress (STS) among substance-abuse therapists in relation to burnout, work-related stressors, as well as peer and leader support.

Methods: A quantitative cross-sectional design examining 383 Norwegian substance-abuse therapists. Electronic surveys were distributed to practitioners in Norway via email and social media.

Results: A total 22% of the respondents reported experience of secondary trauma, with the most frequently reported symptoms being flashbacks (13%) and intrusive thoughts (13%). More than 72% of therapists had also been exposed to patient direct threats. Female therapists estimated the level of trauma among their patients as higher than did male therapists. Male therapists (32%) were more likely to report secondary trauma than females (19%).

Conclusions: The findings indicate a high prevalence of trauma symptoms in substance-abuse therapists, and suggest increased focus on the role of patient direct threats when treating patients with substance-abuse disorder. The study also highlights the need for research that examines variables that interact with gender in predicting STS in therapists treating substance abuse, as well as trauma.

Keywords: counselling; prevalence; secondary traumatic stress; substance abuse treatment; work conditions.