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Secondary traumatic stress among alcohol and other drug workers

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Date Commenced:
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Project Members: 
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Associate Professor Katherine Mills
Casual Academic
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Ms Philippa Ewer
Research Assistant
Project Main Description: 

There is a growing literature documenting the high prevalence of trauma exposure and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among people with AOD use disorders. Indeed, in this population trauma exposure is almost universal and up to one-third have current PTSD. Studies have shown that individuals who are involved in the assessment and treatment of traumatised clients may be at risk of secondary traumatic stress (STS). STS has been described as particular behaviours, emotions and stress that result from helping or wanting to help traumatised individuals. STS has been referred to as an occupational hazard for those working with trauma survivors, however, limited research has been conducted in the area. To our knowledge only one US study has examined STS among the AOD workforce. They found that 19% of the AOD workers they assessed met criteria for current STS. While STS has been explored among the AOD workforce in the US, the degree to which it is suffered by AOD workers in Australia is unknown.

Project Collaborators: External: 

Professor Ann Roche (NCETA, Flinders University)


The aims of the study are to address two research questions: 1) What is the prevalence of secondary traumatic stress (STS) among AOD workers in Australia? 2) What factors are associated with the presence of STS and its severity (e.g., professional experience and training; a personal history of trauma exposure and PTSD)?

Design and Method: 

A cross sectional survey was conducted of AOD workers from across Australia. Current level of trauma education and training, trauma screening practices, along with both their exposure risk and levels of STS were assessed as well as levels of past trauma exposure and PTSD among AOD workers.


Data collection was completed in January 2011. The results of the survey indicated the prevalence of STS was 19.9% and that a higher traumatised workload, receiving fewer hours of clinical supervision, not having completed tertiary eduation, and current stress and anxiety independently predicted the presence of STS.


The preliminary results of this study were presented at the APSAD 2010 Conference, at an invited trauma workshop as part of DANA's 2011 conference, and in poster format at the NDARC 2011 Symposium.


To gain an understanding of the prevalence of STS among AOD workers in Australia.

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