This study sought to address the needs of substance abuse professionals (SAPs) in Hong Kong who work with individuals with comorbid substance abuse and trauma. It also sought to evaluate factors that might promote resilience and reduce the likelihood of secondary traumatic stress among these professionals, as well asto elicit professionals’ perceptions of needs and services to support their work with traumatized individuals. To achieve this, this study examined the kind of
traumatic material to which SAPs are exposed, how this material affects their mentaland physical health, their
thoughts about their work, and also their needs to continue in this work.
The study utilized a qualitative, critical incident interview approach to collect narratives of 20 social workers in substance abuse treatment centers who were currently working with individuals with comorbid substance abuse and trauma.The results showed that it was very common for SAPs to be exposed to traumatic material. The traumatic material included childhood, adolescent, and adult traumatic experiences related to sexual, physical, psychological abuse and neglect, and clients’ suicidal attempts and deaths.
Client suicide, which the SAPS responded to with great shock, sorrow, deep guilt, and numbness , was among the most difficult experiences to manage. Resilience took the form of growth that occurred as a result from their struggle to deal with secondary trauma and its consequences. This growth included increased awareness of the importance of self-care and personal needs, an increased sense of empathy for their clients, finding meaning in helping, a broadened life perspective , and more tolerance and patience to face life’s difficulties. SAPs coping strategies included spirituality, positive thinking, self-talk, mindfulness, engaging in pleasurable and relaxing activities, and seeking out professional help, such as therapy.
Among the needs SAPs identified to support this difficult work, participants emphasized sharing with fellow colleagues and supervisors, and more individual, clinical, and peer supervision. Clinical trainings on trauma work, education on trauma and secondary trauma, trainings on resilience and the handling of client suicide are also needed to reduce the impact of secondary traumatization .
Clinical Psychologist, HKADCP