Secondary distress in violence researchers: a randomised trial of the effectiveness of group debriefings.

Grundlingh, H; Knight, L; Naker, D; Devries, K; (2017) Secondary distress in violence researchers: a randomised trial of the effectiveness of group debriefings. BMC Psychiatry, 17 (1). p. 204. ISSN 1471-244X DOI:

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Secondary distress including emotional distress, vicarious trauma (VT) and secondary traumatic stress (STS) due to exposure to primary trauma victims have been described in helping professionals and in violence researchers. To our knowledge, there are few prevalence studies, and no tailored interventions have been tested to reduce secondary distress in violence researchers. The study aims to (1) describe the epidemiology of secondary distress experienced by violence researchers; to (2) assess the effectiveness of group debriefings in mitigating secondary distress; to (3) assess risk and protective factors. We conducted an un-blinded, individually randomised trial with parallel assignment. Eligible participants were 59 Ugandan researchers employed by the Good Schools Study to interview children who experienced violence in a district of Uganda. Fifty-three researchers agreed to participate and were randomly allocated. The intervention group (n = 26) participated in three group debriefings and the control group (n = 27) in three leisure sessions (film viewings). The primary outcome was change in levels of emotional distress (SRQ-20); secondary outcomes were levels of VT and STS at end-line. A paired t-test assessed the difference in mean baseline and end-line emotional distress. Un-paired t-tests compared the change in mean emotional distress (baseline vs. end-line), and compared levels of VT and STS at end-line. Separate logistic regression models tested the association between end-line emotional distress and a-priori risk or protective factors. Baseline and end-line levels of emotional distress were similar in control (p = 0.47) and intervention (p = 0.59) groups. The superiority of group debriefing over leisure activities in lowering levels of emotional distress in the intervention group (n = 26; difference in SRQ-20 = 0.23 [SD = 2.18]) compared to the control group (n = 26; difference in SRQ-20 = 0.23 [SD = 1.63]) could not be detected (p = 1). In regression analysis (n = 48), baseline distress increased the odds of end-line distress (OR = 16.1, 95%CI 2.82 to 92.7, p = 0.002). Perceived organisational support (OR = 0.09, 95%CI 0.01 to 0.69, p = 0.02) and belief in God (OR = 0.21, 95%CI 0.03 to 1.26, p = 09) was protective against end-line distress. We found no evidence that violence researchers experienced elevated emotional distress after doing violence research. There was no difference between group debriefings and leisure activities in reducing distress in our sample. However, the hypotheses presented should not be ruled out in other violence research settings. Our findings suggest that organisational support is a significant protective factor and belief in God may be an important coping mechanism. Clinical Trials NCT02390778 . Retrospectively registered 19 March 2015. The Good Schools Trial was registered at ( NCT01678846 ), on August 24, 2012.

Item Type: Article
Faculty and Department: Faculty of Public Health and Policy > Dept of Global Health and Development
PubMed ID: 28578682


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