Doctoral Defence in Health Sciences – Karen Birna Þorvaldsdóttir

The first doctoral defense at the University of Akureyri

On Tuesday 11 October 2022, Karen Birna Þorvaldsdóttir will defend her doctoral dissertation in Health Sciences at the University of Akureyri. The doctoral dissertation is entitled: Understanding and Measuring Barriers to Help-Seeking after Trauma: Survivor-Centered Mixed Methods Validation Study. The defence will be held in English in the University's Ceremonial Hall (Hátíðarsalur) in Akureyri at 13:00 and is open to everyone.

The defence will be streamed: Stream

The thesis was prepared under the guidance of Dr. Sigríður Halldórsdóttir, Professor at the University of Akureyri. In addition, the doctoral committee included Dr. Denise Saint Arnault, Professor at the University of Michigan in the United States, Dr. Rhonda M. Johnson, Professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage in the United States and Dr. Sigrún Sigurðardóttir, Associate Professor at the University of Akureyri.

The opponents are Dr. Stefanía Ægisdóttir, Professor of Psychology at Ball State University in the USA and Dr. Maria Wemrell, Associate Professor of Public Health Sciences at Lund University in Sweden.

Dr. Guðrún Rósa Þórsteinsdóttir, Director of the Centre for Doctoral Studies and Dr. Kristján Þór Magnússon Acting Dean of the Faculty of Health, Business and Science will preside over the ceremony.

On the doctoral candidate

Karen Birna Þorvaldsdóttir was born in 1993 in Akureyri. She completed her upper secondary education at the Akureyri Junior College in 2013, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Akureyri in 2017, and received her master’s degree in health sciences with a focus on psychological trauma from the same school in 2019. Soon after, Karen Birna began her doctoral studies in health sciences at the University of Akureyri. She completed part of her studies at the University of Michigan in the U.S. as a Fulbright scholar, staying at the Michigan Mixed Methods Research Institute. During her doctoral studies, Karen Birna has taught at the University of Akureyri as a temporary lecturer, held the position of chairwoman of the university’s Research Center Against Violence, and served on the board of Bjarmahlíð – center for survivors of violence.


The overarching aim of this doctoral project was to create the first Icelandic trauma-specific and survivor-centered help-seeking barriers instrument. More specifically, to cross-culturally adapt, validate, and legitimate the Barriers to Help-Seeking for Trauma Scale (BHS-TR) among intimate partner violence (IPV) survivors in Iceland. A combined etic–emic strategy using mixed methods was employed, involving forward–backward translation, expert committee review, cognitive interviews with 17 IPV survivors, psychometric examination in a sample of 137 IPV survivors, and legitimation strategy of integration. Data were analyzed using qualitative content analysis, statistical analysis, and joint display analysis. The overall results indicate that the Icelandic BHS-TR is a culturally sensitive, trustworthy, and valid instrument. Moreover, the findings revealed that the main barriers experienced by the participants were shame, financial concerns, the desire to safeguard oneself from re-traumatization, and beliefs that help-seeking is a sign of weakness. This work contributes to the growing literature supporting the advantages of applying mixed methods for instrument development and cross-cultural adaptation. The BHS-TR can be used to provide valuable information that may guide the development of evidence-based interventions to break down barriers and facilitate help-seeking among survivors in Iceland.