Vicarious trauma and vicarious resilience

Picture of Rebecca Higgins

Rebecca Higgins

Vicarious trauma happens when someone else is harmed physically or emotionally, affecting us (Gilbert-Eliot, 20201). Also known as secondary trauma or indirect trauma, this experience is an understandable reaction to witnessing the pain of others.

Healthcare workers are often with people at the worst times of their lives. Anyone who shows empathy with people in pain may be at risk for vicarious trauma, which is why the experience has been called “the cost of caring” (Fisher, 20162).

Individual and situational factors may contribute to your risk or resilience when it comes to vicarious trauma. For example, a supportive working environment and appropriate supervision help to reduce the risk of vicarious trauma, as do the rewards of the work and your personal support system.

Hernandez, Gangsei and Engstrom (2007) created the concept of vicarious resilience concept. In studying a group of psychotherapists, they observed that the trauma specialists learned about resilience from their clients in ways that helped them better cope in their own lives (Berthold, 20143).

Workers may experience both vicarious trauma and vicarious resilience at the same time. While vicarious trauma highlights that things can be terrible, vicarious resilience reminds us that there is also hope. Exploring and applying the concept of vicarious resilience to our experiences as carers can be a valuable tool for navigating vicarious trauma.

Other practical strategies that may help include:


Gilbert-Eliot, T. (2020) Healing Secondary Trauma. Emeryille, California: Rockridge Press


Fisher, P. (2016) Resilience, Balance & Meaning: Supporting our lives and our work in high stress, trauma-exposed workplaces. Kingston: Tend Academy


Berthold, S.M. (2014) NETCe Course #96621: Vicarious Trauma and Resilience. Available at: