Vicarious Trauma: Exploring the Experiences of Qualitative Researchers Who Study Traumatized Populations

Erin Smith, Julie Ann Pooley, Lisa Holmes, Kristine Gebbie, Robyn Gershon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: A substantial body of research exists regarding vicarious trauma (VT) exposure among helping professionals across disciplines and settings. There is limited research, however, on exposure to VT in qualitative researchers studying traumatized populations. The objective of this study was to explore the experiences of qualitative researchers who study traumatized populations and to identify potential protective strategies for reducing the risk of VT. Methods: The study utilized a qualitative methodological design. Focus groups and in-depth interviews were conducted using a semi-structured script. Thematic analysis was conducted to identify both risk factors and protective factors associated with VT. A sample of 58 research participants were recruited using a multimodal recruitment strategy. Results: Using thematic analysis, the following key themes emerged: exposure to primary trauma, the impact of stigma, organizational context, individual context, and research context. The opportunity for posttraumatic growth was also identified. Conclusion: Qualitative researchers of traumatized populations need to recognize the potential for VT and implement appropriate protection strategies from the risk of VT. The development of policies and guidelines that recognize the importance of both self-care and plan for researcher safety and well-being is a potential strategy for building researcher resilience and preventing VT.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere69
JournalDisaster medicine and public health preparedness
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 27 2023


  • qualitative research
  • research
  • secondary trauma
  • vicarious trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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