Risk of vicarious trauma in nursing research: a focused mapping review and synthesis

Jenna Breckenridge, Julie Taylor (Lead / Corresponding author), Caroline Bradbury-Jones, Christine Jones, Oliver Herber

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    27 Citations (Scopus)
    447 Downloads (Pure)


    Aims and objectives. To provide a snapshot of how vicarious trauma is considered within the published nursing research literature.
    Background. Vicarious trauma (secondary emotional distress) has been the focus of attention in nursing practice for many years. The most pertinent areas to invoke vicarious trauma in research have been suggested as abuse/violence and death/dying. It is not known is how researchers account for the risks of vicarious trauma in research. 

    Design. Focused mapping review and synthesis. Empirical studies meeting criteria for abuse/violence or death/dying in relevant Scopus ranked top nursing journals (n=6) January 2009 to December 2014). 

    Methods. Relevant papers were scrutinised for the extent to which researchers discussed the risk of vicarious trauma. Aspects of the studies were mapped systematically to a pre-defined template, allowing patterns and gaps in authors’ reporting to be determined. These were synthesised into a coherent profile of current reporting practices and from this, a new conceptualisation seeking to anticipate and address the risk of vicarious trauma was developed. 

    Results. 2503 papers were published during the review period, of which 104 met the inclusion criteria. Studies were distributed evenly by method (52 qualitative; 51 quantitative; 1 mixed methods) and by focus (54 abuse/violence; 50 death/dying). The majority of studies (98) were carried out in adult populations. Only two papers reported on vicarious trauma. 
    Conclusion. The conceptualisation of vicarious trauma takes accounts of both sensitivity of the substantive data collected, and closeness of those involved with the research. This might assist researchers in designing ethical and protective research and foreground the importance of managing risks of vicarious trauma. 

    Relevance to clinical practice. Vicarious trauma is not well considered in research into clinically important topics. Our proposed framework allows for consideration of these so that precautionary measures can be put in place to minimise harm to staff.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2768-2777
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Clinical Nursing
    Issue number19-20
    Early online date10 May 2016
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016


    • abuse
    • bereavement
    • death
    • mapping review
    • nursing
    • risk
    • secondary emotional distress
    • sensitive issues research
    • vicarious trauma
    • violence


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