Acknowledging the Power of Hope through Vicarious Resilience

March 26, 2024

Recently learning about Vicarious Resilience in December, 2023, from Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez during our San Diego Trauma-Informed Guide Team meeting, I’m weaving it through all of my work now. As a TREC Pioneer, and an inner-city community organizer and leader for twenty-six years, the vicarious resilience research studies exemplify the positive effects we, as helping professionals, have from working with individuals who have or are enduring trauma.

Reflecting on the aspects of vicarious resilience through the lens of so many children, youth, and families I’ve mentored in City Heights, San Diego, and now having such a deeper understanding of how I benefitted from their capacities to be trauma-resilient, grow and evolve, is uplifting and hopeful.

As Desmond Tutu shared, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness”.

What is Vicarious Resilience?

The term vicarious resilience was coined in 2007 by researchers  who interviewed twelve psychotherapists who worked with survivors of political violence or kidnapping are affected by their clients’ stories of resilience.

 It focused on the psychotherapists' interpretations of their clients' stories, and how they make sense of the impact that these stories have had on their lives.

To quote, Trauma Therapist Jenny HughesVicarious resilience is when we finish the first pass of a trauma memory, and I look at my client with tears in my eyes, marveling at their strength and tenacity.  I love doing trauma work and guiding people through this journey, but vicarious resilience is what fills my tank and keeps me going.”

What did the researchers do?

  • Researchers developed a tool called the Vicarious Resilience Scale  (VRS) to measure vicarious resilience among helping professionals.
  • The VRS was administered to 190 helping professionals from around the globe who work with survivors of severe traumas, such as torture.
  • This study describes the development and exploratory factor analysis of the first instrument to assess vicarious resilience.    

What were the results?

As a helping professional, I’ve reflected on the courageous healing journeys from children, youth, and families I’ve witnessed who’ve tragically had their love done murdered, or completed suicide, or have incarcerated loved ones or deported loved ones, with myriad complex traumas they’ve endured and are enduring. Now, learning about how my mental and emotional health has been enhanced from my exposure to their resilience, I share with them how our mutually reciprocal relationships are buffering adverse childhood and adult experiences. My enhanced self-care and self-compassion are directly relative to their healing journeys.

The Vicarious Resilience Scale was moderately and positively correlated with post-traumatic growth and compassion satisfaction.

Exploratory factor analysis resulted in 7 positive factors:

  • Changes in life goals and perspective
  • Client-inspired hope
  • Increased recognition of clients’ spirituality as a therapeutic resource
  • Increased capacity for resourcefulness
  • Increased self awareness and self-care practices
  • Increased consciousness about power and privilege relative to clients’ social location
  • Increased capacity for remaining present while listening to trauma narratives 

What do these results mean?

  • Vicarious resilience is a unique construct that is not merely “the opposite” of compassion fatigue or burnout.
  • Vicarious resilience supports an appreciation of the reciprocal nature of therapy, allowing helping professionals to balance the difficult aspects of trauma work with those that bring hope and promote growth.  
  • By helping others deal with their trauma, helping professionals can also gain strength and hope themselves. It's like when you see someone else overcome challenges, it can inspire and uplift you too.

TREC's Takeaways

1. Reflect on Personal Growth: Take time to reflect on how witnessing others' resilience, especially in challenging situations, inspires personal growth and strength in your own life. Recognize the positive impact it has on your outlook and mindset.

2. Practice Self-Awareness and Self-Care: Understand the importance of self-awareness and self-care practices in professions where you regularly engage with others' trauma. Prioritize activities that help you recharge and maintain emotional balance.

3. Acknowledge the Power of Hope: Recognize the power of hope in both your own life and the lives of those you serve. Understand that seeing others overcome difficulties instills hope and motivation in yourself, leading to positive changes in your own goals and perspective.

4. Be Present and Listen: Understand the importance of being present and attentive when listening to others' trauma narratives. Recognize that staying engaged and empathetic contributes to your own personal growth and resilience, as well as strengthens the therapeutic relationship.

Join our Trauma-Resilient Professional (TRP) program today to enhance your skills and resilience in helping others navigate trauma.

Dana Brown

Community Organizer, Trauma-Resilient Professional, TREC Pioneer, and PACEs Science Statewide Facilitator

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