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

Julie Taylor, Caroline Bradbury-Jones, Jenna Breckenridge, Christine Jones, Oliver Herber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
182 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
JournalJournal of Clinical Nursing
Issue number19-20
Early online date10 May 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 May 2016


  • Vicarious trauma
  • Abuse
  • Bereavement
  • Death
  • mapping review
  • Violence
  • Nursing
  • Risk
  • Sensitive issues
  • Secondary emotional distress


Dive into the research topics of 'Risk of vicarious trauma in nursing research: a focused mapping review and synthesis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this