In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Vicarious Trauma and Resilience in Social Work Practice with Refugees and Forcibly Displaced Populations

  • Introduction
  • Recommended Peer-Reviewed Journals
  • Research on Trauma, Suffering, and the Refugee/Asylee Experience
  • From Compassion Fatigue, Vicarious Trauma, and Burnout to Vicarious Resilience
  • Vicarious Resilience
  • Vicarious Resilience (VR) among Practitioners Working with Refugees and Asylees

Social Work Vicarious Trauma and Resilience in Social Work Practice with Refugees and Forcibly Displaced Populations
Dianne Ciro, David Engstrom
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0329


Helping professionals, such as social workers, who work with refugees and asylum seekers are exposed to their clients’ trauma on a regular basis; in some cases, they are exposed every day. As noted in: (1) Secondary Traumatic Stress and Burnout among Refugee Resettlement Workers: The Role of Coping and Emotional Intelligence and (2) Second-Hand Emotion? Exploring the Contagion and Impact of Trauma and Distress in the Asylum Law Context, observing and caring for the scars of torture, persecution, violence, harassment, and family separation, among other catastrophic events that refugees and asylum seekers experience can impact social work providers and other helping professionals who bear witness to these traumatic experiences. Articles, such as (1) Compassion Fatigue: Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatized, (2) Vicarious Traumatization: A Framework for Understanding the Psychological Effects of Working with Victims, and (3) Job Burnout highlight some of the short-term and long-term effects of working with trauma- related client material, including experiencing Compassion Fatigue (CF), Vicarious Trauma (VT), and Burnout (BO). In Vicarious Resilience: A New Concept in Work with Those Who Survive Trauma we also learn that in some cases, providers who work with refugees and asylees report experiencing Vicarious Resilience (VR) and growth. While working with highly traumatized populations creates some universal challenges for all helping professionals, the complex effects of extreme violence, traumatic loss, and adversity associated with the refugee and asylee experience have long lasting effects on survivors and unique challenges for social work providers that require a different set of skills than solely appreciating a person’s inner suffering. Social workers who work with refugees and asylum seekers often find themselves wearing multiple hats, including the role of healer, advocate, helper, and confidant, leaving them highly susceptible to experiences of CF, VT, and BO. However, social workers and agencies can take steps to foster the VR and growth of staff working with these communities.

Recommended Peer-Reviewed Journals

This catalogue includes a list of suggested readings on the: (1) trauma and suffering of refugees and asylum seekers, (2) effects of vicarious trauma exposure among social workers and other helping professionals who work with refugees and asylees, and (3) ways to mitigate the potential negative effects. For this bibliography, the journals selected are widely read among researchers and providers who work with refugees and asylum seekers in the United States. For some journals, such as the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry and Traumatology the emphasis is on topics of trauma and psychological distress. Articles on refugees and asylees are episodically found in these journals. Other journals are also included that have a direct focus on immigrants, refugees, and asylees and that periodically publish articles on psychological distress. These journals include Journal of Refugee Studies, International Migration Review, International Migration, Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, and Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies.

  • American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 1930–.

    This bimonthly interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journal is a principal publication of the Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice that publishes articles on matters that contribute to scientific knowledge and the understanding of factors associated with the prevention and correction of injustice and ways to sustainably promote the development of a humane and just society.

  • International Migration. 1961–.

    This quarterly peer-review journal is policy-oriented and features the work of social scientists from across the globe. Published on behalf of the United Nation’s Organization for International Migration, it provides perhaps the best treatment of migration issues and trends from an international perspective.

  • International Migration Review. 1964–.

    This quarterly interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journal is, perhaps, the most prestigious periodical devoted to immigration policy, in all of its permutations. The journal offers empirical and theoretical work that examines a wide range of subjects that pertain to international population movements from around the world.

  • Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. 1999–.

    Published quarterly, this peer-reviewed journal emphasizes original research relating to immigrant health from a wide range of disciplines and professions. Social workers will find a wealth of information tailored to policymakers and practitioners alike.

  • Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies. 2002–2003–.

    This quarterly peer-reviewed journal explores issues from an interdisciplinary perspective on topics of interest to social work, such as immigration policy, health and mental health and service delivery.

  • Journal of Refugee Studies. 1988–.

    This quarterly peer-reviewed journal examines the problem of refugees and other forced migration populations from the perspective of practitioners and scholars. It provides excellent coverage of forced migration issues and responses from a national, regional, and international perspective.

  • Traumatology. 1995–.

    This quarterly peer-reviewed journal is a primary reference for professionals internationally who study and treat people exposed to highly stressful and traumatic events, such as terrorist bombings, war disasters, fires, accidents, criminal and familial abuse, hostage-taking, hospitalization, major illness, abandonment, and sudden unemployment.

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