Chapter 1: Vicarious trauma & moral distress in the ICU

Why is vicarious trauma not talked about in ICU?

Additional Videos
We don’t tend to talk about these things(3:22)Video transcript

“There is a sense of stigma attached to words like grief and trauma, a desire by staff not to have these labels put on them”. - ICU Spiritual Care Provider

ICU staff commonly report that the grief and trauma tend not to be part of their everyday clinical vocabulary. Often staff avoid discussing the impact of intense ICU experiences on own feelings and reactions.

You may avoid discussing your experiences for various reasons:

  • Minimizing the impact of grief and trauma can be a form of self-protection from other uncomfortable feelings, such as shame or weakness.
  • Worry about being judged by your colleagues.


A culture that doesn’t prize vulnerability

Minimizing and denial

 Like many strategies, minimizing a traumatic event and denial can have some positive or constructive aspect in the short term. During difficult moments, it may serve you well to push aside your feelings of grief or trauma; but trying to keep your feelings “underground” over long periods of time will lead to future difficulties.

Clinician Tip