Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Happiness Correlates with Self-Care and Vicarious Resilience

A new study demonstrates the contribution of self-care practices to well-being.

Key points

  • Self-care and vicarious resilience are crucial to helping professionals working with traumatized people.
  • Engaging in self-care and scoring higher on vicarious resilience are significantly associated with happiness.
  • Creating time to practice regular self-care is crucial to worker happiness and to avoid burnout.
Jacqueline Munguia/Unsplash
Jacqueline Munguia/Unsplash

Studies of professionals working with traumatized people across the helping disciplines with a high risk of burnout, including nursing, social work, mental health, and case management (Bloomquist and colleagues, 2015), have found that self-care can:

  1. effectively promote practitioner well-being
  2. support effective, ethical practice outcomes (Posluns and Gall, 2020)

Another concept, vicarious resilience (VR), is defined as the positive effects of witnessing the healing, recovery, and resilience of one’s clients and patients (Killian and colleagues, 2017). We found that VR is highly correlated with post-traumatic growth. Rather than experiencing burnout or compassion fatigue, the concepts of self-care and vicarious resilience speak to the possibility of experiencing a boost in one’s resilience when doing challenging work with trauma survivors, if one takes care of oneself.

But here’s another question: Are engaging in self-care and scoring higher on vicarious resilience associated with higher reported happiness? To answer these questions, my colleagues and I conducted a study of victim service providers (VSPs) and volunteers from across Canada, 18 years and over (Scott and colleagues, 2023). Participants were asked about their self-care practices via the Time Spent in Coping Strategies Scale (TSCSS; Kulkarni and colleagues, 2013), given the Vicarious Resilience Scale, and asked how often they agree with the statement “I am happy” (with options never, rarely, sometimes, often, or very often). What did we find?

A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted comparing the mean TSCSS scores across the response options to the item “I am happy.” The result was highly significant (F = 12.05, df = 785, p < .001) with a nearly straight line moving from the lower left to the upper right, demonstrating that those who reported being happy more often tended to also report higher levels of self-care engagement.

Kyle Killian
Source: Kyle Killian

Another one-way ANOVA was conducted comparing the mean VRS scores across the response options to the item “I am happy.” The result was highly significant (F = 18.18, df = 798, p < .001) with a line moving from the lower left to the upper right. This suggests a linear relationship between these two variables as well, such that vicarious resilience has a powerful effect on victim advocates’ reported happiness, a global measure of well-being. Self-care and vicarious resilience really might be two roads to happiness.

Self-care practice is associated with positive attitude change and vicarious resilience of workers (Crowder and Sears, 2017; Kinman and colleagues, 2020; Roulston and colleagues, 2018), but research has found that self-care must also be practiced regularly to be effective (Xu and colleagues, 2019). The new study’s results suggest that finding or creating the time to practice self-care for people working in stressful helping professions is crucial if one is to avoid potentially negative outcomes, including an increased likelihood of reporting rarely or never feeling happy, and scoring dangerously low on vicarious resilience. Don't just find time; make time for self-care, whatever that looks like for you, and choose to work where self-care best practices are embedded in the workplace structure and culture.


Bloomquist, K. R., Wood, L., Friedmeyer-Trainor, K., & Kim, H. W. (2015). Self-care and professional quality of life: Predictive factors among MSW practitioners. Advances in Social Work, 16(2), 292–311. .18060/18760

Crowder, R., & Sears, A. (2017). Building resilience in social workers: An exploratory study on the impacts of a mindfulness-based intervention. Australian Social Work, 70(1), 17–29. .2016.1203965

Killian, K. D., Hernandez-Wolfe, P., Engstrom, D., & Gangsei, D. (2017). Development of the vicarious resilience scale (VRS): A measure of positive effects of working with trauma survivors. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9(1), 23–31. .1037/tra0000199

Kinman, G., Grant, L., & Kelly, S. (2020). ‘It’s my secret space’: The benefits of mindfulness for social workers. The British Journal of Social Work, 50(3), 758–777.

Posluns, K., & Gall, T. L. (2020). Dear mental health practitioners, take care of yourselves: A literature review on self-care. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 42(1), 1–20. s10447-019-09382-w

Roulston, A., Montgomery, L., Campbell, A., & Davidson, G. (2018). Exploring the impact of mindfulnesss on mental wellbeing, stress and resilience of undergraduate social work students. Social Work Education, 37(2), 157–172.

Scott, H., Killian, K., Roebuck, B., McGlinchey, D., Ferns, A., Sakauve, P., Ahmad, A., McCoy, A., & Prashad, N. A. (2023). Self-care and vicarious resilience in victim advocates: A national study. Traumatology, 29(3), 368–374.

Xu, Y., Harmon-Darrow, C., & Frey, J. J. (2019). Rethinking professional quality of life for social workers: Inclusion of ecological self-care barriers. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 29(1), 11–25.

More from Kyle D. Killian Ph.D., LMFT
More from Psychology Today