Occupational Health Science

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 297–336 | Cite as

Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Vicarious Traumatization: a Qualitative Review and Research Agenda

  • Rachel S. RauvolaEmail author
  • Dulce M. Vega
  • Kristi N. Lavigne
Review Article


There has been growing research interest in what we term empathy-based stress, a process of traumatic stressor exposure, empathic experience, and adverse reactions among particular empathy-related professions, captured in the literatures on compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress, and vicarious traumatization in trauma-related lines of work. Although these three empathy-based strain constructs are highly related, each represents different components of similar strain responses. Unfortunately, extant reviews of the empathy-based stress literature are non-comprehensive and/or out of date. This qualitative review thus aims to synthesize and summarize the current literature on empathy-based stress at work and contribute to theoretical, methodological, and practical improvements in this area of research and practice. After introducing empathy-based strain constructs and their defining characteristics, we detail our review methodology and the primary theoretical and empirical themes derived through our review of the past decade of published literature. Then, we summarize conceptual, methodological, and analytical gaps in the empathy-based stress literature, helping to generate recommendations for the literature moving forward.


Compassion fatigue Empathy Secondary traumatic stress Stress Trauma exposure Vicarious traumatization 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

41542_2019_45_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (597 kb)
ESM 1 Former article version (PDF 596 kb)
41542_2019_45_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (23 kb)
ESM 2 Former article version (XLSX 23.1 kb)


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologySaint Louis UniversitySt. LouisUSA

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