Vicarious Trauma Toolkit (VTT)

Since being awarded federal Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime funding in 2014, the Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice at Northeastern University has been leading the effort to create a first-of-its-kind and state-of-the-field online resource for victim assistance, emergency medical services, fire and law enforcement organizations to address vicarious trauma. Literature and resource materials have been widely researched, compiled and vetted, and a rudimentary Toolkit was pilot-tested by the intended disciplines in seven communities with diverse demographics in all regions of the United States.

The national, interdisciplinary Vicarious Trauma Toolkit (VTT) Project Team worked to ensure that the VTT will be the most comprehensive and highest quality central repository of resources available to date for agencies and organizations seeking to become “vicarious trauma-informed.” The project’s overarching goal is to ultimately make a difference in the lives of first responders and victim assistance providers, to help ensure their health and well-being and to sustain the delivery of the highest quality services to those in need.  We know that the most valuable resources are those actually being effectively used in the field. This project continuously broadened its literature and internet searches and cast a wide net into the targeted fields of practice to amass the research and tools ultimately incorporated into its content. As such, the Toolkit is inclusive of the most useful and relevant policies, procedures, practices and programs currently being utilized within the first responder and victim assistance fields.

In addition, the pilot study helped to refine a tool that was developed expressly for the Toolkit and has a two-fold purpose. The Vicarious Trauma Organizational Readiness Guide (VT-ORG) enables an agency to assess its strengths and gaps in core areas of organizational health.  It is also designed to assist the Toolkit user in navigating its contents to find the resources needed to address identified gaps. The final VT-ORG is the outcome of one year of pilot study, user review and feedback, and extensive application of the relevant evidence.

The pilot study and two national summits of experts from diverse disciplines illuminated additional gaps in resources. The project team reviewed the gap analysis and determined that some of the priority gaps identified were ones that could filled, at least in part, by collaboratively creating new tools.  These tools include a set of six guidelines for agencies and organizations seeking to become vicarious trauma-informed and PowerPoint presentations with detailed instructor notes tailored to assist agencies of each targeted discipline in raising staff and leadership’s awareness about vicarious trauma.

In addition, short educational videos were recommended for inclusion in the Toolkit. As such, two videos were produced, one for victim services and one for first responders.

Each video accessed from the VTT Home Page provides a general overview of vicarious trauma. In addition, there is an introduction to the Toolkit, and testimonials from experts in each discipline on the duty and responsibility agencies and organizations have to address vicarious trauma. Content for the videos was drawn from field interviews conducted with diverse professionals from our intended disciplines.


The Toolkit is currently under construction by the federal Office for Victims of Crime and is expected to be launched in the Spring of 2017.  In the meantime, the VTT Project Team can provide FREE training and technical assistance to your agency and organization, utilizing the resources and tools contained within the Toolkit.


The Vicarious Trauma Toolkit (VTT) Project is offering FREE training technical assistance (TA) that will utilize the contents of the Toolkit before it is officially released in Spring 2017. Your agency can request up to five (5) hours of training and TA in the following areas:

  1. Training on Vicarious Trauma

Our VTT TA Advisers can deliver training that can help staff and volunteers deepen their knowledge about vicarious trauma, build the organization’s in-house training capacity, and promote discussion about organizational strategies to address vicarious trauma. This training can be provided via webinar or web conference and, on a limited basis, on-site.

  1. Using the Vicarious Trauma Organizational Readiness Guide (VT-ORG)

The VT-ORG is a tool created specifically for the VTT to help your organization assess its current capacity to address employees’ work-related trauma exposure. This assessment tool takes a broad, multi-level look at the organization’s response to vicarious trauma. Its purpose is to help your organization assess its current strengths and gaps in responding to vicarious trauma, and to use to create an action plan.  A VTT TA Advisor can help your organization consider ways to use this tool as you further your efforts toward becoming a vicarious trauma-informed organization.

  1. Setting Priorities

Whether you use the VT-ORG or your own assessment method, the VTT TA Advisors can help your organization determine which gap(s) to consider addressing first and identify next steps.

  1. Providing Relevant Research and Resources from the VTT to Address Organizational Needs

Using the priorities your agency identified, A VTT TA Advisor will search the Vicarious Trauma Toolkit for relevant research literature, resources and other tools that may help your organization to address your identified gaps.

To request free training and/or technical assistance from the VTT Project Team, please complete the Training & Technical Assistance Request Form and send it to Once reviewed, we will respond to your request as soon as possible.


It takes courage to help victims of violence, to run towards an active shooter, into a burning building hit by a plane, or to the side of a victim of gang-violence. Helping victims also puts responders at risk of harm themselves, not from bullets or fire, but from vicarious trauma. While prevalence studies of vicarious trauma (and other related terms) and its effects are rare, several findings have consistently reported that between 40% and 80% of helping professionals have experienced compassion fatigue and/or high rates of secondary trauma.

A global analysis of firefighters, ambulance personnel, police officers, search/rescue teams pooled 28 worldwide prevalence studies of PTSD, finding an overall prevalence of 10%, with ambulance personnel having the highest (14.6%). Among providers of psychosocial services to traumatized clients, a review of 15 studies found evidence of traumatic stress symptoms, disrupted cognitive schema, and general psychological distress. Organizations know vicarious trauma impacts individuals and overall service delivery to those in need. They are also aware of the related constructs of compassion fatigue and burnout as risk factors for turnover. This project’s goal was to fill this gap by delivering a nationally pilot-tested training and technical assistance online toolkit. Agencies can use this toolkit to address vicarious trauma experienced by victim assistance professionals, law enforcement and other first responders. Our anticipated outcome is that the Vicarious Trauma Toolkit motivates and enables agencies and organizations to become vicarious trauma-informed. Ultimately, we expect this to lessen the impact of vicarious trauma and sustain first responders and victim service providers to help the next victim who needs them.

“The Vicarious Trauma Toolkit (VTT) Project recognizes the very real impact experienced by first responders and victim service providers when responding to traumatic events and those who have experienced trauma,” said Associate Professor Beth Molnar, ScD, Principal Investigator for the VTT Project and Associate Director of the Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice at Northeastern University. “We are extremely proud of this collaborative accomplishment that will elevate the serious issue of vicarious trauma to a new level of understanding and action within first responder and victim service agencies and organizations.”


Vicarious Trauma (VT) is an occupational challenge for people working and volunteering in the fields of victim services, law enforcement, emergency medical services, fire services and others due to their continuous exposure to victims of trauma and violence. Exposure to trauma of others has been shown to change the worldview of these responders and can also put people and organizations at risk for a range of negative consequences (American Counseling Association, 2011; Bell, Kulkarni, & Dalton, 2003; McCann & Pearlmann, 1990; Newell & MacNeil, 2010; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995; Vicarious Trauma Institute, 2015).

A vicarious trauma-informed organization assumes the responsibility of proactively addressing the impact of vicarious trauma through policies, procedures, programs and practices.


Northeastern University’s Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice is grateful for the seven pilot sites across the United States for lending their individual and collective time and experience over a 3-month period to test the rudimentary Vicarious Trauma Toolkit and first draft of the Vicarious Trauma Organizational Readiness Guide (VT-ORG).

Click here to read more about the pilot sites and their locations.


  • An extensive search and review of literature and internet resources;
  • A national survey of, and continued outreach to, the field to acquire and assess existing policies, procedures, practices and programs;
  • A gap analysis to determine what is lacking in the identification, prevention, and treatment of the effects of vicarious trauma;
  • Development of the Vicarious Trauma Organizational Readiness Guide (VT-ORG) and other new tools to fill identified gaps;
  • Refinement of the VT-ORG based on evidence from the fields of organizational psychology and development;
  • A compilation of training and technical assistance resources for the Vicarious Trauma Toolkit.

Associated IUHRP Staff

Dr. Beth Molnar

Dr. Beth Molnar

Principal Investigator
Janet E. Fine

Janet E. Fine

Project Director
Karen Irene Kalergis

Karen Irene Kalergis

Product Coordinator