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Building Resilience from Survivor Guilt After a Traumatic Event

Veronica Powell, PhD

Measures4Success, LLC

Monique Swift, PsyD

Swift Solutions Consulting Services, LLC

Please address correspondence to:

Veronica Powell, PhD, LPC, Measures4Success, LLC, 1629 K St NW Suite

300 Washington, DC 20006 (

Monique Swift, PsyD, LPC,

Swift Solutions Consultant Services, LLC, 362 Albermarle St., Rahway, NJ 07065


The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare as it pertains to this article.

Abstract: Not a year goes by without media coverage of causalities involving mass violence or

natural disasters. Those affected directly or indirectly are left to pick up the pieces and establish a

“new norm” for navigating the life that was lost pre-tragedy. Those who physically survived the

trauma of mass casualties are challenged to reconcile various emotional reactions such as guilt

from the tragedy. The emotions of guilt take on a transformative quality, moving from healthy guilt

to unhealthy guilt, such as survivor guilt. With guilt itself being a powerful emotion, those plagued

by the grips of survivor guilt may be limited in their ability to recognize the role of resiliency to

assist in their recovery and healing from the trauma. Additionally, practitioners may be challenged

to assist trauma survivors with complex guilt reactions. This paper examines the etiology, symptoms,

and intervention strategies for survivor guilt and its impact on trauma survivors and provides

strategies to assist trauma survivors in harnessing the power of resilience to move through the

barriers of survivor guilt post-tragedy.

Keywords: guilt, survivor guilt, PTSD, prosocial behavior, protective factors, resilience

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