Survivor guilt : a cognitive approach

Survivor guilt is a common experience following traumatic events in which others have died. However, little research has addressed the phenomenology of survivor guilt, nor has the issue been conceptualised using contemporary psychological models which would help guide clinicians in effective treatment approaches for this distressing problem. This paper summarises the current survivor guilt research literature and psychological models from related areas, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, moral injury and traumatic bereavement. Based on this literature, a preliminary cognitive approach to survivor guilt is proposed. A cognitive conceptualisation is described, and used as a basis to suggest potential treatment interventions for survivor guilt. Both the model and treatment strategies require further detailed study and empirical validation, but provide testable hypotheses to stimulate further research in this area.


Key learning aims


  1. (1) To appreciate an overview of the current available literature on the phenomenology and prevalence of survivor guilt.
  2. (2) To understand a preliminary cognitive conceptualisation of survivor guilt.
  3. (3) To understand and be able to implement treatment recommendations for addressing survivor guilt.
Hannah Murray, Yasmin Pethania and Evelina Medin | 2021
In: Cognitieve Behaviour Therapist : ISSN: 1754-470X | 14 | e28
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Epidemiology, Guilt, Moral Injury (eng), Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Psychotrauma, PTSD (en), Shame, Survivors, Treatment