Psychosocial Resilience

Next Module: Harmful Information (Misinformation and Harassment)


This module introduces the concept of psychosocial resilience and how mental wellness impacts security practitioners and the organizations that they support. Addressing psychosocial resilience is important since trauma, including vicarious trauma, can compound vulnerabilities of digital safety and physical security. This module, based on work led by the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center and Rated R for Resilience, centers on open discussion as students and staff explore common scenarios that may introduce psychosocial harms.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand what psychosocial resilience and secondary/vicarious trauma are and why they are important in the context of helping partner organizations improve their digital security.
  • Be familiar with how psychosocial resilience interacts with physical security and digital safety (holistic security).
  • Discuss tools or approaches to enhance one’s own psychosocial resiliency for themselves, to minimize the risk of secondary trauma including work practices, identifying warning signs, and how to seek help.


  • See Course Readings for “Psychosocial Resilience”




Throughout this module, students will be introduced to four scenarios that stress the importance of psychosocial resilience. Each scenario can be discussed as a class, in teams, or individually.
Scenario 1.
Employees of a Clinic partner NGO suffer recurring violent online threats that include the public sharing of their names, telephone numbers, and home addresses. Once phone numbers are shared, the employees receive a storm of threatening text messages and voicemail from multiple people. The NGO asks the student team for best practices on how to handle this case.
  1. How might employees’ decision-making be affected during this crisis?
  2. What can an organization do to improve resiliency in advance?
  3. What can an organization offer for their employees’ recovery / repair?

Scenario 2.

Students working with a Clinic partner NGO conduct interviews of employees to learn about the nature of threats to the organization. The NGO employees speak frankly about the threats or harms that face their organization or their colleagues, including telling the student teams about NGO colleagues that have been victims of sexual violence and murder.

  1. How might students prepare for these types of discussions?
  2. How might students handle possible triggers during a partner interaction, especially when other students seem unaffected?
  3. How might students process (emotionally) and analyze (for work) the collected information?

Scenario 3.

Students while researching a far-right wing extremist group may view violent and hateful content on online forums and social media. Some of the threats are very graphic, may include imagery (usually memes) and involve targeting people based on gender, sexuality, race, or ability.

  1. How might students prepare for this type of research?
  2. How might students identify their boundaries for the content that they view?
  3. How might students process (emotionally) and analyze (for work) the collected information?


  • Trauma: A deeply distressing and disturbing experience or physical injury or fear for life
  • Secondary trauma or vicarious trauma: An adverse reaction to the emotional residue of exposure to the pain and suffering of trauma survivors. Natural result of exercise of empathy as our brains don’t always distinguish between harm to self vs. harm to others.
  • Stress: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances
  • Burnout: physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.
  • Resiliency: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness; another definition: the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity. Both a trait and a process; adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress; May not be springing back but moving forward changed.
Psycho-social wellness interacts with physical security and digital safety in the framework of holistic security (see Tactical Tech’s Several tools and resources may be helpful to maintaining or recovering psycho-social wellness. Rated R for Resilience has several good toolkits:
Key question to self-care is knowing the answer to “what’s normal for you?”


Scenario 4.

Security assistance providers often have a heightened fear of failure or the perception of failure given their position of providing security advice. Undue stress may affect students as they may adopt a protector role, wanting to ensure their recommendations are unrealistically “perfect” so that they don’t feel be responsible for the next attack against the partner NGO.

  1. How might the Clinic avoid creating a zero-defect environment?
  2. How might students maintain realistic expectations and/or “healthy anxiety” about their recommendations?
  3. How might students handle the stress of real-world work?
  4. How might students process a future cyberattack to their partner NGO?


Summarize the psychosocial harms stemming from trauma. Describe any particular resources that are available to Clinic students (such as access to mental healthcare providers using student insurance) and emphasize channels of communication to discuss concerns with Clinic staff.