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What are Secondary Gains?

23 November 2023

In this blog, we are going to talk about Secondary Gains. To support clients effectively, it is crucial to understand this phenomenon well. When problems are persistent, do not change or temporarily improve only to return, it is time to consider whether Secondary Gains are present. Identifying and transforming these Secondary Gains is an essential part of the PSYCH-K® process.

What are Secondary Gains?

Secondary Gains refer to the unintended benefits or positive aspects that come from maintaining certain problematic behavioural patterns or experiencing difficulties. These benefits are often not immediately apparent and may even be counterproductive to a person’s long-term wellbeing. Secondary Gains can subconsciously hinder us from achieving our goals. They can be psychological, emotional, social or even tangible in nature. So the subconscious may have programming that prevents a desired reprogramming from happening, a kind of bug in the system.

A Secondary Gain is a benefit we experience when we do NOT solve a problem or do NOT achieve a goal. This may sound strange but is common, mainly in the field of health and well-being. Consciously, people want to solve the condition, but at a subconscious level, Secondary Gains cause them to fail to solve it.

In psychological therapy, understanding and addressing Secondary Gains is important. This is because they can impede the progress of treatment. Therapists often work with clients to identify and address these Secondary Gains to help people make healthier choices and achieve their primary goals.

It is important to stress that Secondary Gains are often unintended. Recognising these Secondary Gains is crucial to understanding why people continue with certain behaviours or stay in certain situations, even if they are aware of the primary negative consequences. Identifying and addressing Secondary Gains can be an important part of effective therapeutic or problem-solving approaches to achieve more meaningful and sustainable change.

Examples of Secondary Gains

Secondary Gains can vary depending on the specific situation, condition or behaviour in question. Here are some examples of Secondary Gains in different contexts.


For example, in the context of illness, a person may experience Secondary Gains such as more attention from loved ones, time off or fewer responsibilities when he or she is ill. Although the primary motivation for seeking medical help is to deal with the illness itself, these Secondary Gains can sometimes subconsciously influence a person’s behaviour, making it more difficult to fully recover.

An employee who takes sick leave may receive Secondary Gains in the form of paid leave and less work-related stress.

A child who frequently complains of illness may receive extra attention from their parents, providing emotional comfort and a sense of security.

Drug abuse

A person with a substance abuse problem may experience Secondary Gains, such as temporary relief from emotional pain or stress when taking the drug.

The substance abuse can lead to sympathy and support from friends and family, giving them a social safety net.


A person who wants to quit smoking may feel that they will no longer belong to their social group if they quit. Then it is imperative that the person believes that even with having healthier habits, he will maintain the social connections. If this is not the case, the subconscious mind will not allow him to lose his friends and thus will not allow him to quit smoking.

Chronic pain

Someone suffering from chronic pain may receive Secondary Gains, such as disability benefits or insurance payments, which can provide financial relief.

Chronic pain may also result in reduced expectations for participation in various activities orresponsibilities, which may cause the person to avoid certain obligations.

Psychological disorders

A person with anxiety or depression may receive Secondary Gains in the form of increased attention and support from loved ones.

In some cases, persons with mental disorders may use their condition as a way to avoid difficult situations or responsibilities.


A person with a specific phobia (e.g. fear of flying) may avoid travelling, leading to Secondary Gains such as staying within their comfort zone and avoiding potential travel-related stress.

Weight gain

Excessive eating can provide temporary emotional comfort and serves as a Secondary Gain for individuals facing emotional challenges.

Weight gain can lead to less societal pressure to meet certain beauty standards, providing a sense of relief for some people.


Secondary Gains do not only play out on the physical plane. The moment you are working very hard to achieve certain goals and yet you just don’t succeed, it is important to think whether Secondary Gains could be at play. An example of this is money. Most people will say at the conscious level that it is very nice to have enough money. They work hard and yet they experience a lack of money in their lives. Or no paying clients come to their practice. They may have limiting beliefs about money. Such as ‘money is sinful’ ; ‘the devil always shits on the big pile’, ‘that person is rich, he probably didn’t get that honestly’; and ‘with us poor people it is cosy and there is togetherness, those rich people are aloof and selfish’.

In conclusion

As frustrating as Secondary Gains can be, it is very important to look at it with love. It is literally a cry for help from the subconscious. There is an important need of the client that was not seen and heard in the past and a protective mechanism has been built around it.

So these Secondary Gains can subconsciously prevent us from achieving our goals. When the Secondary Gain is known, we can easily transform it with the help of PSYCH-K®. We can retain the desired benefit while addressing the problem.

Maintain the benefit, transform the problem and create a new better situation where you can achieve your desired goals.

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