Primary and Secondary Gain

Primary Gain

Primary gain refers to internal psychological motivators. For example, a client might feel guilty about being unable to perform a task. If he has a mental disorder, he might not feel so bad.

Secondary Gain

Secondary gain refers to external psychological motivators. For example, if a client’s problem allows him/her to miss work, avoid jury duty, obtain financial compensation, obtain drugs, or avoid a jail sentence, these would be examples of secondary gain. If he/she is deliberately exaggerating symptoms for personal gain, then he/she is malingering. However, secondary gain may simply be an unconscious psychological component of symptoms and other personalities.

Secondary gain is often the reason why hypnosis fails to stop someone losing weight or smoking, simply because they have an external motivator that makes them feel better smoking or putting on weight.


Malingering is fabricating or exaggerating the symptoms of mental or physical disorders for a variety of “secondary gain” motives, which may include financial compensation (often tied to fraud); avoiding school, work or military service; obtaining drugs; getting lighter criminal sentences; or simply to attract attention or sympathy.