Lawyers and Vicarious Trauma
Anne Mainsbridge

NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS)

Focus Summary

Legal assistance is vital for asylum seekers who are seeking protection. But what are the potential impacts on lawyers of exposure to traumatic testimonies?

This paper examines the evidence for vicarious trauma in refugee lawyers. It also outlines a model of trauma informed legal practice to help lawyers engage effectively with asylum seeker clients while also protecting themselves against the risks of vicarious trauma.

Key Insights
  • Many refugee lawyers are at risk of vicarious trauma because of the nature of the work that they do and the traumatic material to which they are exposed.
  • Self care, access to free clinical supervision in the context of a trauma informed legal practice model implemented at the organisational level are some of the measures that will help to support refugee lawyers in their vital work.
Key take-outs from the ISHHR 2017 Conference (industry feedback, networking, peer presentations):

The concept of lawyers being subject to vicarious trauma was not something many people had considered previously.

Future goals — what’s next?

I would like to do research further exploring the prevalence of vicarious trauma amongst refugee lawyers and the impact it has on their well being and their work practices.

How can local / national / international media better assist in bringing the vital issues discussed at ISHHR 2017 to light, and further encourage real, positive change and understanding?

Lawyers are often portrayed unsympathetically by the media. It is important that they be seen as human beings who may be deeply affected by the traumatic client testimony they are witness to in preparing asylum claims.

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