Vicarious Trauma Its Affects on the Legal Profession

Vicarious Trauma – Its Affects on the Legal Profession

Vicarious Trauma - Its Affects on the Legal Profession

Vicarious Trauma Its Affects on the Legal Profession

As attorneys, we are often faced with traumatic events. Litigation is often filled with disturbing images and disturbing facts. While we may try to distance ourselves from these events in our personal lives, the events we see in our professional lives can take their toll. This effect is known as vicarious trauma. Vicarious Trauma can negatively affect attorneys, including fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Attorneys need to be aware of these risks and take steps to protect themselves from vicarious Trauma.

Vicarious Trauma is a term used to describe the emotional or psychological effects on professionals who witness their clients’ traumatic experiences. This type of trauma damages legal professionals, leading to significant stress, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and if gone unchecked, could cause unwanted pressures. Legal professionals need to be aware of vicarious Trauma and its effects to protect themselves and manage their well-being. This article will introduce you to the impact of vicarious trauma and how it may affect your personal and professional life.

What is Vicarious Trauma, and how does it affect the legal profession

Chronic stress, anxiety, and depression are common issues many people face in the legal profession. However, Vicarious Trauma is another less-talked-about issue that can seriously impact attorneys and judges. Vicarious Trauma is often caused by exposure to traumatic stories and events experienced by others and can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. It is an essential issue that legal professionals should recognize and address.

What are some signs you may be experiencing vicarious trauma?

Experiencing lingering feelings of anger, rage, and sadness about the patient’s victimization.

  • Becoming overly involved emotionally with the patient
  • Experiencing bystander guilt, shame, feelings of self-doubt
  • Being preoccupied with thoughts of patients outside of the work situation
  • Over-identification with the patient (having horror and rescue fantasies)
  • Loss of hope, pessimism, cynicism
  • Distancing, numbing, detachment, cutting patients off, staying busy
  • Avoiding listening to the client’s story of traumatic experiences
  • Difficulty in maintaining professional boundaries with the client
If you are experiencing any of these signs, this could indicate that you are suffering from vicarious trauma. Vicarious Trauma: symptoms and strategies for coping

Anyone who has worked in the legal profession can attest to the high levels of stress and emotional fatigue that come with the job. But what many may not realize is that this type of stress can lead to something known as vicarious trauma. Vicarious Trauma is when a person experiences traumatic symptoms due to exposure to another person’s Trauma. It can be incredibly harmful to both the individual and the profession as a whole, so it’s crucial to understand what it is and how to address it.

How to avoid vicarious trauma in your law practice

No one expects law professionals to work in a bubble, completely shielded from the outside world. In any profession, there are inherent risks that come with the job. For lawyers, one of those risks is the potential for developing vicarious trauma. This condition can arise when lawyers are exposed to traumatic material in their work and can lead to a range of negative consequences, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. While there is no surefire way to avoid vicarious trauma altogether, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your practice. By taking some simple precautions, you can help protect yourself from developing vicarious trauma and maintain your well-being.

In her book, Dr. Faith Harper, Ph.D., LPC-S, ACS, ACN, explains: “Trauma is often complex and continuous. If you serve in the military or work in a high-risk profession, you experience terrible things regularly and know that they can occur at any minute of any day.” Dr. Haper says: “Trauma puts us in survival mode for the first thirty days. And traumas may be coming so fast and furious that we don’t have a moment to stop and breathe. So our brains shut down the trauma-processing experience so we can continue to survive. Taking care of ourselves often becomes a luxury we can’t afford, rather than a necessity we can’t ignore.”

Strategies for coping with vicarious trauma

Avoid alcohol and drugs. When you’re struggling with difficult emotions and traumatic memories, you may be tempted to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, massage, or yoga can activate the body’s relaxation response and ease symptoms of PTSD.

  • Get regular reflective professional supervision, individual and group, where possible.
  • Ensuring you have strong peer networks that you can call upon when you need that extra support.
  • Having a life outside of work that involves family, friends, and non-work-related activities.
Much like building a house, organizational response to vicarious trauma requires vision, commitment, and a methodical approach that lays a foundation and builds up from there. This blueprint, informed by research and lessons learned from the field, was created as a step-by-step guide to assist organizations in becoming more vicarious trauma-informed. It provides guidance on using the Vicarious Trauma—Organizational Readiness Guide (VT–ORG) to assess your organization’s current capacity as a vicarious trauma-informed organization and offers suggestions on how to use the FREE, online repository of policies, research, and websites in the Compendium of Resources, including the New Tools for the Field, created specifically for the VTT.

The legal profession can be one of the most stressful careers in our society, not to mention that it’s also a service industry. That means attorneys are exposed to traumatic experiences regularly and often do so without adequate emotional support or coping mechanisms. Attorney Erika L. Cossitt Volpiano, P.C., has developed an informative presentation about vicarious trauma for lawyers, exploring how this phenomenon impacts the law practice environment and strategies for managing its impact on your life through mindful meditation and other practices. If you think this might interest your organization or company, take control of your future and contact us at 520-795-2235 or visit us at to schedule a speaking engagement today.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is for informational purposes only and should not take the place of actual legal advice. Not all circumstances are the same, and it is suggested that you should seek legal counsel if you need assistance in any of these areas.

Read More
Vicarious Trauma - Its Affects on the Legal Profession

How Vicarious Trauma Affects the Legal System

How Vicarious Trauma Affects the Legal System

Vicarious Trauma - Its Affects on the Legal Profession
Lawyers, judges, and paralegals are all meant to maintain a strong front and help clients through their trauma. But what happens when the trauma of others begins to take a mental and emotional toll on those that represent them? This type of trauma may seem like an odd problem – like a doctor being infected by his patient. However, it is a widespread issue for attorneys and other legal professionals who internalize their client’s trauma. After hearing many tragic stories a day, it’s not a surprise legal professionals would empathize with clients. In fact, most professionals in the legal system tend to suffer from some form of vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue. So how does vicarious trauma affect the legal system? Read on to find out!

What Is Vicarious Trauma?

Vicarious trauma is second-hand trauma that many legal professionals face when defending clients. Professionals affected by vicarious trauma can become more cynical of their world. This effect can cause legal professionals to struggle with existential questions and developmental health issues.

Examples of common mental health issues caused by vicarious trauma include depressionanxiety, and PTSD-like symptoms. Additionally, some professionals will have other adverse reactions to vicarious trauma, such as feeling hopeless, constantly worrying about potential dangers, emotionally numb, or having problems with personal relationships.

Who Is Most Susceptible to Vicarious Trauma?

While anyone working with victims can be at risk of being affected by vicarious trauma, the legal professionals who work in criminal justice and family law tend to be the most affected. These results are because they are more exposed to traumatic stories that would naturally cause them to be empathetic.

Aside from professionals in specific legal fields having a greater possibility of being susceptible to vicarious trauma, personal factors can also make certain people more vulnerable. These factors include:

  • Having prior traumatic experiences similar to those of the client 
  • Lack of preparation and boundary training
  • Tendency to withdraw from situations and avoid feelings 
  • Lack of support from coworkers and supervisors
  • Difficulty expressing emotions

How Does Vicarious Trauma Affect the Legal System?

As vicarious trauma causes legal professionals to have an increasingly hostile point of view and cause mental health issues, more and more professionals are quitting the field.

Vicarious trauma can also lead to other issues, such as excessive drinking to deal with the stress. In fact, in a study by the American Bar Association in 2016, 20.6% of attorneys who participated in the survey indicated a problematic level of drinking. Even more shocking is that 61.15% of the respondents had anxiety, and 45.7% had depression. These statistics show the dire need for mental health reform in legal professions. If the legal system does not change how law professionals are supported, the number of people interested in a law career will likely decrease. In contrast, the number of lawyers who quit due to vicarious trauma will increase.

What Can Be Done About Vicarious Trauma In the Legal System?

Lawyers have recently pushed to recognize how and why legal professionals are at a higher risk for mental health issues. This push has included a call for lawyers and legal professionals to be better trained in dealing with clients who have faced trauma.
Separating oneself can be difficult since each client’s story is unique, and it is hard not to get attached or relate to others. These training sessions help the lawyer empathize from afar without internalizing the client’s suffering. Many law professionals also suggest that fields with high levels of vicarious trauma should provide organizational support to professionals working in this area. Employers are also encouraged to check on their employees and have an open-door policy where they can easily discuss their concerns.

As a Family Law Attorney in Arizona, Erika L. Cossitt Volpiano, P.C. has been part of the legal professionals working to spread awareness of vicarious trauma for many years. She has taught vicarious trauma’s dangers and adverse effects throughout the years in a creative and informative presentation.

Take control of your future and the effects of vicarious trauma. As a family law mediation attorney in Arizona, Erika has firsthand seen the effects of vicarious trauma. Because of this, she teaches other legal professionals what to look for and practices mindful meditation to ease the effects and regain confidence. Contact ELCV LAW today at 520-795-2233. You can also schedule an appointment at

Disclaimer: The content in this article is for informational purposes only and should not take the place of actual legal advice. Not all circumstances are the same, and it is suggested that you should seek legal counsel if you need assistance in any of these areas.

Read More