The Law Is Not as Blind as It Seems

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Photo by Lisa Brewster via Flickr

A recent Australian study in the Psychiatry, Psychology, and Law Journal has expanded the research on how trauma-stricken clients can indirectly distress those who seek to assist them. The study specifically focuses on lawyers and mental health care professionals, including those who work on criminal justice cases and with justice-involved individuals.

The study authors, Grace Maguire and Mitchell K. Byrne, evaluated 66 lawyers, psychologists and social workers—all of whom work with clients who have experienced personal cases of trauma or were the cause of it in others. Maguire’s and Byrne’s research found that unlike previous studies of its kind, the amount of time in the profession, the age, or personal traits of the individuals do not affect whether or not they could be affected by indirect trauma.

“What emerges from this study is that law professionals and MHPs are both affected by exposure to trauma. However, professionals in the mental health field may be better at managing the impact of this exposure…”

The authors cited previous studies showing for example that criminal laweyers experienced high rates of vicarious trauma compared to attorneys who did not work with traumatized clients.   Symptoms included “high levels of subjective distress, negative cognitive beliefs in relation to safety and intimacy, avoidance, intrusions
and hyperarousal,”  as well as depression and anxiety.

The authors suggest that intervention strategies to reduce “vicarious traumatization” should concentrate on working with the agencies and offices that employ justice professionals, arguing that their research shows it will be more effective than focusing on individuals.

This article is available here for a fee. journalists who would like to read the article free of charge should email Deputy Editor Alice Popovici at 

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