Recent BBA Program Addressed the Effects of Vicarious Trauma for Pro Bono and Legal Services Attorneys

As part of the BBA’s ongoing focus on lawyer wellbeing, earlier this month the Delivery of Legal Services Section held an introductory workshop for pro bono and legal services lawyers on understanding vicarious trauma.

The program, led by Katherine Manners of Resilience Works, provided an overview of vicarious trauma, which represents an occupational challenge for those working with trauma survivors.  Citing a 2011 study, Manners said that 34% of attorneys working with traumatized clients meet the criteria for PTSD, and 75% meet the criteria for functional impairment, such as disruption in one’s personal and family life.  She noted that, if left unaddressed, vicarious trauma can have significant physical, behavioral, emotional, spiritual, cognitive, and relational effects, and can negatively impact professional performance.  An interactive activity helped attendees reflect on how some of these effects may have manifested in their own lives.

Manners stated that vicarious traumatization is inevitable in workplaces where employees are exposed to the effects of trauma, but that the negative impacts can be managed, and that both individual practitioners and entire organizations can adopt practices to increase vicarious resilience, vicarious transformation, and “compassion satisfaction.”  She discussed factors that improve resilience, and suggested some practical coping tools.

A second program on this topic, “Addressing Vicarious Trauma: Practical Skills and Planning,” will be held on Thursday, December 12, from 4:00-6:00pm. The program will focus on helping attendees integrate trauma-informed principles into their practice, establish professional boundaries, and consider ways to strengthen team and organizational responses to vicarious trauma. For more information and to register, click here.

This programming is made possible in part by the Boston Bar Foundation’s Joan B. DiCola Fund. This fund provides critical support for Boston Bar Association programs and initiatives that foster the education and professional development of lawyers. For more information on the BBF or this fund, please click here.