When Trauma Follows You Home

Family attorneys can stem the tide of secondary traumatic stress with healthy boundaries and self-care

Legal practice can be stressful enough on its own, but for family attorneys and others who regularly deal in traumatic situations, it can take a heavier emotional toll over time. Being adjacent to so many emotionally-charged events — from child abuse and domestic violence to the custody disputes themselves —family attorneys run a relatively high risk of developing secondary traumatic stress.

Although it can be difficult to pinpoint, secondary traumatic stress is preventable and treatable with good law practice habits and self-care, even in a legal area as crisis-prone as family law.

Secondary traumatic stress, which is sometimes also referred to as compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma, is a condition that can occur in someone who is exposed to or hears about traumatic experiences that happen to others. A person suffering from secondary trauma will often experience symptoms like chronic nightmares and anxiety and sometimes turn to substance abuse, much like someone with post-traumatic stress, except without a traumatic event actually happening to them.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the July 16, 2018 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.