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.