Health Support and Advice for Lawyers
President: The Rt. Hon. Lord Woolf, Lord Chief Justice
When studying to be a lawyer, and then progressing through the profession to a place on the Bench,
one comes across many precepts and concepts. However, there is one that does not, as yet, appear
to have impacted on the legal consciousness and it is this:“vicarious trauma is an occupational hazard”
Donald C Murray Q.C ( Canada) + Johnette M Royer.
Because being a Judge requires the use of brain, not brawn, no one thinks in terms of “hazard” as
being a part of the job. However, in North America this is now being recognised as a very real
“Trauma workers are persons who work directly with, or have direct exposure to, trauma victims,
and include…lawyers…and judges among others…..There is an impact on trauma workers
from their contact with traumatic events and through their work with persons directly
involved with traumatic experiences”
Dutton and Rubinstein
as quoted in Figley “Compassion Fatigue as Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder”1995.
“ Anybody who engages with trauma survivors or perpetrators …can be open to vicarious trauma,
even Judges.”
“Judges hear terrible things.”
Lisa McCann and Dr Laurie Pearlman
So how does this manifest itself?
“Vicarious trauma is the experience of bearing witness to the atrocities committed against another.
It is the result of absorbing the sight, smell, sound, touch and feel of the stories told in detail by the
victims searching for a way to release their own pain…It is the insidious way that the experiences
slip under the door, finding ways to permeate the lawyer’s / Judges’ life …creating changes that are
both subtle and pronounced…Personal balance can be lost…draining strength, confidence, desire,
friendship, calmness, laughter and good health. Confusion, apathy, isolation, anxiety, sadness and
illness are often the result”
Richardson - “Guidebook on Vicarious Trauma”. 2001
“Vicarious traumatisation is a contagious, malignant process that can have severe consequences for
the professional.”
Blair and Ramones - “Understanding Vicarious Traumatisation” 1996
In the context of the judicial role, the interaction with the victim’s traumatic experience arises not
only though the Judge directly reading or hearing the evidence. It also arises through the Judge’s
need to manage the traumatic material, thus reinforcing the absorption of the details.
The last thing that anyone sitting in judgement on cases that involve those who have undergone /
are undergoing trauma is to lose their humanity and their ability to empathise. It is exactly those
facets that, on the one hand, ensure the best possible
decision yet, on the other, make the Judge vulnerable to vicarious trauma. Judges are supposed to
remain detached, yet if they do isolate themselves from what they hear, they cannot do their job
However, if vicarious trauma is suffered and the Judge is affected, then the knock-on effect will
also inevitably be an inability to do the job, as well as changes in personality and outlook on life
also beginning to impinge on the Judge’s personal life and relationships.
Symptoms can manifest themselves as, amongst others: a reduced tolerance to others
 difficulty in relating to / detachment from others
 increased cynicism
 becoming overly judgemental of others
 emotional numbing
 inability to feel pleasure
 sleep problems
 depression
 addictive behaviour
 overuse of intellectualisation / rationalisation
 faulty judgement
 denial.
So what can be done about this? The obvious answer is to ask for help, but
“Professional trauma workers perceive role conflict when they themselves must seek help. They
feel out of control by admitting weakness and vulnerability…Furthermore, trauma workers
consciously and unconsciously use protective mechanisms such as denial, repression and
suppression, thereby deceiving themselves as well as others”.
Beaton and Murphy –“Working with people in crisis”
However, LawCare is there to help. To listen confidentially, non-judgementally, and to talk
problems through with any Judge in need. To assist with suggesting nurturing, self-care activities
that will lead to a better life / work balance and healthy habits that will help to off-set the effects of
vicarious trauma. If you need any help then please ring
freephone helpline 0800 018 4299.
Weekdays 9am to 7.30pm
Weekends 10am to 4pm.
With thanks to Donald C Murray Q.C, Johnette M Royer and the Canadian Bar Association for