Inside Track: The toll of trauma: New study examines effects of 'compassion fatigue' on public defenders:

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  • The toll of trauma: New study examines effects of 'compassion fatigue' on public defenders

    Linda Albert and Deb Smith

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    Dec. 7, 2011 – The cumulative physical, emotional, and psychological effects resulting from continual exposure to others’ traumatic experience – compassion fatigue – can put lawyers at risk. In this video, Deb Smith, SPD director of assigned counsel, and Linda Albert, State Bar WisLAP coordinator, discuss the agency’s involvement with the State Bar’s compassion fatigue study and what it is doing to support its staff.

    The study shows that the extent of caseload and lawyers’ exposure to other people’s trauma were clearly related to symptoms of compassion fatigue. “If your job involves a constant diet of stories and reports of people committing acts of violence against others, seeing photos of violence, or listening to clients stories of violence, your brain takes in that pain,” says Smith. “And, it can affect your psychology in a way that is similar to the people being traumatized by the violence.”

    Smith says that lawyers are not immune to this trauma. She urges lawyers to “take time for yourself, take care of yourself, and stay connected with family and friends who are there to support you.”

    In the article “The Toll of Trauma,” published in the December 2011 Wisconsin Lawyer magazine, public defenders and district attorneys discuss the survey findings and how their work may contribute to compassion fatigue.