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Students create resource to help lawyers affected by trauma

24 March, 2023

A group of three UWA McCusker Centre for Citizenship students have created resources to assist WA lawyers manage vicarious trauma.

The resources are the product of the students working alongside industry partners from Law Access over the summer as part of a unique study unit at UWA, Approaches to Wicked Problems, which aims to tackle complex problems in the community.

Vicarious trauma, or secondary traumatic stress, can be experienced by professionals when working with survivors of trauma, causing a ripple effect that can impact their work, their wellbeing and their relationships.

Krystal Soo, a Bachelor of Psychological Science student who worked on the project, said that the resource aimed to address an often unmet need in the legal profession.

“Those in traditionally ‘caring’ professions receive relevant training to manage vicarious trauma, but the same support is not there for many legal professionals,

“For lawyers, the cumulative effect of vicarious trauma poses an additional challenge on top of competitive work environments,” she said.

“Lawyers are not impenetrable beings – while they can empower clients with complex trauma, lawyers must endure the effects of highly distressing materials when representing their clients,

“Our team, Jennifer Sanderson, Linh Tran and myself, hope that even if this is a small chip at a wider systemic issue, this self-care booklet can encourage trauma-informed practice, self-awareness and help-seeking by legal professionals,” Krystal said.

Over the course of the summer unit, the group worked with Law Access to fully explore the problem of vicarious trauma and produce the resource.

The self-care booklet created by the group contains accessible information about vicarious trauma in the context of legal practice, simple tools for self-assessment and self-care, and comprehensive information on further support and resources that are available for lawyers.

The resource is now freely accessible via Law Access’ website, where it will complement other resources on trauma-informed practice.

Law Access’ CEO, Alana Dowley, said she was delighted with the project outcome.

“The students we connect with through the McCusker Centre for Citizenship continue to be an indispensable resource. They offer fantastic energy, modern insights, and an array of talents that they apply to our real-work problems to create innovative and practical solutions,” she said.

“The students produced a thoroughly researched and professionally designed booklet that will become a go-to resource for Community Law Centres and pro bono lawyers, on vicarious trauma and self-care: Trauma-informed practice - Law Access Western Australia

This year, 15 students addressed the theme of workplace respect, inclusion and diversity and tackled several projects as a part of the unit.