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Vicarious trauma - barrister

My story

“I have in the past few years suffered post-traumatic stress as a result of dealing with a number of cases involving horrific torture and abuse of some of my clients who have suffered at the hands of foreign governments, the instances of which make me sick.

It is part of my job to get details – the minute details of the abuse, such as, how and where someone was beaten, how it made them feel, how fearful they were of being raped and tortured by prison guards and inmates. The reason is that some asylum seekers do make things up, and so, in order to test their account. I have to listen to what happened, something that a counsellor or therapist does not have to do. The same can be said for those of us who have had to view child pornography. Something I have only had to do once and an experience that still haunts me 8 years later.

The problem with this job is that there is no training on how to deal with these matters. One learns coping mechanisms in one’s personal life to deal with them, but when they don’t always work. I had a case a few years ago and realised I was suffering from depression as a result of listening to instances of torture. The images of what had been described to me ran through my head all the time and I was exhausted.

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I am fortunate in that I am reasonably aware of my frailties and am willing to discuss them. When on holiday I realised I was suffering and returned to chambers and met with my senior clerk and a QC who had more experience than I did of genocide and torture cases. They were very supportive. I took a couple of weeks off to try to recover and relax and I did not take on any additional work for a period and returned a number of my cases. but I realised I needed a specialist in PTSD. I tried a general counsellor but he was dreadful.

Through the recommendation of a psychiatrist friend I found a specialist in PTSD. I saw her for a number of months and have learned to cope and overcome the issues with PTSD. I am now much more aware of protecting myself. I take significant breaks from practice and don’t deal with too many of these type of cases.

Chambers dealt with it well on an informal basis – I think we have a much stronger pastoral ethos than many chambers and professions, but I recognise I am fortunate, I could afford to take time off, I could afford the significant counselling fees. For many juniors that would be impossible”.

Barrister, 12 Years’ Call

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