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By Anabelle Nietupski, Staff Writer
A global pandemic, political turmoil, a national civil rights movement, natural disasters, and unbelievable loss – the past twelve months have perhaps been the most trauma inducing in recent history. Yet, the world keeps spinning, with students still expected to learn and professionals still expected to work. Lawyers constantly expose themselves to secondhand trauma through their line of work, but that does not make the increased amount of exposure any easier to cope with.
The legal profession consistently fosters “a culture and environment that is ill-equipped to handle emotional vulnerability, mental health, self-care, and personal and professional preservation.”  Aggressive caseloads, culture of rewarding “overwork,” general suppression of emotional responses, lack of mental health awareness and organizational support, and the adversarial nature of the industry all contribute to an environment that does not allow legal professionals time to process their difficult emotions.  Exposure to upsetting situations and brokenhearted clients, coupled with an inability to cope properly, result in secondhand trauma. 
Consistent exposure to secondhand trauma is what allows lawyers to be “among the most depressed and distressed professionals.”  The internal impact of trauma exposure may take many forms, with the most reoccurring being compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, moral distress, cumulative stress, and burnout.  Specifically pertinent, vicarious trauma refers to the continuous exposure of the trauma and suffering of others, that eventually combines to form personal trauma. Physically, this may manifest “in a number of symptoms ranging in level of severity, from headaches, stress eating or loss of appetite to chronic exhaustion and paranoia.” 
When left unresolved, secondhand trauma may be debilitating, especially when working in such a fast-paced profession that often makes it easier to ignore signs of personal trauma in order to continue serving others.  Yet, exposure to secondhand trauma without proper mitigation has been known to reduce the quality of client relations.  As a result, legal professionals have shown to exhibit reduced empathy, active avoidance of client interaction, hypervigilance, or unintentional avoidance of specific key aspects of a client’s history.  There are many helpful strategies to combat secondhand trauma that can be incorporated into the life of a legal professional, including: exercise, timely rest and relaxation, time spent in nature, connecting with others and expressing a need for help, spending time utilizing a form of creative expression, setting boundaries and limits when possible, celebrating your successes, and by creating a long term plan for coping.  Small well-timed moments of personal reflection and peace act as a block to the overpowering accumulation of trauma and stress.
Throughout the past twelve months of experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, this professional exposure to trauma has been consistently compounded with personal, social, and environmental trauma. With the entire country feeling the strain of additional stress, it is unrealistic to assume simple coping skills will solve the entire problem. It is absolutely pertinent to make mental health a priority, consider contacting a health care professional or therapist to discover new coping methods, and reach out to loved ones and connect safely.