Secondary Traumatic Stress in Attorneys and Their Administrative Support Staff Working With Trauma-Exposed Clients

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Abstract

Although secondary trauma has been assessed in various groups of mental health professionals, few studies, to date, have examined secondary trauma among attorneys exposed to clients’ traumatic experiences. This study examined indicators of secondary trauma among attorneys (N = 238) and their administrative support staff (N = 109) in the Wisconsin State Public Defender Office. Attorney participants demonstrated significantly higher levels of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, depression, secondary traumatic stress, burnout, and functional impairment compared with the administrative support staff. This difference was mediated by attorneys’ longer work hours and greater contact with clients who had experienced or had been directly involved with trauma. Sex, age, years on the job, office size, and personal history of trauma did not predict symptoms. These findings suggest a need to support attorneys experiencing these symptoms and to address high workloads as well as the intensity of contact with trauma-exposed clients.

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