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

Levin, Andrew P. MD*†; Albert, Linda LCSW; Besser, Avi PhD§; Smith, Deborah JD; Zelenski, Alex MBA; Rosenkranz, Stacey PhD; Neria, Yuval PhD†#

The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: December 2011 - Volume 199 - Issue 12 - p 946–955
doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e3182392c26
Original Articles
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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.

*Westchester Jewish Community Services, Hartsdale, NY; †Department of Psychiatry,College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, NY; ‡Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program, State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison, WI; §Department of Behavioral Sciences and Center for Research in Personality, Life Transitions, and Stressful Life Events, Sapir Academic College, D. N. Hof Ashkelon, Israel; ∥Assigned Counsel Division, Wisconsin State Public Defender Office, Madison, WI; ¶Weill Medical College, Cornell University, New York, NY; and #New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY.

Send reprint requests to Andrew P. Levin, MD, Westchester Jewish Community Services, 141 North Central Avenue, Hartsdale, NY 10530. E-mail: aplevin2@cs.com.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.