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Open discussion on vicarious trauma needed

While mental health issues are usually kept private in the legal industry, there is scope for an open discussion on vicarious trauma generally, according to the Victorian Bar health and wellbeing committee chair.

Vicarious trauma occurs when legal professionals feel empathic engagement towards clients who themselves have suffered trauma.

Speaking with Lawyers Weekly, the Victorian Bar health and wellbeing committee chair Phil Corbett said: “It's not direct trauma that you're dealing with, or exposure to direct trauma, but vicarious trauma in the sense that it's secondary, if you like.”

Because of the nature of work many lawyers and barristers deal with, Mr Corbett said vicarious trauma is an issue for the profession.

"I think that it affects all lawyers at some stage. The level to which it affects them is difficult to assess, but it’s certainly an issue that all lawyers have to deal with,” he said.

Mr Corbett believes there's not enough open discussion about vicarious trauma at the Bar because it is such a private issue.

“Often barristers or lawyers will want to keep their issues private but I think there's certainly scope for an open discussion about the issue generally, rather than doing it on an individual level.”

He also said that more training and education on mental health issues would be a benefit.

“I certainly would encourage there to be more education about mental health issues, whether it be vicarious trauma in particular or other issues as well,” he said.

Mr Corbett said the Victorian Bar has a counselling service that’s available to all members of the Bar and their families free of charge for a period of time.

“If a barrister feels that they have an issue they are encouraged to use the counselling service, it doesn't matter what sort of mental health issue it is, it's any mental health issue or any personal issue,” he said.

When asked if other Bar associations should provide something similar, Mr Corbett said: “It’s a matter for each association to consider the needs of its members but certainly we've found that it's one that's used reasonably frequently.”

He added: “It’s an important service to offer and provide and I think a lot of our members have benefited.”

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