posted on October 05, 2016 14:57
Acknowledgement of trauma and implementation of trauma-informed practice within legal practice and systems is long overdue. Doing so will enhance both individual and community wellbeing.
- The prevalence of trauma, its multiple adverse effects and the benefits of trauma-informed practice on individual and community health and wellbeing1 are well documented.
- Mounting evidence substantiates that “more effective, fair, intelligent, and just legal responses must work from a perspective which is trauma informed”.
- Implementation of trauma-informed principles would benefit diverse legal practitioners, personnel, their clients, and the administration of justice per se
Unlike “normal stress”, trauma involves the overwhelming of coping mechanisms in response to real or perceived threat. Innate and initially protective, “fight”, “flight” or “freeze” responses are activated. People living with the effects of unresolved trauma are often, however, profoundly destabilised by “normal life stress”. The cycle of physical and psychological reactivity it precipitates negatively affects well-being, and erodes health and a wide spectrum of functioning.
The word “trauma” generally connotes single incidents (ie, post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD) but “there is more to trauma than PTSD”. “Complex” (i.e. cumulative, underlying) trauma – which is often interpersonal – is more common and its effects are more pervasive. Complex trauma is prevalent in legal and judicial contexts: “As a powerful institution in society, law regularly encounters and deals with people, both as victims and offenders, whose lives have been shaped and harmed by traumatic events.”
In contrast to clinical treatment of trauma, “trauma-informed practice” can be learnt and implemented by all. Its primary aim is to avoid the compounding of trauma – to “do no harm”.
Trauma-informed practice is relevant to all contexts, services and institutions which engage with people with unresolved trauma. Necessarily this includes the institution and practice of law which is pivotal in regulating human behaviour and adjudicating disputes. “The law too should stive to become trauma informed.”
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