The Colorado LGBT Bar Association hosted a virtual event on January 25, 2023, “Healing in the Wake of Community Trauma,” to address lawyers’ secondary trauma from mass shootings, including the Club Q shooting, clients’ experiences, and other horrors. I appreciate Shannara Quissell’s efforts to put the program together and make it free and accessible to the public. Shannara is a board member for the Colorado LGBT Bar Association. The El Paso County Bar Association co-sponsored the event. It was a welcome opportunity to come together as a community and learn about the effects of trauma and what we can do.
Amy Phillips, Assistant Director of the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program (COLAP) and a licensed clinical social worker and addiction counselor, presented on “Mitigating the Impact of Secondary Trauma in High Trauma Legal Environments.” What is secondary trauma? As Amy explained it, secondary trauma is the emotional distress from hearing about others’ firsthand trauma experiences. Helping professionals—such as lawyers, doctors, therapists, social workers, and emergency responders—may be especially vulnerable to secondary trauma. Secondary trauma is sometimes known as compassion fatigue, though Amy explained why that term isn’t entirely accurate.
The ways secondary trauma may show up fall along a continuum. Individuals will find themselves at different places along that continuum. At one end, some may just notice their exposure to trauma but experience few, if any, effects. At the other end, others may develop post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health conditions. Between those two extremes, many individuals experience symptoms like apathy, difficulties sleeping or eating, feeling disconnected from others, losing a sense of joy, anxiety, or exhaustion. These symptoms can affect our personal and professional lives. Amy described the importance of recognizing what symptoms we’re experiencing.
In the second part of her conversation, Amy offered practical tips to managing secondary trauma and other stressors. Among her advice:
Take breaks between meetings. Stand up, walk around, and notice what we’re experiencing. Don’t just rush from matter to matter.
Engage in enjoyable relaxation.
Fuel our bodies with food and rest.
Retrain our brains to accept the “both/and” of our experiences. It’s okay to—and we need to—balance out exposure to suffering with exposure to joy and gratitude.
Extend grace to ourselves and to others.
Say “no” to some things so that we can say “yes” to the things we value the most.
Find community. Build safe, loving relationships.
Be intentional about news and social media consumption. Consider setting limits.
Seek out professional help.
In the final part of the event, Amy and other participants offered up resources and ways to get involved. If you’re looking for support, consider COLAP, which provides free, confidential consultations with clinicians to Colorado lawyers. The Colorado LGBT Bar Association has also put together a free Resource Toolkit in response to the Club Q shooting. Thanks to Scott Rosenbach, president-elect of that bar association, for sharing it.
Ready to support those affected by the Club Q shooting? The Colorado LGTB Bar Association and the El Paso County Bar Association are both organizing pro bono efforts. Reach out to Erin Vanek, a Colorado LGBT Bar Association board member, or Ian Kalmanowitz, an El Paso County Bar Association board member, to learn more.
Isabel J. Broer is an Assistant Attorney General in the K-12 Education Unit of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. Isabel co-chairs the office’s internship program and founded and leads its DEI book club. She previously clerked for Justice Monica M. Márquez and Judge Christine M. Arguello. Prior to attending Harvard Law School, Isabel taught ninth grade algebra in the Denver Public Schools. She enjoys skiing, hiking, camping, and reading in her free time.