Vicarious trauma: the impact of working with survivors of trauma

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Lambert, Sharon
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Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development, ACJRD
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Practitioners who work in the criminal justice services, both statutory and voluntary, have long known that a huge number of the people they come into contact with have long histories of challenging life circumstances. While in Ireland we have limited data regarding the breadth and depth of traumatic experiences in the lives of people who are incarcerated, we are aware that most emerge from situations of marginalisation, poverty, mental health and addiction 1, (Kennedy et al., 2005). There is growing recognition that early life experiences, particularly adverse childhood experiences, have a direct role in the development of later negative events and behaviours (Taylor et al., 2008: Fellitti et al 1998). The public often lacks empathy for those who commit crime (Schissel, 2016) as too can professionals (Kjelsberg et al., 2007). However, the client blameworthy perspective is being challenged by advances in research, particularly public health, neuroscience and developmental psychology. This new evidence indicates that people who have been exposed to chronic stress and trauma in childhood are not engaged in ‘bad behaviour’ but ‘adaptive behaviour’ (Lambert & Gill-Emerson, 2017). Adverse structural changes occur in the developing brain due to exposure to adverse childhood experiences (Teicher & Samson, 2013). This conference paper will discuss the impact on front line staff of working with vulnerable people and ways in which organisations can respond to improve outcomes for service users, staff and the whole organisation. In order to understand the impact on staff we must first understand the types of trauma presenting.
Criminal justice services , Trauma , Trauma informed service , Front line staff , Trauma-responsive criminal justice system
Lambert, S. (2018) 'Vicarious Trauma: The impact of working with survivors of Trauma ', 5th Annual Irish Criminal Justice Agencies Conference: Toward a Trauma responsive criminal justice system: why, how and what next?, Dublin Castle, 4 July, pp. 30-36. Available online:,_How_and_What_Next.pdf
© 2018 published by ACJRD on behalf of Irish Criminal Justice Agencies Conferences