Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sustaining Human Rights Lawyers Through Self-Care

I just returned from the AALS clinical conference held in Chicago. While I was unable to stay for the entire time, two days was sufficient to be refreshed by the energy and commitment of my clinical colleagues. The panel in which I participated focused on self-care. Pepperdine Clinician Brittany Stringfellow Otney organized the panel. In addition to Brittany and myself, Lynnette Parker of Santa Clara Law and Virgil Wiebe of St. Thomas School of Law presented on various aspects of trauma, the effect of trauma and methods for training students to effectively recognize the symptoms of trauma while avoiding or minimizing the impact of vicarious trauma. Self-care is essential in the human rights field.

All of us who engage in human rights work are exposed to traumatic narratives every day. Whether the exposure is through direct client contact, listening to students’ case summaries or reading cases, in some part of our humanity we have an emotional reaction. Our triumphs, big and small, bring us joy. Experiencing a broad range of emotions is helpful. When we can experience happiness as well as sadness, when we can maintain a sense of humor, we are living the human experience. But do we recognize when we are experiencing worry, sadness and negativity with an absence of joy?

I assume that all human rights workers have experienced times of sadness and exhaustion, even extended times of sadness and exhaustion. Without those experiences we cannot learn prevention. Through our learning to manage our work within appropriate boundaries, we can assist our students in managing the emotional aspects of their work and to appreciate the limits of the role that we play in our clients lives.

Some of the suggested readings and helpful tools that came out of the discussion are:

Professional Quality of Life Measurements  which provides a questionnaire for determining how we handle vicarious trauma.  A self-care assessment is available,  as well.

On line-videos such as Resilience Man  can jumpstart the discussion.

Other materials and tools are available on the AALS clinical conference website on the 2014 program page under the panel Motivating Self-Care.

The topic is a reminder that if we wish to train sustainable lawyers to continue our human rights work, then a priority must be paying attention to our triggers and emotional health.


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