Set against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, Clinical Professor of Field Education Steve Hydon presented “Secondary Traumatic Stress: Causality and Impact” at the California Public Defenders Association’s annual retreat in Monterey, Calif. About 200 public defenders from across the state were in attendance.
Secondary traumatic stress is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another. The condition, also known as vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue, mimics the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and is common among healthcare providers, mental health professionals and first responders.
Although Hydon’s usual presentations on secondary traumatic stress are to school social workers, teachers and mental health professionals, he said the content and concerns regarding the impact of secondary traumatic stress and compassion fatigue are no different for lawyers.
“Listening to the horrific and tragic stories of clients impacts us in significant ways, both personally and professionally, and that can have a lasting effect on the work we do,” he told the audience.
As a method of addressing this secondary trauma, Hydon emphasizes self-care in his presentation. He holds his participants accountable to craft self-care plans that go beyond weekly exercise or healthier eating habits, delving into such categories as cognitive, environmental and spiritual self-care.
Through the recommendation of Marleen Wong, associate dean of field education, Hydon was invited to New Orleans several years ago by the U.S. Department of Education to participate in the development of a curriculum to train teachers and mental health professionals working in schools about secondary traumatic stress and educator resilience.
This initiative was a result of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Teachers were devastated by these events and needed ways to express and process the feelings and emotions they were experiencing. Working with Wong and other national experts in the field of traumatic stress, Hydon subsequently became a consultant to the Department of Education. Since 2010, Hydon has presented to groups across the country, including those in Flowery Branch, Ga.; Townshend, Vt.; and Joplin, Mo.
The Monterey experience provided an opportunity for Hydon to present to a group of professionals that he rarely interacts with and make an impact in their processing of secondary traumatic stress.
In the hotel lobby after his presentation, one of the participants recognized him and approached him and extended his hand.
“Your presentation is the reason why I came to this conference,” he said, shaking his hand. “Thank you!”