A leader in secondary trauma provides insights and support to DPD staff 

By Leslie Brown, Department of Public Defense

Pictured: Laura leading the secondary trauma training at DPD.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, a pioneer in the field of trauma exposure, visited the King County Department of Public Defense (DPD) last month, where she led a spirited, provocative, and often humorous exploration into the impact of secondary trauma on one’s life. The genesis for the training came out of the Secondary Trauma Care Work Group, recently organized by SEIU Local 925, Teamsters Local 117, and DPD.

Laura discussed common responses to trauma, from guilt and hopelessness, to chronic exhaustion, to feelings of depression. When trauma is not “metabolized,” as she put it, it starts to accumulate, taking a toll that eventually affects one’s personal life, professional life, and much more. We feed trauma through addictive behaviors of one stripe or another, she said. It can be metabolized, she added, by making sure you laugh, get exercise, feel gratitude, experience nature, set boundaries, and get ongoing, adequate sleep.

Several staff members attended the three-hour training, including attorneys, mitigation specialists, investigators, paralegals, legal administrative specialists, and more. And many of them asked heartfelt questions, noting they feel overwhelmed by the workload, angry at the system, and unable to unplug at night, even when their kids are tugging at them. “I often feel as though I can never do enough. I feel I’m always behind. I’m on email while I try to cook dinner,” said Bobbie Edmiston, one attorney at the training.

Laura offered both practical advice and therapeutic insights, urging people to support one another to have a balanced life and to try to reshape a culture that rewards workaholism. As for Bobbie’s dilemma, she said, “Walk into your home at night and put your phone in a padlocked drawer for two hours.” Then tell yourself whatever it is can wait, she added.

The Secondary Trauma Care Work Group, a collaboration between labor and management, has met three times and is about to schedule its fourth meeting. DPD is also purchasing several copies of Laura’s book, Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others, with a plan to distribute copies to the divisions and keep some for loan in the Director’s Office. Learn more about Laura and her organization, The Trauma Stewardship Institute.