Whether as a tongue-in-cheek reference to a “traumatic” morning stuck in traffic to significant, deeply personal experiences, the word trauma is fixed within our modern vernacular. Trauma is a word that captures an ongoing recognition of human experience within social structures and culture.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is a pervasive response to an incident or series of events that are emotionally disturbing and/or life-threatening. They have enduring adverse effects on an individual's mental, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Experiences that may be characterised as Traumatic include:
Trauma is diverse and so too are individual reactions to trauma. The growing understanding of trauma within society has allowed the development of structural awareness of how people’s brains and bodies respond to trauma and the negative long-term effects of this exposure.
When we perceive or experience extreme threat, our usual coping mechanisms can be overwhelmed and our innate ‘fight’, ‘flight’, and/or ‘freeze’ responses are activated. These responses are protective, but if underlying trauma is not resolved or individuals have ongoing exposure to traumatic events, over time ‘normal life stress’ can become profoundly destabilising. This can cause people to become trapped in reactive cycles with extreme ill-effects on well-being and a range of functioning.
There is a distinct relationship between trauma and risky behaviours. The coping mechanisms that can develop to alleviate the emotional and/ or physical pain of trauma can develop into maladaptive behaviours which often contribute to anxiety, social isolation, chronic diseases, and dependency risks.
Many people understand trauma as arising from a single incident or event; an extreme one-off that may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, more common, and more debilitating is ‘complex’ trauma which is a result of cumulative, interpersonal experiences over time. Trauma can occur at any age; however, cumulative trauma often relates to childhood experiences at the hands of caregivers and can have adverse physical, psychological, and psychosocial impacts into adulthood.
Adults who experienced trauma in childhood are often “wired” differently than those who did not. Individuals are conditioned to deal with nearly constant stress and can struggle to respond appropriately to situations that would otherwise appear normal and non-threatening. This supports the statistics of the mental health experiences of adult trauma survivors, particularly concerning depression, anxiety, and other issues related to emotional regulation. Mental health issues can contribute to long-term difficulties maintaining healthy relationships, lead to problems at school or work, and can lead to issues that see individuals interact with legal services.
What does Trauma-informed practice look like?
With an improved understanding of trauma comes the recognition of the need for trauma-informed practice.
Successful trauma-informed practice within legal settings must evaluate how services are delivered in conjunction with the accessibility of services offered. We recognise trust and rapport as the foundation of effective legal practice. Our firm strives to develop trust with clients ensuring individuals feel safe, understand their options, and can be active and empowered participants in the decisions that affect them.
Justice Crew Legal recognises that the adaptations a person has had to make to cope with life’s circumstances may present as ‘difficult’ behaviour within a legal setting. We are committed to acknowledging clients’ strengths, notwithstanding that they may be struggling with overwhelming experiences. The effects of trauma are not necessarily apparent to those experiencing it, nor are they always evident to the services or institutions with which individuals come into contact.
At Justice Crew Legal Services, we are committed to trauma-informed legal practice. We understand the basics of how stress impacts the brain and the body and have implemented strategies to avoid exacerbating possible trauma-related problems.
The law, in its simplest definition, regulates and responds to human behaviour. Therefore, approaches within the legal sector must acknowledge the intersection of trauma with behaviour and consider how this correlates to the issues most prevalent within the justice system.