December 4, 2019

From Vanessa Nordyke, Salem City Councilor & Mental Health Advocate

Trauma Informed Oregon’s (TIO) conference was a game-changer for people like me. Last year, I served as president to the Oregon State Bar, a unified bar of some 19,000 lawyers and judges statewide. For years, I had suspected trauma’s impact on my profession, and during my presidency, I read a national study indicating a staggeringly high rate of alcoholism, anxiety, and depression in the legal profession. I knew I had to do something. So I launched a statewide summit on wellness, and led the charge to create mandatory mental health and substance abuse training for every single lawyer in the state.

Vicarious Trauma

I personally conducted several of those mental health trainings along with professional counselors and others. In the process, I could not help but remember, sometimes painfully, my own traumatic experiences. You see, I am one of many people who has experienced trauma from their work. As someone who worked on hundreds of child abuse, sexual abuse, and assault cases, my caseload led me to question whether I was doing anything to stem the tide of broken lives. As I began sharing my story with lawyers and judges around the state, more rallied to the cause, often through back door channels and private conversations. And the reason? Because the stigma of admitting trauma is real. And my profession, by and large, does not incorporate trauma-informed principles in law school, or the workplace. I looked for paths to change, and my path led me to TIO’s conference.

Benefits of a Trauma-Informed Workplace

The conference opened my mind. Conference rooms were packed. We had engaging speakers like Oregon State Senator Sara Gelser. Thanks to the presenters’ expertise, I realize now that the lack of trauma-informed workplaces, as well as other systemic forces, reinforce and perpetuate trauma. I now understand that employers can do a lot to make employees feel safe, and carry out their jobs of serving others. A trauma-informed workplace can:

  • Treat others with compassion
  • Reduce toxicity
  • Improve humanity
  • Reduce burnout
  • Increase retention
  • Avoid retraumatizing victims and families

This conference also taught me that my profession is not alone. We are one of many professions, which prides itself on mental toughness and grit. But we are not robots, and there is nothing about trauma-informed practices that weakens us. To the contrary, it only makes a stronger and more capable workforce. Because of attending this conference, I know that trauma-informed practices save lives.