Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

News & Events

Recovering from Trauma

Assist would like to express our support for Lethbridge Legal Guidance lawyers, staff, and volunteers. Yesterday, an individual entered Lethbridge Legal Guidance and took a hostage. Media reports are short as the investigation is still in its early stages, but one person is in hospital in serious but stable condition, and the Lethbridge police arrested the perpetrator.

Assist is here for everyone who has been impacted by yesterday’s event at a valued and valuable legal clinic. Being part of a horrifying event like a hostage-taking in your workplace—even if you weren’t the hostage—is traumatic. Not being there when something like this happens can have psychological consequences as well.

And because this is a nightmare scenario that we all worry about (to varying degrees depending on practice area), all lawyers and students in and around Lethbridge, and across our province, may be impacted. Individuals who have previously experienced trauma may also be triggered by this horrific event.

Assist’s professional counsellors are available for crisis support. Please call 1-877-498-6898 if you think you may be experiencing crisis—there is no litmus test for whether you are technically in crisis, and we would like you to err on the side of caution and call us. After business hours and over the weekend, please call that number and press zero (0). Your call will be transferred to one of our senior counsellors who is on call. Please follow this instruction—it is the most effective way of reaching a counsellor quickly.

If you reach the counsellor's voicemail, the counsellor is on a call with someone else in distress. Please leave a message and they will call you back as soon as they can.

We want to ensure that everyone impacted by yesterday’s event has access to timely and effective support. We can provide one on one counselling, resources and strategies and crisis debriefing.

Assist pays for 4 hours of professional counselling per person per issue per year. Our counsellors are senior level registered psychologists and social workers who have, on average, at least ten years of clinical experience before joining our program. They are highly skilled, and our roster is stable so that you can continue to access the same counsellor at different times.

Assist’s services are confidential. Our counsellors are members of regulated professions with confidentiality obligations similar to lawyers. And we are independent—we do not disclose individual program usage or personal information to the Law Society or employers.

If you have been impacted by yesterday’s trauma, please know that we are here for you. You may experience stress symptoms in the coming days and weeks (or longer.) Stress reactions are normal when you have experienced abnormal situations—they just mean that your mind and body are going through adjustments as you try to recover.

Symptoms of trauma include:

  • Tension—feeling “hyper” or unable to sit still or relax. It has both physical and emotional components
  • Sleep disturbances—many  people will experience issues getting to sleep, waking up early or having disruptive dreams and nightmares
  • Recurring and intrusive thoughts—you may think about the incident or memories associated with the incident
  • Negative feelings—profound sadness, helplessness, fear, anxiety, anger, rage, discouragement, frustration or depression are common
  • Feeling vulnerable or out of control—a traumatic experience can cause us to feel vulnerable and exposed and that we are no longer in control of our lives
  • Interpersonal issues—increased irritability, insensitivity, blaming others and wanting distance
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs— but self-medication can bring long-term consequences
  • Vague feelings of self-blame, often fixated on a particular aspect of the incident

Recognizing that you have experienced a traumatic experience is an important early step in your recovery. If you deny that you are feeling the impact of trauma, your recovery will be slower. So please acknowledge these feelings, even if you don’t like them. And please ask for help—you do not have to face troubling emotions and feelings alone.

Seek out support and talk about your feelings with people who understand or have been through a similar experience. Both Assist’s counsellors and our peer support volunteers are available to talk with you. Peer support volunteers can share their personal experiences—you are not alone as you work your way through trauma recovery. Our volunteer lawyers can also share strategies that helped them. Call 1-877-737-5508 (weekdays) if you would like to meet with a peer support volunteer. Peer support is confidential and free.

Some individuals who experience trauma try to block out their feelings and avoid thinking about the incident, but recovery involves thinking and talking about both the incident and your feelings. Recovery is a process -- you confront feelings bit by bit in manageable chunks. And you can do it with a professional counsellor who can enhance your feelings of safety. Do not fight recurring thoughts, dreams and flashbacks. They are normal and will decrease over time.

Many individuals find that they experience minor accidents and illnesses post-trauma. Please know that self-care is important, and be more careful than usual in higher risk situations, like driving.

It is common to feel apathetic and unmotivated after experiencing trauma. However, it is helpful to gently push yourself to take steps toward recovery. Assist’s counsellors and peer support volunteers can help you as you take initial steps to return to your pre-trauma activities.

And our counsellors can help you to develop and deploy coping skills, such as learning to replace the scariest memories with memories of people being helped or getting to safety. The idea of learning new skills may feel overwhelming, so please remember that you do not have to try to develop these skills on your own!

If you would like to learn more about trauma and the recovery process, check out our Dealing with Trauma resources on our website.

You can set up a non-crisis appointment with our counsellors by calling 1-877-737-5508 during business hours (Monday to Friday, 8 am to 4 pm.) Many of our counsellors offer evening and weekend appointments, and most of our appointments are being conducted via secure online platforms, but in-person appointments can be requested.

Life in the 21st century and two plus years into a pandemic is tough. You do not have to try to be a superhero, and you do not have to deal with trauma alone. Assist is here to help.

To our friends and colleagues in Lethbridge—please know that there is a community of lawyers in Alberta who have your backs and will support you in this challenging time, just as we are here to support all lawyers who volunteer in legal clinics across the province or who now have a heightened sense of potentially dangerous individuals and situations. If you are worried about potentially violent encounters in light of yesterday’s events, we are here for you. Just call us.