Judge Victor Reyes currently serves as Judge-in-Residence for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges in the United States. Previously, Judge Reyes was a judge in Colorado (the United States) and presided over criminal, civil, probate and family court matters. Prior to the appointment, Judge Reyes served as a Deputy State Public Defender.
Every day, judges across the world listen to evidence and make life altering decisions affecting their fellow citizens. Being a judge also carries with it the responsibility of becoming a community leader and living by a set of values that manifest through honesty, fairness and being just. As judges, we need to recognize that we must maintain our health in order to sustain our integrity as human beings. A judge who is healthy physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually enhances their ability to access the wisdom necessary to render fairness and justice.
Trauma is inherent to the work of the judicial system; vicarious trauma and stress are natural by-products. Vicarious trauma has been defined as the cumulative inner transformative effect of bearing witness to abuse, violence and trauma in the lives of people who we care about, are open to and are committed to helping.  Although vicarious trauma can be a natural and normal occurrence for workers who provide care to others, failure to address the causes and symptoms can lead to negative outcomes in one’s life.
The effects of unaddressed vicarious trauma may include a negative world view, perceived threats to personal safety, loss of spirituality, or changes in self-identity, fear, empathetic distress, burnout, loss of relationships, mental or physical health issues, depression, or even coping with stress through food or substances.  Political, social or cultural considerations may lead a judge to refrain from openly sharing the effects of their personal experiences of trauma and to suffer in silence instead of seeking support. Judges may simply want to numb their brain and emotions after dealing with court hearings all day. Both our personal and professional lives are impacted.
Dealing with vicarious trauma through avoidance and suppression only leads to isolation, disconnecting and not caring. The effects become chronic, possibly leading to burnout and depression. There can be nothing more devastating to the integrity of a judicial system than having decision makers with this mindset. Recognizing that vicarious trauma exists, and that judicial officers and judicial employees need to heal from the effects of experiencing traumatic events in courtrooms and courthouses is a crucial step in the process of developing resilience and integrity.
Experiencing horrific situations as a lawyer and then as a judge numbed me to the gross and subtle effects of what I was seeing and hearing. My mantra of “I have heard it all, nothing bothers me” demonstrated my ignorance as to the gross and subtle effects of the work on my well-being. It was not until these effects manifested in unhealthy ways did I finally begin to seek the healing necessary to reconnect to my body, mind, and heart.
Identifying and taking care of yourself as a person who is exposed to traumatic stressors mitigates the effects of those stressors. Being aware of what triggers you, finding someone to debrief with, developing deeper personal connections, and gratitude for what we have and for the skills we offer to our communities are just some of the tools to develop resilience. Personal wellness has to be embodied on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. Proper rest and nutrition, mindfulness practices , emotional regulation, and developing self-compassion are just some of the ways we can become healthier.
To encourage effective leadership, and promote compassion and healthy decision-making, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) incorporates aspects of wellness at their conferences and training, including the tools necessary for judges to build resilience. The NCJFCJ has created the Judicial Wellness Initiative, which provides information on breathing techniques, nutrition, physical exercise, mindfulness practices, self-compassion, and advice from national experts on developing the tools needed to reduce stress and mitigate vicarious trauma. The NCJFCJ is also developing a symposium on Leadership and Wellness where judicial officers are able to frankly discuss issues related to their well-being and the work.
Recognizing that making the active efforts to become a healthier, more self-compassionate judicial officer makes for a better decision maker and community leader is not a sign of weakness. To the contrary, it takes an incredible amount of honesty and self-awareness for anyone to admit the adverse impact of our work as judges on our personal and professional lives so we can begin the process of accessing the tools available to promote healing. A judicial system with healthy, balanced professionals will result in more just and humane results for the community thereby, elevating the integrity of the judiciary in the minds of those they serve.
 See Office of Victims of Crimes, What is Vicarious Trauma?, https://ovc.ojp.gov/program/vtt/what-is-vicarious-trauma (last visited on 19 July 2022).
 See the University of Melbourne, Wellbeing survey of Australia’s judiciary reveals risk of distress and burnout, https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/wellbeing-survey-of-australia-s-judiciary-reveals-risk-of-distress-and-burnout, (last visited on 19 July 2022).
 See Office of Victims of Crimes, What Happens to Those Exposed to Vicarious Trauma?, https://ovc.ojp.gov/program/vtt/what-is-vicarious-trauma#what-happens-to-those-exposed-to-vicarious-trauma, , (last visited on 19 July 2022).
 See Judge Jeremy D. Fogel, Director of the Federal Judicial Center of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Mindfulness and Judging
https://www.nibcolloquium.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Mindfulness-and-Judging_Judge-Jeremy-Fogel.docx.pdf, (last visited on 19 July 2022).