Here is a guest post by Julie Perron.
Counseling Services for Jurors
It’s an old joke that jury service is a drag. You’re forced to be stuck in a courtroom for days on end listening to a complaint that might have little merit and much less interest. You hope it will be over soon so you can get back to your normal life and leave the experience behind as unmemorable at best.
But not all jurors’ experiences as so mild. Court cases can, of course, deal with violent, tragic episodes – some so much so that they leave even second-hand witnesses like jurors in mental anguish. Take the case of Maico Cardona: After hearing testimony related to a Connecticut home invasion that left two girls and their mother dead, Cardona suffered from recurring nightmares related to the trial. Following the case, the jurors were invited back to the courthouse for a debriefing with a counselor to help them process the ordeal.
Counseling services for jurors are legally provided by only two states – Alaska and Texas – partially because so few trials have such a powerful effect on jurors. But even in those extreme cases, jurors often fail to take advantage of counseling services, possibly because they are unaware of the resource’s available or fail to understand the value. But there are many ways that a counselor, who is formally trained in the treatment of emotional disorders, can help a juror struggling with his or her experiences at trial. Here are just three of those methods:
- Educating Jurors on the Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression
Serving on the jury of a particularly gruesome case may expose jurors to evidence so traumatic it can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. Similarly, agonizing over courtroom deliberations well after the trial is over can develop into long-lasting depression. Counselors, who are educated in diagnosing mental, behavioral and emotional disorders, can relay information regarding the symptoms of PTSD, depression and other disorders to jurors to facilitate early self-diagnosis or, in more extreme cases, meet with jurors for one-on-one interviews for formal diagnosis. Just as with your physical health, preserving your mental health begins with vigilance and check-ups.
- Treating Jurors Looking for Counseling
Beyond diagnosis, counselors can help jurors address their symptoms. Whether the conditions are PTSD or depression or anxiety, counselors are able to treat jurors using a variety of techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. A particularly useful treatment in the context of a jury may be group therapy, a form of psychotherapy which involves one or more counselors meeting with a small group of clients. Reuniting jurors after the conclusion of a trial can allow them to work out unresolved issues under the guidance of a counselor, who can assist in untangling the knots that remain.
On the other hand, the group dynamics of a jury may have been the source of some difficulty, with interpersonal issues causing conflicts during the trial that then bleed on. In such cases, counselors may want to attempt one-on-one therapy, meeting with individual jurors to offer them a safe space and sympathetic ear on which to unburden themselves of the thoughts they couldn’t air during the trial. This may be a particularly valuable method of helping jurors work through problematic patterns of thinking which result in re-living or being unable to let go of traumatic aspects of the trial.
- Informing Jurors of the Resources Available to Them
As mentioned above, only two states currently offer counseling services. Other states have offered it in the past, but those programs have been eliminated due to a lack of participation by jurors. One cause of this under use may be ignorance on the part of jurors as to the availability and value of counseling. If counselors are able to speak with juries before trials begin, they will not only be able to steel members against the experiences about to come, but also ensure that jurors are aware that there are professionals available to help them. In this way, counselors would encourage the use of their services, thereby helping make the case that those services should be more widely available. The success of counseling services for jurors would beget more services, meaning that ultimately less jurors would be left out in the cold once trials have concluded.