Being in Court for a Client
I was recently in court for a client, as her therapist and a witness, whose parent she charged with multiple accounts of sexual abuse and other items similar (gross neglect etc). These all happened to her when she was a child.
When I first realised I was going to have to be called as a witness, probably two years ago, I will admit I panicked. “What me??” I thought to myself, and immediately all of my negative belief systems reared their ugly heads 🤯.
Of course they did, I was in flight and fright at the news.
With my help from my supervisor, I was able to tell these beliefs to be quiet please. This was incredibly important for the court hearing.
I sought more counsel from my supervisor, EMDR Focus’s Mark Brayne, the week before the hearing – he had also been in court for a client in the past – and he was hugely helpful, not least in reminding me to stay grounded and just be myself – but also with support and guidance, and some thoughts around what perhaps to expect.
But it was ok. It really was ok – it was more than ok.
When it came to the day, it was on Zoom because of Covid – and I think it helped that I was in my bedroom not the court room – but I was actually feeling quite excited.
The court is very organised (the witness support sadly is not), calling me when my time slot was delayed, ensuring I was able to click on the link successfully etc. In case it is helpful for anyone who might go through this process in the future, I have put a few things down which really helped me to be my best self in support of my client on the day.
They are the following:
- As a witness we are not on trial. No-one is out to get us or catch us out.
- Our main job is to talk to the witness statement that we have already provided (mine was in the form of client notes that had been submitted around a year prior.)
- There is a lot of merely confirming that we did write what we did write in the notes because that is what happened in the session and that is what the client had told us. They want to hear it from the horse’s mouth to support the written evidence.
- The courts do not understand – or rather, are not trained in trauma, traumatic memory storage and presentation, or the notion of client focussed therapeutic work, so if asked about it, I simply explained it to them rather like I would a client – gently and factually.
- They did ask an odd question – but I think this is because they are not the experts, not because they were trying to trip me up, I don’t think. I was asked for example: “so you work at the Recovery Centre. Is that a place where people recover memories?” To which I just replied very factually and with no emphasis: “no, memory recovery is a myth, there is actually no such thing. We work with what the client presents and we take it very seriously”. They also asked me something about Hypnotherapy and I explained the difference between this and EMDR. At this point, cautious of wasting their time, I did face the judge before I answered to ask him directly “May I explain?” To which he replied “Please do”.
- We are being called upon as the expert because no-one else in the courtroom is trained in trauma as we are. So all we have to do is answer the questions that are asked, completely at face value. And with a view to educating.
- We are not being asked for an opinion. We are being asked for the facts. So we stick to the facts as we know them, as the client presented them to us in the session.
- There is no need to embellish an answer. Some answers are simply “yes” or “no”.
- The Witness support, as I mentioned earlier, was not well organised at all, but this might have been a covid problem, I don’t know. I would receive calls from an Unknown Number quite often, and occasionally a voice message was left saying “We have been trying to contact you from the court and have failed…. “ and my heat would sink. But a quick call into the main switchboard who explained that many of these callers are simply not trained, and that they are just employed to make calls to witnesses in order to tick off points on a list that need to be achieved pre-trial. I got the hang of that quite quickly and it just became a teeny part of my life for a bit.
- The Witness Support team when you get them are lovely, and they answer all questions. Pre-covid we were permitted to visit the court before the trial, so it didn’t feel too daunting on the day, for example. And they help you with car parking and claiming travel expenses (there is no fee for appearing in court, even if you have to cancel clients to appear, but you can claim minimal travel expenses). But I didn’t have to go into the court – I could have, had I wanted, but they realised they had made a mistake at their end and had scheduled my court appearance on a date where I had clearly stated I was holiday. They were very apologetic. But hence the Zoom option which was actually my suggestion.
- There is sometimes a worry that therapists can be seen as coercing the witness into making a false statement. The CPS, not the police, are the people who we should speak to if this is a concern, and their first interest is in the welfare of the client. This client came to me once the case about her parent was being formulated, but witness coercion was not a concern by the police, CPS or the Judge or Barristers on the day.
- There is nothing to be afraid of. Except our own inner demons. Tackle the inner demons, nuke those negative beliefs with some EMDR, and the remainder is a wonderful experience.
- Stay neutral. Innocent until proven guilty. When I spoke the accused was still innocent because the court was in session, and I spoke with a neutrality to state the facts and to educate them about client-focussed trauma work and how we handle it and treat it. The Judge and the Barristers thanked me very much for my time and 1 hour 45 mins later it was all over.
I felt truly humbled to have been called as a witness in a prosecution of such horrific acts.
The acts had taken place 30-40 years ago, and this incredible lady was taking her parent to court now. Her whole life was being laid out for the court, all of her deepest emotions and experiences, all in the form of therapist notes, and she chose to do that because what had been done to her was a criminal offence and she wanted the parent charged. I have so much admiration for her.
And to be a witness in that prosecution, delivering the facts as she had presented them to me in sessions, and putting a lid on any of the myths that the defence might have thought helpful, was nothing short of a privilege.
Receiving an email from the CPS a few weeks after the trial ended, and hearing that the parent had been charged on multiple counts and will be in prison for the remainder of their life, was absolutely the most wonderful feeling in the world. I cried for her when I read it. And I still goose bumps when I think of it now.
Brave, brave lady.
So in case that is helpful for anyone heading that way. And of course if anyone has also had this experience I would love to know your thoughts too.