Meet Your Professor
Dr. Karin D. Huffer, MFT
Dr. Karin Huffer is best known for coining the term legal abuse syndrome emanating from her observations in private practice in marriage and family therapy over a 40-year period. She observed through the years that patients involved in the legal system (litigation in particular) suffered from a traumatic stress preventing them from benefiting from therapy. Symptoms would allay for a short time and then recycle relating to their experiences in court.
By 1990, Dr. Huffer had homed in on 4 prongs:
- Can litigation cause a diagnosis of traumatic stress?
- What are the dynamics of that stressor?
- How is it best treated?
- Can it be prevented?
Peer review, writing, speaking at conferences, and working with a psychiatric hospital, she put out to her peers, “Is litigation a variable that prevents patients from recovery using usual therapeutic techniques?” Support from peers led to the development of an 8-step protocol for counseling those undergoing extreme stress specifically associated with courtroom preparation and litigation.
Overcoming the Devastation of Legal Abuse Syndrome, her first book in 1995, is still in demand. Originally intended for self-help and doubling as a textbook, it outlines the 8-step protocol in use today and defines the kinds of abuses of the court powers. Typically observed is the legal system being used as a weapon, i.e. one spouse using the court to punish the other in divorce proceedings; court used for takings and transfers of property or assets unlawfully; lying to the extent of committing fraud on the tribunal; and/or, court used to bully, intimidate, harass, and purposefully create stress to win by attrition. These methods destroy equal access and fairness especially for those who suffer from disabilities. “How do you address and rectify this tactic?”
Ironically, firsthand, in the ’90’s, Dr. Huffer’s husband’s business was embezzled by a contractor and a bank who, through the courts, took all properties he was developing and all personal holdings. The actions were unlawful in a scheme to eliminate his project as a competitor for a planned development in which the senior level bankers had an interest. This brought ‘legal abuse syndrome’ home. The now homeless family moved through years of courtroom confrontations, lies, power differentials, and irrational judgements. This was not an accident, a war, an isolated event: it was their judicial system at work grinding out their lives year after year. They were now victims of a preventable, home grown trauma.
An unpublished 10 year longitudinal study with a nonprofit organization called Redress resulted, in 2007, in the confirmation that there is a pattern of preventable stressors in the legal system that are causing an epidemic of PTSD with cause being legal abuses. The depth of physical and emotional damage done to victims was indisputable. If it is preventable, it can be corrected. Simultaneously, a chant could be heard coming from the millions of disabled Americans ignored and fed up trying to gain an identity and a voice in society.
In 2008, the answer came with the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act passing and taking effect in 2009. Congress overturned four Supreme Court decisions to accomplish equal access for those suffering from disabilities. PTSD and the other conditions are now diagnosable. The burden is on the institution to accommodate these litigants and attorneys so they have equal access in the court. The federal mandate now exists. It is continually improved, corrected, and enforced by the Dept. of Justice. Each case is a tedious process but a legal game changer for vulnerable citizens and disabled lawyers. Even though mental and other non-apparent disabilities are covered by the ADAAA, they are routinely challenged and do not have parity with high profile physical disabilities such as blindness and deafness. “How do you get protection into the courtroom for these disabilities?” asks Dr. Huffer.
Now, as of 2016, Dr. Huffer is an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice where she authored and teaches certified ADA advocacy. Graduates of this course are putting Dr. Karin Huffer’s groundbreaking insights to work through requesting and filing for accommodations through the ADA coordinator online or in court buildings across America. She assists those with mental and other non-apparent disabilities during stressful judicial situations.
Bringing together the disabilities, the ADAAA in the courtroom, and exposing and lessening abusive behaviors contributing to the prevention of the court being a public health problem is her goal. With the use of Huffer’s 8-steps outlined again in her second book, Unlocking Justice, 2011, the judicial experience is improved for all who are involved in the court system. The risk to the health of the litigants with disabilities motivates Dr. Huffer to continue her work.
Books Dr. Huffer has written: