Witness Preparation Services
by Annabelle Parr
Have you ever felt especially nervous before a big presentation? Do you find your heart racing and palms sweating when you have to speak in front of a large group of people? You’re not alone. On average, people rate their fear of public speaking higher than their fear of death. Potentially one of the highest pressure, highest stakes public speaking situations is on the witness stand in a courtroom or during a deposition. Even the most experienced witnesses can feel anxiety, which left unaddressed can hinder their testimony. Anxiety is the number one communication obstacle in legal proceedings (Pitera, 2013).
Witnesses typically have very specific fears related to testifying. Some common witness fears include, but are not limited to, a fear of letting people down, losing their job, making a mistake, looking incompetent, being embarrassed, judged or blamed, or having to reveal private, personal information. Witnesses also tend to take on more responsibility for the outcome of the case than is necessary or realistic (Pitera, 2013).
Though the source of a witness’s anxiety may be completely unrelated to their credibility or honesty, jurors tend to judge witnesses more on the basis of behavior than testimonial content (Afremow, 2011). Therefore, a testimony could be flawless and completely true, but if it is delivered poorly the concrete verbal content may not matter.
Typical anxious behaviors that jurors tend to interpret as signs of unreliability include non-verbal cues such as poor eye contact, fidgeting, appearing tense, and inconsistency of demeanor or tone (Afremow, 2011). Helping witnesses to become conscious of these subtle reactions as well as the sources of their anxiety before testifying can help them to manage the visible cues thus increasing their perceived credibility.
Meeting with a licensed psychologist who specializes in anxiety management is a great way to help prepare witnesses and allow them to address their anxiety before taking the stand. Using cutting edge, evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral techniques, the therapist can help witnesses modify their anxiety, bringing it into an optimal range for peak performance.
Therapeutic techniques that can help prepare witnesses include:
- cognitive reappraisal, which involves changing catastrophic cognitions that fuel anxiety and lead to poor performance
- grounding, mindfulness, and relaxation
- reduction of safety seeking, avoidance, or anxiety driven behaviors such as lack of eye contact, speaking too softly, fidgeting, talking too much or too little, or looking to the attorney for reassurance
- video-taped feedback, which can help reduce anxiety by showing the witness that they don’t look as anxious as they feel, as well as helping them to notice and address visible safety behaviors
A therapeutic setting offers a safe space to practice testifying and receive non-judgmental, constructive feedback and tools that the witness can apply in court and during depositions. If you or your client are preparing to stand as a witness, know that feeling anxiety is normal, but that it doesn’t have to determine the tone of the testimony.
CSAM IS HERE TO HELP
If you or someone you know might benefit from witness preparation services for anxiety or stress, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Afremow, J. (2011). Witness this: Behavioral science in the courtroom. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/trust-the-talent/201110/witness
Pitera, M. J. (2013). Witness tip: Anxiety is the #1 barrier affecting communication. Litigation Insights. Retrieved from http://www.litigationinsights.com/witness-preparation-2/witness-tip-anxiety-is-the-1-barrier-affecting-communication/