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How to Testify Credibly About Sexual, Emotional or Physical Abuse in a Social Security Hearing

abuse and PTSD or depressionOne of the more troubling parts about practicing Social Security disability law involves hearing stories of how my clients suffered horrific abuse.  I would estimate that at least 75% of my cases involving mental illness also include a history of abuse.  It is no surprise to me that anyone who was abused by a parent or authority figure, or by a person physically stronger would continue to suffer physical and emotional wounds for years to come.

Because a claimant’s history of abuse helps explain current symptoms – depression, social phobia, anxiety, etc. – I think it is necessary to question my client about the abuse he or she experienced during that client’s disability hearing.  Obviously this is a difficult and uncomfortable task – I have no desire to dredge up bad memories or to make my client relive a terrifying experience – but I have to bring this information about in testimony so the judge can better understand what my client is going through.

In preparing my clients for testimony about prior abuse, I suggest one of two ways to present this evidence. Continue reading →