Legal Psychologist

FSP psychologist Ludewig Revital has dedicated herself to the fields of legal psychology and traumatology. One of her favourite topics: moral dilemmas. 

“I’m interested in the victims and the offenders”, explains Revital Ludewig, in response to the question about why she now works in legal psychology and traumatology in particular. Even though she condemns crimes such as sexual abuse, she tries to understand the reasons behind them. It’s not just the victims who need therapy, but also the offenders - so that the crimes will not be repeated.

When she was a teenager, the now 44-year old wondered whether people were good or bad by nature. But people’s stories also fascinated her in a general way. Law, history, philosophy or psychology: many different courses of study could have satisfied her thirst for knowledge. Given that she also wanted to help people, she decided to study clinical and legal psychology in Berlin.

Towards the end of her studies, she worked in the social psychiatric unit of the free University of Berlin, where she was allowed to sit in on a few therapy sessions with families. She was so enthusiastic about the resource orientation that she decided to complete further training in systematic therapy after her studies. “I consider therapy to be a support for self-help. I don’t save patients, but I show them how they can take the right path with their own resources.”

Good versus good

Today, Ludewig is convinced that people are not either good or bad. Everyone has it in them to be able to behave in a good, but also in a bad way. “This even applies to the National Socialists. They killed people systematically and, at the same time, some of them were good fathers and husbands at an individual level.” Nowadays, in therapy for offenders this means that the crime has to be judged and not the person as a whole. This therapeutic perspective also motivates offenders to take part.

While she was still following her therapy course, she started a Ph.D. entitled “Victims and offenders at the same time?”. Here she examined the moral dilemmas of Holocaust survivors who were forced to cooperate with National Socialists under the National Socialist regime. For instance, they were required to make a decision between the well-being of their own family and that of the community. She values the Ph.D. as being important for her therapeutic and scientific activity. This is because she has established that the hardest decisions are not those between good and bad, but those between good and good. As an example she cites a recent debate about a girl’s swimming lesson. The Muslim father did not want to allow her to participate, while the teachers found it necessary. The Federal Court had to weigh up the values of religious freedom and integration.

Such moral dilemmas on the part of judges are of particular interest to Ludewig today. For example, her research projects investigate the question of how this professional group manages to come to decisions when both parties have justified claims in court. “A dilemma arises if, as a legal figure, the judge feels bound by two different values, but can only implement one of them.” The aim of the project was to systematically examine this process. 

Psychology for judges

The research findings do not merely gather dust or get tidied away in a drawer, but are used in the legal psychology training courses for judges that Ludewig herself is following. The students learn about psychological aspects of a judge’s activity. The course content relates to two things: psychological expertise and the judge him/herself. This means that on the one hand, the basic elements of victim psychology, offender psychology, statement psychology, expert assessments, family psychology etc. are examined. On the other hand, the focus is on the recognition of one’s own decision-making pattern and abilities, communication with the parties, coping strategies and how to deal with stressful situations. The aim is to optimise the quality of case law while supporting the judge at an individual level, i.e. improving their satisfaction with their work. She is completing these courses at the Competence Centre for Legal Psychology at St. Gallen University, which she founded in 2006. The demand for psychological research, teaching, further education and expert assessments has increased dramatically and could no longer be managed without its own institution. Consequently, the competence centre performs interdisciplinary work. It is located at the Institute for Legal Studies and Legal Practice and is also open to psychologists. “I’m glad that I was brave enough to take this step back then, and I’m very happy with the result.”

In addition to the further training courses, which are also offered for victim support counselling centres, for example, she teaches four classes for students of law and economics each semester at the University of St. Gallen. Her current classes are entitled “Psyche and Crime: psychology for legal practice” or ”Psychology: trauma and coping”, for example.

Supportive environment

Love brought Ludewig to Europe. In the kibbutz in Israel where she was born and grew up, she met a German before her 18th birthday who was later to become her life partner. Her husband’s research work finally brought the couple to Switzerland. Her liberal upbringing certainly influenced her way of thinking, in particular her love of the balancing act between practice and research. It is this very combination that she values about her work, even if it sometimes puts her under time pressure: alongside her research, her working day includes writing expert assessments, supervision with judges, as well as therapy sessions. Besides this, she works at Tamach, the psychosocial counselling centre for Holocaust survivors and their families, and is a member of the Board of the Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Rechtspsychologie, SGRP (Swiss Society for Legal Psychology). She says that her colleagues are very much to thank for the fact that she succeeds in coping with her many different tasks on a daily basis. Spending time with her family also balances out her work routine. Her husband is always interested in her work and gives her support. Friends also offer constructive criticism now and again. Her 11-year-old daughter is the only one who laughs about the therapeutic work: You can’t earn money by asking “How are you feeling?” With an experienced lecturer and therapist for a mother, she will probably soon think differently about that.