Becoming a lawyer took hard work – it is not for the faint of heart or mind. However those skills that enable you to become a lawyer often work heavily against you in creating a happy and healthy life. That single minded focus does not always provide for a full and enriching life.
I spent more than a decade working in London and Amsterdam in the investment banking and insurance world as a lawyer and experienced the effects of corporate life from the inside. These experiences led ultimately to me asking some profound questions around the work I was doing and the impact that work was having on myself and my environs. The work began to fundamentally shape me and I did not like what I was seeing. Let’s face it, legal practice asks of you often to suppress feelings and sometimes even your humanity. It was at this point in my career that I began seeing a therapist of my own. The questions and the answers I found led me ultimately to making the enormous decision to change my career.
As a psychotherapist, mediator and lawyer I am well placed to understand the everyday challenges and difficulties faced by members of the legal profession. Working as a member of the legal profession is a stressful and an often misunderstood vocation. Coping with stress is vitally important to maintaining a healthy and happy life. Unfortunately the work life balance remains a mystery to many lawyers. Lawyers have higher rates of depression, anxiety, stress and addiction issues than the general population. This page is created to assist those of you in the profession to understand why you might benefit from psychotherapy.
The very nature of the legal profession makes it difficult for the lawyer to step back and ask for help – when your everyday life involves creating a perception of togetherness, strength, having the ‘smarts’ and being successful. At law school we are not taught how to look after ourselves while we carry out this sometimes very demanding work. Talking with someone who knows what you are experiencing can help to rebalance that imbalance.
Lawyers tend to be distrustful – it is an unfortunate and misunderstood side-effect of our training. We also tend to be risk adverse, bracing ourselves for the next attack – after all it’s our head on the block when something goes wrong. We are supposed to pre-think everything, ensure that nothing has been left out and be constantly vigilant. Lawyers often work in intensely competitive environments. Law firms consume your life, long hours, unrealistic time frames and expectations. It is hard for others to understand the nature of this kind of environment.
Here are some of the reasons why a lawyer might use the services of a psychotherapist:
- Provide balance to the often negative and unsupportive environment you work in;
- Assist you in your ability to empathize, relate to and understand the people you work with as well as your clients – increase your emotional intelligence;
- Teach you to become more person centered than problem centered which will ultimately will improve your legal practice. Lawyers often care more about the facts and principles of a case than they do about the people they are representing. Lawyers are naturally oriented toward fact and not feeling;
- Teach you to have more insight in how you are responding to disappointed, angry or frustrated clients or opposing counsel. Finding new ways of coping and responding in a healthy way;
- Teach you to better deal with the fatigue that results from the constant attention to minutia of documentation and proceedings which in turn can lead to anxiety and depression. Learn how to better deal with this issue;
- Improve your self-perception, your self-expression, your stress management, and decision making which will in turn help interpersonal relationships;
- Clarify and resolve the existential problems that lawyers are often faced with such as your role in society and one’s loss of the idealism that led you to the legal profession in the first instance;
- Help you leave your work at the office and find new ways of engaging in your work;
- Develop an ability to feel less of a need to react with anger. The process of constantly defending or attacking has a devastating effect on the human psyche. Psychotherapy will help you to develop greater resilience to constant battle fatigue;
- Act as a sounding board to assist you in helping you deal more reasonably and fairly with your colleagues and managerial dilemmas;
- Help to prevent the generalized state of anxiety and suspicious-ness that lawyers more often than not experience;
- Teach you to take care of yourself on a physical and emotional level by learning to blow off steam and find other mental outlets – your old defense mechanisms are not enough;
- Assist you to reconnect with families by creating more balance between work and life outside work and deal with the feelings of guilt around not often not being there;
- Allow you to share your concerns and problems with a professional rather than burdening your family or simply not sharing the load at all;
- Stay off the common addictions lawyers are prone too: alcohol and cocaine abuse and the resulting effects on family life often leading to divorce;
- Better understand your self-doubt and the questions around whether you’re ‘good enough’.
- Female lawyers often face unique stresses over and above those which are inherent in practising law. Therapy provides you with a secure place to vent the frustrations and concerns around glass ceiling issues and any sense of discrimination you may feel.
Don’t wait until things get on top of you!