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I began volunteering with LawCare in 2014. It was a natural step for me as a qualified psychologist with a particular interest in lawyers and depression. Prior to qualifying as a psychologist I worked in both the Law Society of Ireland and the Law Institute of Victoria, Australia and conducted a master’s degree research on depression in the legal profession in both of these jurisdictions.
In my time manning the phones for LawCare as well as working as a therapist in private practice with lawyers I have made a few observations which seem to be common amongst this group.
As lawyers are solution-oriented, the framework within which LawCare provides assistance is one that lawyers respond well to. Talking through an issue, exploring options and deciding on a course of action is a pragmatic approach which many callers to LawCare find helpful.
Consultation has many benefits:
To remind individuals of their strengths, resources and capabilities:Consultation can provide an individual with the clarity to see their way forward. Solutions to problems often lie in the hands of the individual – it sometimes just takes a conversation to recognise these. ‘Chaotic activity is better than orderly inactivity’ - confidence may be quickly regained when one begins to take control of the situation.
To prevent isolation:Financial and professional advice, specialist interest groups, mentoring – there are many lawyers working to support their colleagues. LawCare can signpost the possible sources of information and help.
For individuals concerned about their substance or alcohol use, taking advantage of the peer and other supports is proactive and helps many get their lives back on track. Lawyers respond well to other lawyers: knowing that their colleagues experience similar difficulties and manage to effect change in their lives can be very encouraging.
To normalise the conversation about wellbeing:Some professions are at higher risk of stress and depression than others. In those jurisdictions where this has been studied, disproportionately high levels of stress and depression amongst lawyers compared with other professional groups and the general population are recorded. This appears to start in law school and is seen in all levels of practice thereafter. The risk of vicarious trauma in some lawyers (for example amongst criminal and immigration lawyers) is increasingly being recognised.
How to normalise the practice of consultation and supervision to support lawyers’ wellbeing would appear to be a necessary conversation, to remind individuals that stress is a normal response to a stressful work environment, and that they are by no means on their own in this.
On a final note, psychologists are also in a high-risk profession; regular supervision is a requirement of a psychologist’s practice and debriefing/peer consultations are common practice to clarify issues and alleviate the emotional impact of client work. Law could do well to follow a similar model.
Sharon Hanson is a Psychologist in private practice in Dublin, Ireland. She can be contacted at email@example.com and at +353 86 0373820.
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