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Mental Health Care

for  Lawyers

March 2017
The Pitfalls of being a Rescuer?
At the CPD in February I spoke briefly about Karpman’s drama triangle and the interplay between victims, rescuers and persecutors.  Many of our clients, particularly in family law and criminal cases, come from the victim position which can trigger a “rescuing reaction” within lawyers.

None of us really see ourselves as rescuers.  Rescuers are other people who devote their time, energy and money to what we consider to be lost causes.  These rescuers are our family members, friends or work colleagues who keep investing themselves in relationships that aren’t working or friendships that we think are destructive; and as much advice as we give them, they remain committed to trying to rescue their lost causes.

We sit back, shake our heads, sigh and with just a hint of smugness think how glad we are that we are not like them.  We think that as lawyers, we are different.  Our desire to assist our clients comes from a much loftier motivation (unless of course we are in the game primarily for monetary gain, or for the cerebral challenge). We think we want to help our clients with their problems by advocating for them and applying the law.  Our motivation is not simply the desire to do good, but to bring positive changes in our clients’ lives.  Our desire to help is a sign we are compassionate, caring and doing good.

Yet, as much as we may think our motivation comes from a loftier place, the reality is we can easily slip into a rescuer’s mentality if we are not reflective in our practice and interactions with clients. This is particularly so when our clients come from the space of being a victim.[1]  Engaging in rescuing or trying to assist clients from an unthinking perspective is not good for our own mental health. It potentially opens us to the possibility of being manipulated by clients who have their own agenda or who have personality disorders.

Rescuing clients can be intoxicating because it makes us feel good.  It makes us feel helpful and useful.  We get that warm glow when our clients tell us how much we have helped them.  In itself, there is nothing wrong with feeling good when we do good.  The problem arises if our self-worth is based on helping other people.  We end up helping others to feel good about ourselves.

Think about the following scenario in relation to yourself or another lawyer you know: You have met a new client with a particularly complex set of legal issues.  For some reason this client’s story has touched you in a way that other clients haven’t.  You feel this client has been dealt a particularly difficult set of circumstances to deal with and you would like to assist them and give them a break.

You spend hours sorting through the legal complexities, researching case law, developing sound, cogent advice that will assist and resolve many of the client’s issues.  You have given up evenings and weekends, not just work time.

Just as you are about to give the client your advice, they tell you they are going to another lawyer.  No reason is given, no thanks for what you have done, they are just going to another lawyer.
 
[1] Adults are rarely victims in the true sense of the word.  Childhood is the time when a person is a victim because as a child they are often unable to make choices or escape situations.  Adults, however continue to occupy the space of being a victim often because of neurological, psychological or personality factors.

What is your reaction to this situation?
There is the normal annoyance and frustration that you have invested time and energy into this matter and it hasn’t gone anywhere.  However, apart from this normal and understandable frustration, do you:
  1. Become angry about the situation and the client?  Do you vent to colleagues about how ungrateful this client was and how you should never have invested so much time and energy.  Do you find yourself still angry about the situation 24 or 48 hours later?  
  2. Start telling your colleagues how unfair it all is?  You have done so much and it wasn’t appreciated.  You become depressed and find it difficult to re-engage in work and develop quality advice for your remaining clients.  Or  
  3. Shrug your shoulders and give yourself some time to feel that normal annoyance and frustration and then get on with your work?  You acknowledge the disappointment but also accept that your understanding of this particular set of legal issues has grown because of your research and that it was a useful learning curve for you to go through.
Karpman would argue that if your reaction is (a) you have moved from a rescuer role to that of persecutor.  Even if you are not persecuting the client, your anger places you in a persecutory role where you are more likely to take out your anger on other people.

If your reaction is (b) then you have moved into the role of the victim where you feel “hard done by” the client.  Both sets of reactions indicate a low sense of self-esteem.  Anger or depression can arise from a sense of being rejected by a client. 

Healthy self-esteem is not based on what you do for your client, but on your self confidence as a careful and considered practitioner. This is regardless of whether you help a person or not; and more importantly, whether a person chooses to accept your help or not.  
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In the April CPD session we will be considering emotional intelligence, particularly in relation to how we manage clients who present as victims or persecutors and how to develop healthy boundaries.
 
Training Calendar for 2017
In 2017 MHLC will be conducting the following free CPD for lawyers. 
The venue and times will be advised closer to each session.  We are looking forward to your participation in these events.
Date of CPD Competency Area – Legal Practice Board Topic Brief Description
23 Feb   Completed  
23 March No 2 – Professional Skills Communicating with clients who have mental health issues Communicating with a person who experiences mental health issues can be challenging. This CPD examines how we can improve our communication style and skills to be more effective when communicating to clients who have mental health issues. 
27 April No 2 -  Professional Skills The other intelligence required by lawyers Problem solving skills, logical, rational intelligence are essential skills for a good lawyer.  So is emotional intelligence.  This CPD looks at what emotional intelligence is and how we can develop it.
25 May No 2 – Professional Skills Dealing with High Conflict Clients & Colleagues - Introduction Working with co-workers or clients who seem to create or attract conflict is stressful.  This CPD looks at techniques to lessen the impact of these co-workers & clients on ourselves. 
22 June No 2 – Professional Skills Mirror, Mirror you are my Mirror”
 
Dealing with Narcissistic Clients & Colleagues
Building on the previous CPD, this session provides pointers to how we can identify narcissistic clients and co-workers and manage our interactions with them more effectively
27 July No 2 – Professional Skills “I love you, I hate you – but don’t you leave me!”
 
Dealing with clients who have Borderline Personality Disorders
This CPD looks at Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and how to communicate more effectively and manage clients who have BPD.
24 August No 2 -
Professional 
Skills
Taboos
 
Masculinity, the law & suicide
This session is for men & women interested in men.  It looks at men’s socialization and how the structure and practice of law can re-inforce this socialization and result in less than optimal behavior ranging from bullying, mental health issues and suicide.
28 September No 1 – Practice Management When the Black Dog Wears Robes and a wig
 
Depression & lawyering
The incidence of depression continues to increase amongst lawyers.  This CPD looks at
  • how to recognize depression before it becomes entrenched;
  • the stigma of weakness and how it impacts on depression
  • self-care for the long distance
26 October No 1 – Practice Management The anxious business of being perfect
 
Dealing with anxiety and perfectionism in the practice of law
Many people confuse having high standards with the need to be perfect.  Striving for perfection can leave us exhausted, stressed, burnt out and that is just the beginning.  This CPD looks how we can stop striving for perfection and maintain high standards and good mental health.
23 November No 1 – Practice Management The Resilient Practitioner
 
Building and Enhancing Resiliency
What is resiliency? 
How do we recognize it in ourselves and can we enhance the resiliency we do?
This CPD looks at how we can develop our resilience to protect our Mental Health.
 
 
On request we can provide training for lawyers on mental health issues. Please email office@mhlcwa.org.au Attn. David Kernohan to make an enquiry.
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