Below are some suggestions for ways to develop the ability to process your feelings. No matter how you feel about your job and your life, and whether you feel under stress or not, this skill will help you to remain a healthy, successful and fully functioning human being.
1. Go to a counsellor, therapist or coach
A family lawyer is more than just a lawyer: they are a business person, a punchbag for their client, and a counsellor. Someone who probably hears things that can never be unheard. Someone who needs to be on top form every day in order to give the best advice to their clients.
As I said, they are, in a sense, like a counsellor. Counsellors/therapists recognise that their role can lead to them carrying their clients’ emotional baggage around with them unconsciously. To minimise the chances of this happening, they take therapy, which they call supervision. It is what we may also refer to as coaching. It’s part of their professional commitment to standards and to self-care. Family lawyers should do the same.
I would recommend that family lawyers have some form of confidential counselling, therapy or coaching at least once a month, so they can express and explore how they are feeling, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. A good starting point for finding a counsellor or therapist is the British Association of Counsellors & Therapists website.
Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of asking for help from others with their emotional/mental health. They think they can handle it on their own. But think about your car. Modern day cars can last a long time, but you wouldn’t dream of not getting yours serviced regularly, because you need reliability and safety from your car, especially if you use it every day. Plus an unreliable car is also unsafe to other users of the road.
2. Set up a coaching group
For those of you who really hate the idea of asking for help, there are other ways of getting support.
You could set up a self-directed support group of your own. The group should meet regularly, helping you all to get things off your chests, seek solutions and share them with other individuals in the same position. If you work in a large law firm, this may be quite easy to set up. If you work either on your own or in a small firm, you could build links with other lawyers through your local law society or the Law Society relationship manager in your region. You could even invite a coach to facilitate the sessions, so every voice in the group is heard - and you can minimise the cost by spreading it across all members of the group.
Again, what is really important is that you have something in place that allows a safe place to talk with like-minded people, where you can seek healthy solutions.
3. Journal it
Writing something down allows our mind to move on from it. You may have tried that practice of having a notepad by your bed at night, so that if, during the night, a thought interrupts your sleep, you can write it down. If you’ve done this, you’ll know that when you read the note in the morning, it may not make sense. That’s ok. The act of writing it down helped you get back to sleep, and that was the real point.
When something is on our mind, we won’t let go of it. We keep playing it over and over again, trying different scenarios, and it occupies an unbelievable amount of mental and emotional energy. Writing it down gives our mind permission to move on.
The habit of keeping a journal in which you reflect on the day, share how you feel, and seek your own solutions is a really healthy one to build.
Don’t deny that you need help
Some of you may be thinking that you don’t need any of the above, simply because you talk to your partner / spouse when you get home. But partners are rarely the best people to coach or counsel their partners. They are too close and can let their own emotions get in the way. They are too tempted to rescue you and accidentally stop you finding your own solutions.
And if they listen and counsel you, then there is an expectation you will do the same for them. This is not the case with a professional who you pay. In a high stress job like family law, you may not have the energy to give the same amount of counselling to your partner as you need from them.
The need to look after oneself as part of your duty of care to your clients is ever more important. Try these suggestions, and if one doesn’t work, review it and find something that does work. And remember, self care is not selfish!
About the author - Julian Hall
Julian Hall is founder director of stress, conflict and anger management specialists Calm People.