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LawCare News
Spring 2015
James' Story 
by George Reid

James was the managing partner in a respected corporate law firm. Married and in his early 60s, he was referred to me by his doctor for treatment for "burnout". Although not recognised as a distinct psychological disorder, burnout is considered to be a work-related condition that is characterised by emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and reduced personal accomplishment. Untreated, it can severely affect job performance and result in absenteeism. There is an overlap between burnout and and depressive disorders; a recent study of burnt-out French teachers showed that 90% also met the diagnostic criteria for depression (Bianchi et al, 2014). 

My assessment process confirmed that James was also clinically depressed and that he was prone to panic attacks. Fiercely proud, James had never consulted a psychologist. According to him, he could sort out his own problems. At 62, he arrived in my office miserable with his life. He was struggling to cope with simple tasks; he had suicidal thoughts; he was drinking too much; his wife was threatening to leave; and his law partners were threatening to kick him out. James was in bad shape. After a period of assessment using psychological tests, James and I agreed his treatment plan. This involved coming to my practice twice a week. His treatment plan included: 
1. Analysing his work-related problems and targeting unresolved conflict; 
2. Listing his stressors and boosters and observing them in operation; 
3. Getting his physical health back on track; 
4. Practising relaxation techniques, like mindfulness and diaphragmic breathing; 
5. Addressing unfairness in the way he and other partners were being treated; 
6. Understanding the loss of meaning in his job; 
7. Understanding why he had a difficulty setting boundaries and asking for help. This uncovered a defective core belief ("I'm not good enough") which had its roots in childhood involving his cruel and punishing father. We were able to work through these traumas, establish work-related boundaries and conduct self-assertiveness training; 
8. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) – a psychotherapy to correct faulty thinking and feeling patterns. Part of this involved overcoming his sense of shame in asking for help; 
9. Sharpening his planning and delegation skills and identifying a "go to" person in his office for support; 
10. Increasing his personal social support. 

At first, James' progress was slow. We first focused on relaxation methods and building his physical strength. The treatment continued and he was able to return to work within 6 weeks. After his return, he had a frank discussion with his law partners. To his surprise, they all agreed they had some of the symptoms of burnout but were afraid to speak up. The blockage? Their fear of being perceived as weak. I gave them seminars on the nature of burnout and early intervention strategies. I recommended they change their human resources policies. They started allowing psychological services for their employees.  Within 6 months absenteeism was down 45% and well-being increased. James stayed as managing partner. He repaired his marriage, stopped drinking and discovered a passion for running marathons. He felt a new vigour for life. His main change process? Accepting he had a problem and seeking professional help. 

George Reid is a chartered psychologist and solicitor. He can be reached at G.B.Reid@btinternet.com          
"It Worked for Me" 

Some people prefer to seek healing through routes other than drugs, medical intervention or counselling, or to run alternative approaches in tandem with conventional treatments. In each issue LawCare News features an article about an alternative therapy option, which it is hoped some readers might find helpful. We invite practitioners to contact LawCare about what their form of alternative therapy can offer, with particular reference to the legal profession, and we will consider including an article about them. However, LawCare will not be recommending or endorsing these treatments or belief systems, and would advise anyone suffering from an illness or physical or mental health issue to contact their GP in the first instance.

Mindfulness 

Tracey Evans is an associate solicitor and writes about her experience of the practice of Mindfulness in helping her to combat both her physical and mental health problems experienced over this last year. 

Lawyers are so very good at 'doing'. We are driven individuals, setting high standards for ourselves professionally and personally. We are the people who go the extra mile, and then some. But we also tend to be the type of individuals who cannot just 'be', able just to live right here, in any moment, because the present always takes a backseat to thoughts about the past and the future. As one such lawyer, I discovered Mindfulness through one desperate call to a telephone counsellor when my health (physical and mental) was bringing me to breaking point. Although, the counsellor did not mention Mindfulness, she said I might like to watch a Jon Kabat-Zinn video on YouTube, and to visit the Mental Health Foundation website which links to an online course called 'Be Mindful'. I took the free stress test on the Be Mindful website, and a score of 38 out of 40 was sufficient incentive for me to sign up to the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course online. Taking that course has made a huge difference to my life. 

So what is Mindfulness? Kabat-Zinn explains it as the "regular, disciplined cultivation of moment-to-moment awareness". It is cultivated through both formal and informal practice. The formal practice involves meditation, whether that be a 3 minute Breathing Space, a 10 minute Sitting Meditation, or a 30 minute Body Scan. The informal practice is available to you, just by tuning into you breathing at any time of the day or night and bringing awareness to whatever it is you are doing in that moment: showering, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, commuting, working, worrying. Therein lies the beauty of it; anyone who thinks they do not have the time for it literally has access to it 24 hours a day. Think of it as dropping out of 'auto-pilot'. There are two golden rules: just do it (even if it doesn't make much sense), and do it regularly (because it has a cumulative effect). What are the benefits of Mindfulness? Personally, this year has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for me. I am in a very different place to where I started from. Today, I cherish my practice of Mindfulness because it has helped me to manage chronic pain, has reduced my anxiety and stress, and generally gifted me with a sense of wellbeing that I have never before known. I advocate Mindfulness from a beginner's perspective and hope you find it too, before you really need it. 
Books for Women About Recovery 

Christmas is often the time when people realise that their alcohol intake is probably higher than it should be. LawCare always gets more calls to its helpline regarding alcohol misuse in January and February than at any other time of the year, and the number of women calling about alcohol issues has been rising. So it's good that there are books available which can give the female perspective on alcoholism. 

Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes tells the story of an Irish woman living in New York who is shipped off to an alcohol and drug treatment centre in Dublin. Written by best-selling author Marian Keyes, herself an alcoholic in recovery, its charm lies partly in the character of Rachel herself, and her slowly dawning realisation, in part told through flashbacks, that she does indeed have a drug problem. Hidden beneath the humour is a powerful and memorable message, and it gives a fascinating insight into the realities of in-patient rehab. Highly recommended.

Sober is the New Black by Rachel Black shows very effectively how alcohol can insidiously, destructively and completely take over a life. Throughout it powerfully juxtaposes events in the author's life--business conferences, family holidays, book club meetings--when she was drinking, and after she stopped. There's always a risk with this sort of personal memoir that it can become egocentric and dull, but this one avoids that on two counts. First, because Rachel will resonate with so many readers as a typical working mother, someone they can relate to. Second, because it doesn't go too deeply into aspects of her life (we never learn the names of her children or her Other Half, or what job she does) and stays firmly focussed on the subject of alcohol. I particularly liked the metaphor where the author compares lifelong abstinence with her mortgage. Both are burdens which look huge and terrifying when viewed as a whole, but are manageable and life-affirming on a day-to-day basis. The book well written, interesting and not overlong, but for me its best feature is the overriding optimism and delight on every page. If it has one message, it's that the sober life is wonderful. Rachel was evidently taken by surprise to find how much better everything, from social events to Christmas, is when you're not focussing solely on wine and how to drink as much of it as possible without anyone noticing. That brightness and assurance shines throughout the book and lifts it above other "sobriety memoirs".
 
Supporting LawCare

LawCare is a charity, and although we receive grants from the Law Society of Ireland and the Bar Council of Ireland, as well as its UK funders, donations are welcome to enable us to support more lawyers in need. A leaflet explaining how donations are used, and about LawCare's welfare fund, is available from the LawCare admin office. Donations can be made by clicking this link.
   
LawCare's 2014 Statistics

The most common problem report to LawCare's helpline by Irish callers in 2014 was stress, at 85% of calls, followed by depression at 12% and alcohol at 3%. The most common cause of the issue was financial issues (32%) followed by workload (27%) and bullying (18%). 

A full report on LawCare's 2014 statistics is available on request from the LawCare admin office.
   
Two New Groups Covered by LawCare's Services

By agreement with the Law Society of Jersey, LawCare's support services have been extended to include Solicitors practising on Jersey. In addition, the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys has joined LawCare, so their members have also come under LawCare's umbrella. 

 
LawCare Helpline: 1800 991801
Email: help@lawcare.ie
For all administrative enquiries: admin@lawcare.ie / 0044 1268 771333
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