Why therapeutic supervision for lawyers is the next big thing
(And why it’s not quite the same as therapy)
By Tim Rice
For nearly two years I’ve been working with lawyers providing therapeutic supervision. Essentially this means I meet them individually every month or even every two or three monthsfor an hour and discuss how they are managing.
Our talk usually falls into three areas: first, their work and associated pressures; second, their home life and personal relationships; and third, how they are looking after themselves physically and mentally.
It’s a sort of MoT for lawyers. A thorough check to see if things are running smoothly and safely, but monthly or several times a year rather than annually. And where you discuss and identify the issues rather than expecting to become roadworthy right away.
Life in the law
This all came about because, let’s face it, law is a tough business. Have a look at the recent LawCare report and the results are unambiguous: a serious proportion of lawyers are very stressed, with high potential burnout scores.
These sessions I do with lawyers are not “therapy” as such. We are not meeting because the client is bringing an existing problem to talk about for a series of sessions lasting a few weeks or months. It’s more like a holistic check-up; a way of finding out if there are any danger signs.
And “supervision” may give the false impression that’s it’s a “top down” process. Far from it: this is one-to-one talk with someone who’s listening to you kindly in strict confidence. I also call it “reflective support”.
Supporting those who support others
I realise lawyers are practised at shouldering heavy work burdens; at “coping” when things get challenging. They may not be good at asking for help – or maybe the work environment doesn’t encourage it. So it can be extremely helpful to talk about these stresses occasionally to someone like me: a neutral person in a safe space where you know it’s confidential and no one else in the company will know. The relief can be immense.
Life can be really difficult to manage, especially when things are coming at you from different directions simultaneously. Rather than gritting your teeth and ploughing on as you’ve always done, it might be worth getting a bit of quiet help every so often.
To repeat: therapeutic supervision is not therapy as such. It’s about discussing how a new direction in your life could help – whether at the workplace, in the relationship with your partner which may be showing strain, in looking after yourself better. Diet, sleep, exercise… all these may come up in our hour together.
Making changes stick
Therapeutic supervision can make you accountable for making adjustments you’ve committed to previously. But not in a overbearing or scary way!. Have you organised that holiday you said you desperately needed last time? Do you still think your workload is affecting your mood when you get home? How’s the relationship with your brother that was worrying you in our last session? Did you manage to cut out those weekday glasses of wine you wished you could give up? Last time you had a health scare… how are things now?
In my other role – as a therapist – I would be looking at perhaps six or 12 weekly sessions with a client. We’d probably discuss how past issues may be affecting present behaviour, examine their emotional life in some detail, and so on.
Therapeutic supervision with lawyers is quite different. A few tips from therapy may come into it. I might even suggest some sessions with a different therapist if the issues need deeper work. But in general it’s an overview we’re looking for, a holistic assessment, with some new directions to think about.
When the times are tough, as they are today, some therapeutic supervision can make a big difference. I’ve seen it first hand.
If you’d like to book in for monthly ‘MOT’ or supervision sessions with Tim, do get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org