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Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

162546268-495x328I must be, because I was just interviewed by the celebrated Leslie A. Gordon of none other than the ABA Journal for her article, entitled “How Lawyers can avoid Burnout and Debilitating Anxiety”.

And Leslie also interviewed my old friend, Jeena Cho – and I know she’s famous!

And there’s this great portrait of me taken by the photographer, Len Irish! 0715FANXIOUS-MEYERHOFERL

The article does a great job of highlighting the issues of anxiety and burnout among lawyers.

I modestly confess that I particularly liked this quote, which somehow fell trippingly from the tongue of little-ol’ Moi:

It’s important to note that no strategy should be touted as a cure-all. “The implication can become that you’re struggling with anxiety or depression because you’re not doing your yoga or not meditating or not eating right or somehow choosing to go without sleep,” Meyerhofer says, “that it’s your fault for not having mastered some ‘effective strategy’ that would make all these issues disappear.” The fact remains that law can be brutal, and most young associates are not equipped for what they find when they enter the profession, he says. “You’re not tossing and turning in bed, roiled by anxiety, because you’re choosing to eat badly or to skip your yoga class. It has a lot more to do with being thrown into the deep end in an extremely competitive, exploitive business driven not by compassion or collegiality or the desire to mentor, but by profit and money and competition for prestige.”

Thank you, ABA Journal, and Leslie, and everyone who helped produce this piece.  I hope the message gets out that being a lawyers doesn’t have to be synonymous with being stressed out and miserable.

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Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy: Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

My latest book is a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

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I received another challenging question this week, from Carl.  He sent it to me via video, so without further ado, here’s Carl’s question:

And here’s my answer:

Thanks to all of you who have sent in and continue to send in questions.  I will be tackling one each week.  If I answer your question, I will also offer you a free session of psychotherapy, in person or via the internet.

If you’d like to send in a question for The People’s Therapist, please email it as words or a video, to wmeyerhofer@aquietroom.com

I also welcome your comments and feedback on this new series.

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Remember when you were a kid, and you got caught doing something you shouldn’t, and a big cloud formed over your head?

You were “in trouble.”

The other kids sort of inched out of your path and exchanged looks. They didn’t want any piece of what you had coming. Mom was going to talk to you later. Or dad. You’d done something wrong.

It feels that way sometimes at a big law firm – in fact, a lot of the time.

Maybe you forget to ask a crucial question during a deposition. Or you wrote a memo that didn’t have the answer your partner wanted. Maybe – and this happened to me once – you ended up getting berated for being “too friendly” to the other side at a drafting conference. Maybe you’re still not sure exactly what you did wrong, but it must have been something. It’s always something.

The cloud hangs over you in the office and follows you home. When you were a kid, it eventually dissipated, but now it lingers indefinitely. What’s really going on?

A little dose of anxiety is being injected into you, in the form of a thought.

Anxiety is triggered by cognition – predictive thoughts. You predict something bad is going to happen, so you clutch up in preparation – tense up and prepare for attack.

At a law firm, the standard predictive cognition – the expectation – is that you are going to be criticized. They do that a lot at law firms. It is a fair guess that if something goes wrong, you are going to be blamed – and things go wrong all the time.

It got to the point for me, at Sullivan & Cromwell, that I felt my entire body clench in preparation for attack just walking through the doors of 125 Broad Street and stepping into that elevator.

When you spend long periods of time tensed up, on alert for attack, it takes a toll on your nervous system. In fact, it can produce lasting damage.

In World War I, soldiers spent weeks in trenches under fire, crouched in terror, waiting for that next bomb or bullet with their name on it. Those were some of the first documented cases of what was called “shell shock” then and PTSD now – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It might seem a stretch to suggest that lawyers at big law firms suffer from PTSD symptoms.

But that’s exactly what I’m doing.

(more…)

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