Integrative Law and the Journey toward the Self

An intriguing dialogue began this week on the IACP LinkedIn group, about the work of the Integrative Law Institute, inspired by my posts earlier in the week re Neuro-Poetry.  A slightly edited excerpt is pasted below–a dialogue between a psychotherapist from Bath, England, and myself:

Chris Mills • Pauline, I could engage with you for hours about this! I find your mission to reclaim law as a healing profession inspiring and brave, and your CPD trainings look excellent.

Speaking as a psychotherapist, it seems to me that collaboration and mediation in their range of different approaches are essentially forms of counselling, and are most usefully seen as such. That is, they are all attempts to reach the point of relief that comes when the true meaning of a conflict can be brought to awareness for those immersed in it. In every case the professional acts as facilitator of that greater awareness, in the interests of accessing the fullest range of information possible for the clients to build their vision, plans and decisions on.

I work alongside some brilliant lawyers, both as fellow team member in interdisciplinary cases and as individual supervisor to them. In another life they would have made excellent therapists! I do have some sympathy, though, for those who have been in the profession a long time, because what is now being asked of them is so utterly different from what they trained for. While having been the sole gatekeepers of divorce until now, I think it can be hard for them to embrace a new way that carries with it the inevitability of their feeling de-skilled, out of their depth and on the back foot.

As the Integrative Law Institute (another title I love, being an integrative psychotherapist!), I wonder whether you would agree that primary training, rather than CPD, is what is most needed for lawyers. An essential element of this would be working on themselves at the depth that face-to-face DR requires them to work with their clients. Bearing in mind the ancient adage ‘Physician heal thyself,’ this really would locate law as a healing profession – as a specialist form of psychological intervention with a focus on creating facilitative legal decisions, but not where one healthy group is doing something to or for the other unhealthy one, but rather where the endeavour is a shared human experience that embraces everyone’s not-knowing and vulnerability. This would make the work no different from any other type of solution-focused counselling. I think this would give us more confident lawyers, rather than lawyers who – as a colleague rather beautifully put it the other day – anxiously reach for the flipchart and pens every time a client shouts or bursts into tears. And I think it would dignify the profession of family law in a way that the increasingly emotionally literate next generation of clients will demand.

It looks to me like the ILI would be perfectly placed to deliver this.

Pauline Tesler • We could explore your thoughts at great length, Chris, and I believe we’d find agreement on a good deal of what you suggest, in terms of end point aspirations, though I might not exactly agree about the lawyer’s role in deep resolution ultimately being like that of a mental health counselor. (There is a long and respectable history, at least over on this side of the pond, of calling lawyers “counselors at law”, which I do think captures a part of what the new Integrative Lawyer’s job description would entail.)

What I have found over the fifteen or so years that I’ve been training collaborative and other  lawyers and interdisciplinary  teams is that the access points for lawyers are not the same as the access points for therapists, nor is the journey quite the same. Or, to put it another way, one could put out a sign offering what you suggest, but I’m not sure how many lawyers who aren’t already on that path would sign up when it’s packaged in those terms, which are terms more resonant for MHP’s than for most lawyers.

Put yet another way, I find that for many if not most lawyers, the access point for the journey inward is the neocortex, and the techniques for inspiring deep curiosity about the self are quite different from those for MHP’s, who after all self-select into a profession marked by that curiosity.

Another way of saying it was brought home in the three-day workshop on use of story I attended recently presented by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., for members of the healing professions (psychotherapist, surgeons, nurses, veterinarians,etc.). At one point she led an exercise in which participants were asked to recall their earliest experience of caring deeply about ministering to/healing another creature that was injured or in pain. Then she asked for a show of hands working back from age twenty to indicate the earliest age at which the people had such an experience. Everyone in the room (except me) had vivid early memories around age 2-3-4 of acting from empathy to feel impelled to care for the injured creature. She described leading that same exercise for a room full of law students, lawyers, and professors, along with Jack Kornfield, a Vipassana Buddhist teacher. Not one single person raised their hand at any point. She was a bit stymied about how to continue, until Jack whispered in her ear, “try the same exercise but ask about fairness/injustice instead of healing,” and when she did, it worked exactly as “healing” had worked with healthcare professionals: most of the lawyers, professors, and law students had such experiences at a very young age.

I think you’d find similar differences if you looked at Meyers-Briggs (lawyers being heavily weighted toward INTJ), or at the Enneagram (lots of 3’s). The particular gifts and also the particular challenges are different for lawyers than for the other two collaborative professions, and that’s why I believe only a relatively small subset outside the collaborative (and transformative mediation) community show up for workshops expressly offering tools and avenues for intimate connection with self. Hence,  I’m putting my energies into the Integrative Law Institute: I believe I’ve got some insights about how to bring lawyers into the room who might not show up for other programs, and how to break through persona once they are there. I’ve built up a kind of credibility over my years of law practice that is extremely useful working with my colleagues who do not yet know what it is they are looking for.



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