Why Integrative Law Matters for Divorcing Couples: A Conversation With A Psychotherapist

 

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Kate Scharff,a  Washington D.C. psychotherapist, wrote this comment after reading a recent article of mine about Neuro-Literacy for Lawyers, published  in Family Lawyer Magazine:

Kate Scharff on August 6, 2013 at 2:54 pm said:

Pauline: I’m a mental health professional trained in Object Relations Theory (ORT), an outgrowth of classic analytic thinking. ORT holds with the common-sense notion that we are born with the inherent need to be in relationships, and that our early relational patterns form templates for later modes of relating– the more trauma contained in these patterns, the more rigidly predictive they become. Treatment is based on the idea that (within the context of a safe therapeutic container, and by using the relationship to the therapist as both a laboratory and a change agent), these templates can be modified.

So I’m used to thinking about how patterns are laid down in the psyche– but the brain science is mainly new to me. Your article is incredibly helpful in underscoring the neurobiological underpinnings for our experience of powerfully affective moments in a Collaborative case in which the trauma of the moment becomes a re-traumatization– not only for the client in question, but for others in the room whose own internal relational worlds are (unconsciously) activated.

Your work is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that it offers empirical support for the crucial notion that while moments in which our clients are emotionally flooded may not be moments in which they can think rationally,  they are the moments with transformative potential.

And speaking of the internal worlds of the professionals: not a revolutionary thought, but I do see the traditional adversarial construct as an elaborative intellectual defense against the threat of reactivation of our own trauma posed by the upsetting content of our work.

Thank you for the ways you continue to push us the edge of our capacities to integrate new ideas, expand our paradigms, and up our games. I’m generally not a fan of the word “inspirational,” but I can’t think of a better one.

Kate Scharff

I replied today:

Kate, I deeply appreciate this thoughtful and thought-provoking response to my article. Professionals working on trust-based, carefully guided collaborative teams know from experience that potentialities for transformative resolution can emerge at the negotiating table and that we can help clients profoundly if we learn to see and work in new ways with what’s in front of us.

Some longtime collaborative colleagues have mistakenly thought that my commitment to teaching “neuro-literacy” means I’ve left collaborative practice behind. Far from it. The language of the paradigm shift that was able to shock us out of habit-based divorce practice twenty years ago has become somewhat rote in our community, another box to be ticked in the list of what to discuss in a basic training, or a handy phrase for labeling difficulties we may be experiencing with other collaborative professionals.

For me, getting excellent at our work has always been about “aha” moments, about deeply understanding as much as possible about ourselves as the gorillas in the conflict resolution room, rather than about checklists and protocols (which are necessary but not nearly sufficient).

An 800 pound gorilla in the room

An 800 pound gorilla in the room

The Integrative Law Institute is my vehicle for learning and teaching more about this in a way that is fresh, challenging, and intellectually exciting. Starting with the hard science takes knowledge of decision science, positive psychology, neuro-economics, and the many other vectors of integrative law out of the realm of the optional. It’s proving to be quite an effective way to reach traditional adversarial lawyers who too often dismiss other ways of teaching self-reflective, mindful practice as “kumbaya” stuff of interest mainly to vegetarians in Birkenstocks rather than an important part of what every family law needs to know.

 

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