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.



Integrative Law Institute Welcomes Leading Neuroscientists and Conflict Resolution Pioneers to Advisory Board

A strong, innovative Advisory Board helps ILI to build outstanding programming at the intersection of law, social policy, neuroscience, positive psychology, restorative justice, and other Integrative Law vectors. We are proud to announce the following new members of ILI’s Advisory Board:

It’s an honor to have the support of pioneering thinkers and researchers of this caliber.

We are inviting other leaders in fields relating to Integrative Law to join ILI’s Advisory Board this year and will announce new members from time to time.


A divorce lawyer who attended my Practical Neuro-Literacy program in New Hampshire earlier this month just sent me 58–yes, 58–short poems inspired by the presentation. Raymond Foss has given me permission to post them, and I’ll start with the one pasted below.

The title –“When a Big Dog Attacks”– refers to a slide–the head of a ferocious, slavering black dog–that I use to illustrate the power of implicit memory and of the amygdala, a very old area  of the emotional (limbic) brain that activates immediate, powerful responses such as fear, outrage, and grief when emotion-saturated memory patterns are triggered.

That slide, and the accompanying “amygdala hijack” segment of the program,  inspired this poem:


I have seen them, losing control

their response engrained

the stimuli perhaps hidden

from my sight, subtle

but instant, visceral, reacting

as when a big dog attacks

seeing the manifestation

body language, reason

changed in an instant

the programmed reactions

deep within their brains

something instinctive

primal, primitive

learned long before

when the big dog attacks

the same in the court

in settlement, resolution

on cue devolving,

by a word, an action,

a mere twitch of a micro-muscle

back into survival, not thinking

losing perspective, losing control

losing their case

 Copyright June 2012, Raymond Foss.



Nearly 130 New Hampshire lawyers, mental health and financial professionals gathered in Concord NY on June 14th to accompany me on an introductory tour of the new world of  applied neuro-literacy.

The Family Law Section of the State Bar co-sponsored the event with the State Bar itself.  Expectations that mainly divorce lawyers would attend were belied by the diverse group who attended, including at least one retired judge, a FINRA securities arbitrator, a state legislative lobbyist, some CPA’s, and a cluster of psychotherapists.

As always, I tailored the presentation in real time to match the interests of the group that showed up, taking a vote from time to time as to whether we should use remaining time for experiential exercises, discussion, roleplay, or more amazing video clips illustrating mirror neurons in action, irrational neuro-economic decision making, mammalian primate trust behavior, and much  more.

This group was unusually clear in its preference for more video, and so I was able to show them a video clip of a popular TV show based on the Prisoners’ Dilemma game that made them gasp, a clip of monkeys demonstrating cooperation and trust, another showing that monkeys and even dogs are hardwired to insist on fairness as well as economic self interest, and some mind-boggling video clips showing attention blindness and behavior priming.

I love teaching this material and I’m constantly updating the multimedia resources I include in trainings, workshops, and speeches.  Contact me if you’d like to bring a similar event to your community.

Narrative, Stories, Emotion and Meaning in Conflict Resolution Law Practice

A story full of emotion and meaning

For the past three days, I’ve been a participant-observer in a workshop for healthcare professionals presented by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, a member of the faculty at University of California Medical School in San Francisco and a fellow program director at  Commonweal. Entitled The Healing Power of Story: Opening to a Deeper Human Connection, this workshop taught simple, accessible, and yet profound ways to reclaim surprise, meaning, and inspiration in the ordinary everyday encounters that professionals have with colleagues, clients, and patients.

Rachel’s work speaks most directly to healthcare professionals because of commonalities in the personal values and qualities that led them to choose nursing, or medicine, or veterinary practice, or psychotherapy as career paths.  All the people in the room (except me) had discovered before they were ten years old that caring for the needs of other living things was a fundamental organizing purpose of their lives.

And yet I,  a lawyer, saw immediately how these practices and insights could help members of my own profession reclaim meaning and integration in our daily work with clients–serving them better, and at the same time taking better care of ourselves as human beings.  It seems to me that the profound organizing purpose that most of us in the legal profession discovered in our early years and that we carry forth in our work arises out of deeply held values of fairness and peace.  Yet as we learn to be lawyers, we are socialized to move away from important human qualities and behaviors that surely are central in helping our clients find fair resolution and peace.

To become lawyers, we have struggled to hone necessary skills and to become excellent at what we do.  Although most of us brought to the table a facility with language, argumentation and logic, nonetheless it came easily to none of us to “think like a lawyer,” the first hard lesson of a legal education.  Many of us have paid a steep price as we shaped ourselves to match the professional persona of a lawyer, pruning away what doesn’t match the official job description  (empathy is often one of the early casualties) and squeezing into the box inconvenient  human qualities (our own emotions, our own most accessible ways of apprehending reality) unrelated to legalistic deductive reasoning, so as to keep them unseen and under control.

Do we have to leave behind essential humanity to practice law?  I don’t think so.  But that’s what happens to us in law school and in our on the job experiences in court.  No wonder lawyers register so high in all the indicia of a profession in trouble:  drug abuse, alcoholism, major depression, suicide.  We tend not to want our children to follow in our footsteps, and perhaps this problem–the loss of intrinsic human meaning in our daily work–is the reason.

I’ve taken from Rachel’s workshop some proven approaches that you’ll be seeing in the programs on reclaiming meaning in legal practice that the Integrative Law Institute will be offering during late 2012 and 2013. We will examine what we have in common that drew us to law rather than other professions, and what is intrinsic to helping others heal breaches in the social fabric, and what is not.

Email me at to join the list of lawyers, mediators, and judges receiving earliest notification and enrollment information for these events.


Rachel is the author of Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings.