My blog is meant to inform but its primary purpose is not to be informative. It is about the law but it is not solely about the law but also about those places the law does not go. The law is the platform from which I dive. My blog is about my opinions but is not primarily about my opinions since I often temper these to the subject matter on hand, not to mention the imagined audience. Quite often when I open a subject which is related to the law for discussion, I find myself in a place I never meant to be, or to go, as if the subject takes on a life of its own. I write articles based on what I do for a living, and I am a family lawyer, but of course that is not all I am. I find that when I engage with a subject, and use writing to express my thoughts, that quite often the journey is more interesting than the end and that what I thought I was writing about is not what I wrote about at all. This seems to me to be a metaphor for life. I write, therefore, to throw some light into the dark, to increase my understanding and by extension hopefully, other people’s understanding of what often seems incomprehensible, to enliven the dull so my spirit does not sag and to throw some humour at what is often deeply sad so that I can, or maybe, dare I say hopefully, “we”, can gain perspective. I doubt I succeed but the effort is honest.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Horses for Courses.
Lawyers and Therapists are, therefore, the people in our communities who have training and experience in family breakdown and who are the custodians of a great deal of knowledge in this area. Is it not, therefore, blindingly obvious that the public would be better served at this crisis point if both professions were to combine their knowledge and experience? Would that be possible and if it was how would it work? Would these two groups be able to talk to one another? With the goal in mind of combining our knowledge and experience lawyers and a variety of mental health professionals (psychologists, therapists, counsellors, psychotherapists, and mediators) attended a training led by Dr. Susan Gamache from Vancouver, Canada in Dublin recently. One of our first tasks was to overcome what each group thought about the other because such assumptions tend to blind us to possibilities.
The Therapists thought that the lawyers were task driven, aggressive, obsessive, money orientated and arrogant and the lawyers thought that the therapists were airy fairy, tree hugging, vegetarian yogis. The purpose of the three day training was to dismantle these assumptions and to provide both groups with a new language that would enable them to communicate with one another. That first exercise – what we each thought about the other – caused much laughter and broke down some barriers. Over the remaining days, we worked together so that we could supply the professional members of the collaborative team and having done so that we had a common language and goals enabling us to gel together as a team.
The collaborative process is extremely flexible. On one end of the scale, it allows lawyers and clients to work together to find solutions outside of the court system. In the middle of the scale, it allows for coaches (mental health professionals are called coaches in collaboration) to be brought into the process as needs be and the clients will work with those coaches to assist their communication and to manage emotions enabling them to work more effectively with the lawyers. Similarly in this model, financial specialists, or child specialists can be referred to when necessary. On the further end of the scale, all professionals work together at the same time to deliver resolutions to a family in crisis. It was to enable us to work in the middle to the end of the scale that we attended the training.
Different clients will have different needs and all three models are viable ways of working. The full team way of working is, however, very exciting in its possibilities for families. First of all, it enables us to work with families whose communication dynamic is very fractured or where there are some serious difficulties. Such family situations would be very difficult to manage with just lawyers and clients as lawyers are not therapists and will find it extremely difficult to manage highly charged emotions. They may unwittingly inflame them rather than dampen. Where there is a large amount of suspicion and positioning between the couple bringing everyone into the room and doing all the work together enables everyone to see what is happening at the same time and reduces the possibilities of misunderstandings. When a range of people work together sharing a common language, (the language of collaboration) and common goals, a synergy comes into play which inspires a kind of creativity that is not available in any other way of working, in short the team is greater than the sum of its parts. Finall, when a team works together from their diverse professional backgrounds they demonstrate communication at its most effective and this is enormously empowering for the couple in transition.
The team model allows lawyers to offer collaboration to a broader range of clients than we might otherwise feel competent to do. And even though having a full team complement is going to prove more expensive than say lawyers and clients working together, it is still more cost effective than going to court and that includes financial as well as emotional costs.