Individual Therapy for Attorneys: Nature of the Challenge

As trained advocates, attorneys are consistently drawn into dualistic notions such as win/lose or right/wrong.  Even when engaged in non-adversarial business negotiations, attorneys operate largely within a “zero-sum” framework insofar as what the attorney is ultimately able to negotiate will be a “gain” realized by his or her client and, on some level a “loss” to the other party or parties.

In addition to working within a heavily dualistic framework, attorneys have received significant approval and positive reinforcement from others and society-at-large for their mastery of “concepts” in the form of verbal acuity and linguistic facility.  To a significant degree, success as an attorney is linked to an ability to differentiate concepts which give rise to factual disputes among individuals and institutions.  Over time, this immersion in the conceptual world may solidify conceptual notions to the point at which these “notions” come to comprise the attorney’s sense of “reality.”

After years of practice, the daily experience of the attorney may come to be dominated by a nagging sense of discomfort that may eventually manifest in forms including depression, substance abuse and relationship difficulties.  The root of these challenges may inhere in the foundational aspects of legal training and law practice described above.  Entrenchment in a dualistic orientation to human interaction produces particular discomfort with and aversion to the “middle ground” in which reality exists apart from how we might judge or interpret our present-moment experience.  Additionally, a “zero-sum” approach to life may impede one’s ability to embrace a more expansive, felt connection to an energy that exists and transcends our thought-driven notions.

The antidote to a way of relating to experience from a predominantly thought-driven, analytical stance is the cultivation of an experiential, felt connection to unfolding present-moment experience and the ability to create space between that experience and our ideas about that experience.

Meditation practice, popularized in contemporary American culture as “mindfulness,” can be especially facilitative in cultivating space between our experiential reality and thought-drive notions about this experience.  Contrary to widely held views, meditation practice is not about the cessation of thought.  Rather, meditation practice offers the opportunity to more clearly appreciate the nature of our thoughts as impermanent, unsatisfactory, and differentiated from any solidified sense of “self.”