FACULTY: What to look for and what you can do

Your Role and Why It Matters

Faculty play an important role both in understanding and in seeking ways to help students cope with issues that affect them. Faculty are often looked up to by students; moreover, they have the ability to spot potential issues by, for example, noting ongoing class absences.

What You Can Do

1. Counsel Students.

A significant role that faculty can play without any additional information or education is to monitor attendance in their courses. The ABA offers a general standard for ensuring attendance; as a practical matter, faculty apply a broad range of means for complying with the standard. Any counselor or expert who has worked with a student in crisis, however, will attest that class absences are more often than not a sign that a student is being adversely affected in a significant way.

Some faculty express concern about calling attention to a student's absence, whether because they are not equipped (or otherwise do not wish) to respond to a student's issues, or out of fear that the student may feel he is being singled out by the professor. There are certainly ways of bringing to the attention of a dean of students or other relevant official such concerns without being directly involved. One law school conducts random "check-in" email outreach to students, encouraging them to come in for a brief chat; such outreach allows for a student whose concern has been raised by a school official to be folded in without making him feel like he is being singled out. Another school has established a procedure whereby any law school official concerned about a student is told to send an email to a specified address containing only the student's name; receipt of this email by trained law school individuals allows them to check with one another to see if any red flags have been or should be raised, investigating further, and determining if a meeting with the student is warranted.

Counseling Skills for Faculty When Meeting with a Student in Need of Assistance - Nod while the student is speaking to demonstrate that you are listening. - Maintain eye contact to demonstrate that you are listening. - Reflect the student's feeling. If, for example, the student sounds frustrated while giving facts of a story, responds, "you sound very frustrated, this must be very hard for you..." - Paraphrase what the student is saying. If the student gives details about a situation, respond with "so you became angry with the situation and went out drinking," even though the student may have provided a 10-minute description of the encounter. It is important to remember both content and feeling when students are speaking. Details are important so the student knows you are listening and have the story straight, but hearing their feelings and then reflecting them back to the student will build rapport. It helps the student feel like they 32 are being understood. - Ask open-ended questions and avoid closed-ended ones. "Tell me how you feel about your law school experience" vs. "Do you like law school?" - Allow for silence. This allows the student to gather thoughts and think about them more deeply before speaking. Also, it prevents the lay counselor from attempting to rush in with a solution, as the student will develop more insight and mastery if encouraged to find solutions on his/her own. - Show Unconditional Positive Regard for the Student. This means that the lay counselor never blames or shames the student. Never use words like "you should have" or "why didn't you" as these are value-laden. - Reward Positive Behavior. If a student is doing well, in both word and deed, the lay counselor can acknowledge it. Instead of "I am very proud of you", say, "you can be very proud of yourself for not drinking, but instead dealing with the situation in a more healthy manner and continuing to tell your teacher how you felt."

Finally, consider what some of your faculty colleagues have done in terms of opening up to their students about their issues.

2. Stay Abreast of Current Literature

  • Brian Clarke, Law Professors, Law Students and Depression . . . A Story of Coming Out Part 1
  • Brian Clarke, Law Professors, Law Students and Depression . . . A Story of Coming Out Part 2
  • Brian Clarke, Law Professors, Law Students and Depression . . . A Story of Coming Out Part 3
  • Elyn Saks: A tale of mental illness - from the inside 

    To provide a model for assisting lawyers, whose practices had been impaired by addictions, the ABA created the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) to provide support to attorneys fighting addictions as well as stress, depression, and other mental health problems. The Commission’s primary goal is to advance the legal community’s knowledge of impairments facing lawyers and to provide a response to those issues.

    Your Role and Why It Matters

    Individual students, when empowered with the appropriate knowledge and tools, have the greatest ability to prevent chemical abuse or a mental health condition from progressing to the point where it consumes their life while in law school. Fellow students may also be the most adept at noticing changes in their classmates. One of the key aspects to prevention is the ability to maintain “balance” in all areas of one’s life while pursuing a law degree. Learning how to cope with the stressors of law school in a healthy way, and ensuring that one’s identity is not tied to how well one does in law school, are essential to preventing common mental health disorders and impairments. Stress, anxiety, depression, and the like can quickly progress and consume a law student’s life before he or she realizes it, often as consequences of the pursuits of a “successful” soon-to-be-attorney (i.e., for law review, a high paying law firm, summer associate job). Some students will not even realize that stress and anxiety have become major, often debilitating, challenges for them because others around them are competitively striving for the same goals and experiencing the same level of stress and anxiety in pursuit of those goals.

    What You Can Do

    1. Maintain a Balanced Life

    For students to deal with the rigors of law school and to prevent stress and anxiety from taking over their lives, it is vital that they achieve balance in all areas of life. Think about it: when do law students feel the most stressed out? It is not usually in the middle of the semester when finals seem a long time away, but at the end when students are in the midst of finals. Not surprisingly, this is also the time when students are least likely to be maintaining any semblance of a balanced life.

    You might feel like you can get away with living an unbalanced life momentarily, but eventually, if not addressed, an unbalanced life will wear you down and burn you out. Each person is unique, some needing more attention to certain areas than others, but it is important for each student to set aside time every day for each area of his or her life. 18 - Spiritual - Whether this involves attending weekly church services, quiet meditation in the morning, or simply believing in something bigger than yourself, it is vital to set aside time to care for your soul. - Physical - For law students this is often the most neglected area. Remember to do what you know you are supposed to do: eat right, get enough sleep each night, exercise, avoid smoking, monitor your caffeine intake and, if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. If you are not addressing your physical needs, try doing so; especially if you get into a regular positive routine, you will be amazed at how much better you will begin to feel. - Social - Remember to set aside time for some plain old fun. All work and no play will soon wear you down. Everyone needs a social outlet or community where they feel welcomed and accepted, and where there are people in whom they can trust and confide. - Mental - You might think that law school should take care of this part, but caring for your mind -mindfulness-a technique and practice to raise self-awareness and be fully in the moment - includes your own thoughts and “self-talk,” as well as your awareness- of thoughts, habits, and emotions that are not serving a positive purpose. Constantly saying defeatist things like “I’m so stupid,” “this is impossible,” “it probably will never work,” suggest that you need to change the way you talk to yourself. Challenge beliefs: “If I don’t make law review, life is over – or I will never get a good job, etc...” Is this a rational statement? Check out Ellis’s 12 irrational beliefs and see if they apply: http://changingminds.org/explanations/belief/irrational_beliefs.htm. Negative thinking and a defeatist attitude can create stress and ultimately lead to depression. Try reading a few books on positive thinking (for example, “Man’s Search for Meaning”). See also “Mindfulness and the Law”: http://nwlawyer.wsba. org/nwlawyer/april_may_2014/?pg=9#pg1

    - Personal - When is the last time you did something just for you? Many law students do not know how to set aside time for themselves. Remember to do things that will lead you to grow as a person, and do not forget about those old hobbies that you really enjoyed before law school.

    2. Cope with Stress in a Healthy Way

    All law students will experience stress. It is a part of life. The key indicator of success though is once you experience stress, how do you cope? If your normal way of coping with a long stressful day is to grab a bottle of alcohol - then you are not really coping, you are escaping. Law students and lawyers in general are notorious for their drinking habits. The profession revolves around happy hours and cocktail events, and a number of law schools also sustain these events – both officially and unofficially. Many times, law students even rationalize their heavy drinking based on the fact that law school is so stressful and tough. This is a dangerous road to travel and can lead to a whole host of other problems. “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character: it becomes your destiny.” - lao tzu