When I joined the Wellbeing at the Bar [‘WATB’] committee in 2018, firstly I was very excited to be involved but shamefully my first query, was ‘Wellbeing? Is that for me or the client?’. Never did it occur to me that in fact yes, mental health is important to me too and not just my client who I must strive to do my best for and be my best.
Being part of the WATB committee has been such an eye opener and I am always in awe of just how much work goes into embedding the wellbeing messages within chambers and more recently the Employed Bar.
By 2014, after 10 years at Chambers, I decided to move on to the Employed Bar and so I missed out on accessing WATB resources such as free counselling sessions and life stories from other successful practitioners on how they have managed their own mental wellbeing after traumatic life events. Whilst there is an Employee Assistance Programme available to me at the Serious Fraud Office, as is required to be provided by all employers, my mission now is to help people I know at the self- employed Bar to recognise the work that WATB has to offer and to get people talking – speak about your worries. Speak about your insecurities. You are not a failure but a leader. By speaking up you will help the next person speak. Recognition will then pave the way for seeking and accepting help. The WATB website makes this part easy- just click the button “I need help”.
No article published in 2020 would be complete without a mention to Covid-19 so here it is. In July I put together a webinar to discuss returning to the office during the pandemic. Clearly the virus has left no stone unturned and in some way or another it has affected us all. With that in mind I decided to organise my first webinar in the run up to what I thought at the time would be the return back to the office which was certainly what was expected of Government departments. Having lived within my own very strict bubble of infection control at home I was naturally feeling anxious about getting back on to the tube and commuting to work. In preparation of the webinar I talked to other Employed Bar practitioners to find out how they had been managing their work during recent months. We shared experiences of managing our teams virtually while also trying to juggle our own personal challenges under one roof.
Not equipped to find a solution to these various challenges by myself, I was fortunate enough to secure an excellent expert in her field to lead the panel discussion on how to cope with these stresses. Judith Kark, MBACP, a qualified integrative counsellor accredited by the British Association of Counsellors & Psychotherapists, was able to guide us through various scenarios at work so that we could find practical ways to deal with these issues. The advice that I had was to do a trial run of my commute in my own time, facing my anxiety head on but with preparation. In July I really didn’t see that happening but with Judith’s clear messaging I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and ‘got on with it’ by doing it in a way that was kind to myself, allowing time to adjust and reset at every hurdle. Of course the first time was difficult but over time it improved and I began to enjoy my commute into work and I felt like I was in control again. Commuting to work during the pandemic is, I realise, a small challenge to have to face in life but for me it made me recognise that I had a real anxiety but that with a little nudge in the right direction I can challenge it and keep it under control. A message that can resonate for many other worries that we may have day to day.
Rebecca is an employed barrister working at the Serious Fraud Office after having spent 10 years practising at a busy criminal law chambers. She is also an Employed Bar representative on the WATB committee.