Skip to content

Support for clerks and chambers’ staff

How to have a wellbeing conversation

The most important thing to remember is that in simply acknowledging that you need help, you have overcome one of the biggest hurdles in the process of restoring your state of Wellbeing.

Another important stage of the process is identifying someone in your work place to whom you can look for support. Whilst this is not always easy, this courageous move will fast track you to re-building strength and confidence. Research demonstrates that hoping things will get better on their own or ignoring signs and symptoms of stress frequently results in unhelpful negative thought patterns which in turn can lead to, amongst other things, poor sleep, a lack concentration, lack of appetite, consuming too much alcohol; overeating; forming an addiction; losing self-esteem; and a general inability to function in your usual way.

Who can I speak with?

Finding someone whom you can trust with your concerns will be easier for some than for others. You might consider:

  • Chambers’ Wellbeing representative (if your chambers has such a person)
  • The member of chambers or the member of staff responsible for staffing/HR
  • Your Senior Clerk/Senior Practice Manager
  • A senior colleague with whom you have formed a particularly good bond
  • A member of chambers to whom you feel you can talk freely

The most important thing is that you choose someone whom you consider will listen to your concerns and whom you believe you can trust. It is entirely possible that the person whom you choose will have had some experience of dealing with Wellbeing/mental health issues themselves, either directly or through close friends or family. According to research undertaken this year by the mental health charity MIND, one in four adults in the UK will experience a mental health concern or issue in any one year. Wellbeing issues are much more common than one thinks.

How do I start the conversation?

Something simple works best. You could try something along the lines of “Have you got 5 minutes for a quick word about something personal?”; or “there’s something I could do with a brief chat about, is now a good time?”; or “I’ve got a few things on my mind and would appreciate a word”.

It may be hard to start the conversation, but it is better to try and deal with the issue before it overwhelms you, so do try and make the approach as soon as you can.

How much do I tell them?

It is best to tell the person whom you choose to speak to as much as possible about how you are feeling; what you think might be triggering the feelings of stress; and any situations (either in work or away from work) that exacerbate your feelings of stress. If there is a particular person or group of people whose behaviour causes you stress, you should mention this too, even if it is on an anonymous basis at first.

What would be helpful to you?

Try and think about what might alleviate your symptoms of stress, in particular any actions that chambers can take to make things easier for you eg:

  • Do you need time away from work?
  • Do you need to work a shorter day or a shorter week?
  • Are there tasks from which you need to be temporarily relieved?
  • Would you value a talk with your chosen person once a week?

Remember, these are just first steps and you will not be able to solve everything straight away. The immediate question is “What will make the biggest difference to my life right now”?

I don’t want to burden others/they’ve heard it all before

It is completely natural to be concerned about opening up to someone about your Wellbeing issues, particularly if you believe that everyone in chambers feels as overworked as you do. You may feel that you are being a burden to others and causing an unnecessary fuss, but that is not the case. It is vital for your Wellbeing that you speak up and you are likely to be pleasantly surprised by people’s response. Also, bear in mind that by opening up you may give others the courage to share their concerns and worries too.

Trying to carry on when your wellbeing is in jeopardy can have a very negative or indeed disastrous outcome on your health (both physical and mental). Humans are not designed to withstand relentlessly high levels of pressure. It is just not good for us. Think of this as an opportunity to relieve the pressure and move towards re-building your resilience and confidence. You will feel much better and back in control far sooner than if you don’t act.

But stress is part of the job isn’t it?

Being under pressure is certainly part of our job working in chambers. We need pressure to stimulate us into action. We all know the busy court mornings when a last minute copying job comes in; the difficult conversations around brief fees etc; dealing with unhappy solicitors; dealing with unhappy counsel; vicarious anxiety when counsel are having a quiet patch; chasing papers from counsel for a seminar; dealing with suppliers who are not doing their job etc, etc. Nonetheless, for many of us it is the cut and thrust of our role, the different issues that we deal with each day and the high-level decisions that we have to make, which make us enjoy our job.

However, pressure and stress are quite separate beasts and should be recognised and identified as such. We are capable of dealing with temporary peaks of pressure, indeed many of those who work in a chambers’ environment thrive on them. The human body and mind are designed to function effectively during these periods, provided they are followed by rest and recuperation (this means working reasonable hours; getting an early night every so often; resting at some point during the weekends; and taking all of one’s allotted holiday allowance). On the other hand, consistently operating under high pressure, with ineffective (or no) breaks leads to stress. When left unchecked and untreated, stress can affect the mind, body and behaviour in ways that can affect your mental and physical health, sometimes on a long term basis.

Other resources

You should make an appointment to see your GP and explain your symptoms to him or her. They will be able to offer different types of help and all avenues should be explored.

There are also a number of mental health charities that offer online practical advice and information about mental health and most have a helpline that you can call text or email. You can find examples of these helplines listed below.

Mental health charities

The following mental health charities have lots of information about different mental health conditions and where individuals can find support.

LawCare

LawCare is an advisory and support service to help lawyers, their staff and their immediate families to deal with health problems.

Tel: 0800 279 6888
Email: admin@lawcare.org.uk
Website: www.lawcare.org.uk/

Mental health foundation

Charity improving the lives of those with mental health problems or learning disabilities.

Website: www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

Mind

A mental health charity and helpline to offer support those dealing with mental illness. Also provide information about treatment.

Tel: 0300 123 3393
Email: info@mind.org.uk
Website: www.mind.org.uk/

Rethink

A website offering help and support for people affected by mental illness.

Website: www.rethink.org/

Samaritans

Available 24 hours a day to provide confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts.

Tel: 116 123
Email: jo@samaritans.org
Website: www.samaritans.org/

Sane

A mental health charity helping improve the quality of life for anyone affected by mental illness.

Tel: 0300 304 7000
Website: www.sane.org.uk/

Further support for Clerks

The Institute of Barristers’ Clerks


The Institute of Barristers’ Clerks was founded in 1922. Its mission is to drive and demonstrate the excellence of the UK’s clerking profession through supporting the development and interests of its members. The IBC is committed to the career-long development of each and every one of its members. This involves supporting clerks in, during and after their career. The IBC is committed to the wellbeing of its members and it is proud of its work in developing and supporting this initiative.

Contact: Nick Hill
Email: hill@3newsquare.co.uk
Website: www.ibc.org.uk/
Tel: 020 3763 8999

Nick Hill explains why the IBC are supporting wellbeing and encourages clerks and chambers’ personnel to seek help.

vision-play

Getting psychological support

It takes courage to acknowledge you are experiencing difficulties with mental wellbeing. Asking for professional help can be a daunting prospect. How can you be sure what type of service would be best placed to help you? Will this treatment/approach work? How do you know this service provider delivers safe, effective treatments?

There are a number of different routes you can take to access support.

Your GP

Consulting your GP is a positive first step. Being proactive as soon as you suspect you may be depressed will help you feel more in control of your situation.

If you are diagnosed with depression or anxiety (for example) your GP should offer a range of support.

Take a look at this short video clip from a GP about the approach to depression typically taken in UK general practice.

Your GP will ask you some clarifying questions and may work through a simple survey which might look similar this to http://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/depression.aspx. He or she will be particularly interested in whether you have been feeling low for a period longer than two weeks.

Your GP should offer a number of options including a range of talking therapies. One option may also be anti-depressant medication, which can be very supportive for addressing the symptoms certain types of depression. If you do wish to take this route, forms of anti-depressants include:

1. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

These are the most commonly prescribed forms of anti-depressant medication and are often known by the brand names; Prozac, Seroxat and Cipramil.

2. Serotonin noradrenalin reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

These are sometimes prescribed for people who do not respond well to SSRIs. Efexor is an example brand name.

3. Noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NASSAs)

Prescribed for people unable to tolerate SSRIs. Similar side effects. Brand name example Zispin.

4. Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)

An older medication no longer commonly prescribed. Sometimes used for other mental ill-health diagnoses including bi-polar and obsessive compulsive disorders. Examples include Tryptizol and Anafranil.

Medication will usually take at least 7 days dosage (and often longer) before positive impact will be experienced. All medication carries the risk of side effects and these should be fully discussed with your GP. You may be able to try another medication if the first produces unpleasant or intolerable side effects. Medication does not always work for patients with depression and/or anxiety. It is also worth remembering that whilst anti-depressants may resolve symptoms, the source of your depression is likely to require talking therapy or another intervention in order to effect long lasting change.

Find out more about anti-depressants.

If the GP feels additional expertise is necessary, you may be referred to see a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a medical practitioner who can prescribe as well as diagnose and treat chronic and complex forms of mental ill-health.

LawCare

LawCare is a free confidential telephone counselling service offered to members of the legal professions in the UK and Ireland. You can call their free helpline on 0800 279 6888.

Counselling

Counselling (or therapy) is provided by qualified practitioners working under a code of good ethical practice. They will have completed between 400 – 450 hours of training and will be associated with a professional body such as The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy

Other professional bodies include;

  • The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy
  • The British Psychoanalytical Council
  • The British Psychological Society

If you need further clarification of someone’s qualifications before embarking on counselling their professional body will be happy to help.

To find a qualified counsellor or psychotherapist in your area, you can access a list through the BACP website. Throughout the following descriptions the term ‘counsellor’ is used synonymously with psychotherapist/therapist.

What happens in a counselling session?

You can expect a counselling session to last approximately 50 minutes. You will usually be offered a series of sessions – between six and eight sessions is typical, although this will be discussed. Your counsellor will have been trained in a particular clinical approach and will make their style and specialisms clear with you before you start working together. A good counsellor creates a safe, trusted and confidential space where you will feel able to work at your own pace. You will be supported to share your thinking and feelings with a non-judgemental expert. You will also be encouraged to create your own way forward with encouragement and guidance. Suggestions and recommendations for further activity and resources may be offered.

It is not unusual to believe our issues are overwhelming or too complex to be solved. We might also feel that personal problems are in some way insignificant, especially if we are experiencing guilt, thinking that others are worse off than us. Counsellors have experience across the range of human emotion and adversity. The areas you wish to address will always be respected. If you feel that you have not connected with your counsellor on first meeting, this does not mean counselling is not for you. You may find that you need to contact a different counsellor.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT is a therapeutic intervention commonly employed by counsellors. It is a practical talking therapy focusing on the links and patterns between feelings, thinking (cognition) and action (behaviour). The intention of CBT is to break negative and unhelpful thinking patterns. A counsellor using CBT methods will work with you to explore your thinking, feeling and behaviour. He/she will create understanding around and how faulty thinking can lead to distress. The process is future focused and goal oriented. It is designed to change behaviour, replacing negative behaviour patterns with more helpful approached. Discussion is generally about the present and future with little emphasis on the past. Many people find this refreshing as they prefer not to talk about childhood or traumatic past experiences.

CBT can also be delivered online, in groups and through books. It is important to remember that as with any mental ill-health intervention, CBT does not work for everyone. This does not mean that your issues cannot be resolved.

Other therapeutic approaches including psychodynamic therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) are described here http://www.bacp.co.uk/seeking_therapist/theoretical_approaches.php

Mindfulness

Have you noticed that mindfulness is everywhere at the moment? It is the latest buzzword in wellbeing and everyone from US Marines to UK school children are practicing mindfulness in some capacity.

Mindfulness is the practice of present moment awareness. It is a secular concept based on ancient Buddhist practices of contemplation. In its simplest form, mindfulness is pausing to notice your present experience. This grounds us in reality and can help move us away from unhelpful thinking patterns about the past or future. Regular mindfulness practice (usually in the form of meditation) has been shown to reduce levels of stress, depression and anxiety. Considerable evidence is building to support mindfulness as a brain training tool to increase resilience, improve decision making and boost focus. Mindfulness is also being used to support people who wish to alter unhelpful relationships or habits with food and other aspects of life. Neuroscientists have been able to demonstrate physical brain changes in the brains of participants which indicate that mindfulness practice can positively alter brain function and human behaviour.

There are a multitude of mindfulness resources available including smart phone apps , books and online courses. Many people find that face to face teaching sessions are most beneficial as this provides a robust foundation on which to base daily practice. This approach also ensures that any challenges can be discussed with an expert.

Mindfulness involves being with your thoughts, observing them and noticing your emotional responses to thinking patterns. This ‘sitting’ with emotions is counter to our societal norms which generally involve avoidance and distraction. The experience of ‘being’ can initially feel overwhelming. We spend much of our lives on ‘autopilot’ moving from one task to the next. As a legal professional you doubtless experience a permanently ‘busy brain’. This can be an inevitable consequence of an intellectually demanding role and balancing the demands of family life. Taking time to slow down and focus initially requires support from an experienced mindfulness practitioner.

Those currently experiencing mental ill-health or with a diagnosis of depression, anxiety (or other mental health condition) are advised to carefully consider the capability of their teacher before embarking on a programme of training. Mindfulness is not currently regulated in the UK. This means anyone can claim to be an expert in mindfulness and offer teaching free or for profit.

A reputable mindfulness practitioner will have been trained according to the guidelines of the UK network for mindfulness based teacher training organisations. This requires a high level of personal and teaching practice, including supervision by more experienced practitioners.

Mindfulness can be a transformative experience for many. However, as with CBT and other wellbeing interventions it does not provide a guaranteed solution.

Sources and resources

The information and resource packs on this website are designed to help you and your colleagues to work as a community for better wellbeing and professional resilience. If you want to provide feedback on these resources, or to get involved in promoting wellbeing please get in touch.


Get in touch Policy & practice

It can be difficult to make a living from law and it can be pressurised and demanding. Competition and an adversarial approach to everything can make collegiate relationships difficult. This website aims to provide you with the knowledge to manage these stressors, make emotionally informed, wise professional decisions and thrive in your chosen profession.

A simple expression that sums up wellbeing is ‘travelling well’

1 in 3 barristers find it difficult to control or stop worrying