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Support for students and pupils

How to have a wellbeing conversation

These resources have been designed specifically for those who have completed their BPTC and for pupils up to tenancy. If you are still enrolled at an Institute of Higher Education then you should access student welfare support available at your institution.

Increasing self-awareness will help you spots the signs and symptoms of stress more easily. This improves emotional intelligence (EI), a key driver in effective leadership and self-management. High EI means you address difficulties head-on, draw on internal resilience and source creative solutions which work for you.

Resilient people know when to ask for support. Whilst this is not always easy, this courageous move will fast-track you to re-building strength and performance. 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. This can manifest itself in poor sleep, distraction, procrastination and poor performance.

Who can I speak to?

You should pick someone you trust and who you think has the capacity to listen.

If you are a pupil, this person doesn’t have to be your supervisor, or from the same chambers or even in the same area of law; a professional friend is likely to be a good place to start. It may be more helpful to speak to someone more senior or another pupil, depending on the issue. If you are still making pupillage application, speak to your Inn.

Before asking for support it is completely natural to have doubts about whether or not you can trust the person. You might worry about their reaction. Ultimately it is only you who can choose the person with whom you will share your concerns.

Remember one in four adults in the UK will experience a mental health concern or issue in any one year (Mind, 2016). It is entirely possible that the person you disclose to will have experience of mental ill-health, either directly or through close friends and family. The more we can open up to others about mental ill-health, the more we reduce stigma and misunderstanding.

What should I say?

You might start the discussion with a simple statement or question such as “Have you got 5 minutes, I could do with a chat?” or “I’m not feeling 100% at the moment”. Or perhaps “I need some help and I would appreciate your advice”.

I don’t want to burden others

It is completely natural to be concerned about opening up to someone, particularly if you are a pupil and you are concerned it might impact on your tenancy application or future employment. You might be surprised by people’s response. It is possible that by opening up you give others the courage to share their fears too.

Trying to carry on when your wellbeing is compromised will eventually affect you negatively. We are not designed to withstand relentlessly high levels of pressure. Think of this as an opportunity to relieve the pressure and move towards re-building your resilience. Ultimately you will be back to previous high levels of performance more quickly than if left to fester.

 

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

Stress and pressure are two different things. We need pressure to stimulate us into action. Pressure is certainly part of a life in law. For many barristers and clerks the intellectual stimulation and high-stakes decision-making are what attracts them to the role in the first place. Temporary high levels of pressure such as preparing for your first case, working to short timeframes, researching a significant point of law are common scenarios for pupil barristers. The human body and mind are designed to function effectively during these periods, provided they are followed by rest and recuperation. Consistently operating under high pressure, with ineffective (or no) breaks leads to stress. Stress is a harmful, affecting the mind, body and behaviour in ways that can cause long term damage.

To operate at the top of your game you need to build in mechanisms to maintain energy and focus. Many of these strategies are discussed in The ingredients to good wellbeing. Once you have developed your own techniques for managing pressure and avoiding stress these stay with you for life.

What will help me most?

You may already know what you need. It might be something as simple as taking a break, making a cup of tea and having something to eat. It could be having a night off work completely, including emails. For some, writing a ‘To Do’ list and focusing only on the task or tasks that actually need to be done now can help enormously. But perhaps right now a listening ear will make the biggest impact. Simply talking to your supervisor or a fellow pupil or another colleague may be what you need to put things in perspective and start the journey towards practical adjustments and solutions. You do not have to solve everything immediately. This is about taking the first step. It could make the biggest difference to your life right now.

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/

 

Other legal wellbeing charities

Charlie Waller Memorial Trust

The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust is here to talk openly about depression, show how to maintain wellbeing, and offer help as to what and where the most appropriate treatment is available.

Website: http://www.cwmt.org.uk/

Silence of Suicide Initiative

Silence of Suicide is an initiative borne out of the tragedy of suicide which aims to facilitate open discourse & eradicate stigma.

Website: http://www.sossilenceofsuicide.org/

Dealing with Bereavement

MuchLoved

A website with links to different bereavement charities.

Website: https://www.muchloved.com/gateway/grief-support-organisations.htm

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 different routes you can take to access support. If you are a pupil in an organisation, you may find your employer offers an employee assistance programme (e.g. telephone counselling). Whilst this may not be an option for most pupils in chambers, there are lots of other ways of getting psychological support. As a pupil or student still making pupillage applications, find out what your Inn offers.

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

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.

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.

Resources

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 7days 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.

You can find out more about anti-depressants here http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/antidepressant-drugs/Pages/Introduction.aspx

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.

Places of calm in the Inns of Court

The chapels in the Inns of Court are places of calm which provide space for quiet reflection and are open to all. They are Church of England foundations but people from all Christian denominations, and those from all faiths and none, are always welcome. Further details are provided below.

The contribution of the Church in the Inns to wellbeing at the Bar is described in more detail here.

Gray’s Inn Chapel

Contact: Bishop Michael Doe, Preacher

The Chapel is open every weekday from 10am to 6pm.

For further information visit: Gray’s Inn Chapel

Lincoln’s Inn Chapel

Contact: The Very Reverend Derek Watson, The Preacher

The Chapel is usually open between 9am and 5pm on weekdays.

For further information visit: Lincoln’s Inn Chapel

The Temple Church

Contacts: The Reverend Robin Griffith-Jones, The Master
The Reverend Mark Hatcher, The Reader

The Church is usually open between 10am and 4pm on weekdays.

For further information visit: The Temple Church

Contacts at the Bar

Individuals in the following organisations can provide information on what they are doing to support students’ and pupils’ wellbeing. Please contact them for information on events or to provide feedback about what more we can do to promote wellbeing at the Bar.

Bar Contact
Bar Council Sam Mercer (smercer@barcouncil.co.uk)
Employed Bar Grant Warnsby (grant.warnsby@uk.bp.com)
Young Bar Elisabeth Cooper (elisabeth.cooper@stjohnsbuildings.co.uk)/ Kirsty Sutherland (kirsty.sutherland@9bedfordrow.co.uk) and https://youngbarhub.com/ 

 

Inns of Court Contact
Inner Jennie Collis (jcollis@innertemple.org.uk) / Helen Davies QC (helen.davies@brickcourt.co.uk)
Middle Colin Davidson (c.davidson@middletemple.org.uk) / Louise McCullough (louise.mccullough@charterchambers.com)
Gray’s Rachel James (rachel.james@graysinn.org.uk) / Pushpinder Saini QC (pushsaini@blackstonechambers.com)
Lincoln’s Julie Whitby (whitbymevcat@me.com) / Linda Turnbull (lturnbull98@googlemail.com) / Margia Mostafa (BarRepCommittee.ViceChair@lincolnsinn.org.uk)

We hope that you review these resources to help you in your training to become a barrister. If you want to provide feedback on these resources, or to get involved in promoting wellbeing amongst those in a similar position to yourself please get in touch.


Get involved

Training to become a barrister is pressured and demanding. Intensive competition for limited pupillages (and when in pupillage for tenancy or employment) can make collegiate relationships difficult. This website aims to provide you with the knowledge to manage those stressors, make emotionally informed, wise decisions and hopefully 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