Cultivating heart quality in professional practices

Carolyn Thomas, a heart attack survivor and women’s health advocate, writes about the importance of kindness in health care practice in her popular Heart Sisters blog, starting with a story about her visit to the emergency room and subsequent placement in the cardiac care unit:

What I do vividly remember, however, is a small but profound act of kindness later that day when I was brought to my bed in the CCU (the cardiac intensive care unit). The nurse who came to greet me as my gurney was pushed off the elevator placed one gentle hand on my shoulder (and more importantly kept it right there as she walked alongside down the long corridor). As we moved, she bent lower over my head to speak slowly and softly into one ear, introducing herself and assuring me that I was “in the right place” – and that her whole team would do their best to take very good care of me while I was with them.

She goes on to reference, among other things, studies showing that medical students’ levels of empathy begin to decline during the course of their training:

Much of this interaction, however, depends largely on health care professionals’ ability to empathize – to imagine what it’s like to walk in the hospital booties of their patients.

So it’s shocking for many people to learn that, even among naturally kind and empathetic medical students, studies suggest that empathy for others begins to wane by the third year of med school as students progress. This is particularly true, apparently, for future doctors entering technology-oriented specialties – like cardiology.

Thomas’s article raises important questions about the training and education of those entering the helping and human service professions, especially fields such as health care, law, and social services.

For example, a healthy dose of training in client counseling should be an important part of a law school program, including the cultivation of greater sensitivity to a client’s emotional state during often stressful legal proceedings. Therapeutic jurisprudence, the school of legal thought that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of the law, legal practice, and legal education, takes these matters seriously.

To illustrate, in a 2010 law review article, “Employment Law as if People Mattered: Bringing Therapeutic Jurisprudence into the Workplace,” I devote a lot of attention to client counseling in the context of employment disputes, including the recognition that clients may be experiencing considerable anxiety and stress in view of the stakes involved.

These considerations should be examined against the broader canvass of emotional and social intelligence. As I wrote four years ago in a post on leadership:

For those who have the personal qualities to be effective leaders but lack the background and experience, leadership and management training programs emphasizing the so-called “soft skills” would help sensitize them to the human aspects of their jobs.

In fact, it’s arguable that basic management training should be part of all professional degree programs, such as medicine, education, law, and business. This initial exposure can be augmented by continuing education offerings for those elevated to leadership positions.

Maybe this seems like a lot in order to get back to the point of Carolyn Thomas’s blog post: How a nurse’s simple words of comfort and reassurance helped her to deal with a life-threatening health crisis. Nevertheless, in professions that, by their nature, must place great emphasis on analysis and problem solving, the human element needs reinforcing as well.

***

Hat tip to Peggy Berry for the Thomas article.

A Note from Your Host: Summer is in sight

Boston Common (photo: DY, June 2015)

An early June evening in the Boston Common (photo: DY, June 2015)

Well folks, with exams and papers now graded and recorded, my 2014-15 academic year has come to a close. In addition, and most gratefully, I have survived Boston’s winter and early spring, a brutal stretch that played havoc with everyone’s lives and patience.

Along with many others who teach at universities, I am now in summer mode. For me, that means a lot of writing and project work, along with a few program speaking and participation opportunities.

Bullying Research Network, Annual Think Tank, Boston, MA, June 2015

I had the pleasure of spending the past two days participating in the Bullying Research Network‘s (BRNET) annual Think Tank, held this year at Boston University. BRNET is a global network of researchers, most of whom are studying some aspects of school bullying. BRNET’s home is at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and its co-founders are Drs. Susan Swearer (Nebraska-Lincoln) and Shelley Hymel (University of British Columbia).

They created the Think Tank as an annual opportunity for researchers to gather together to share information and insights. I’ll be writing a separate blog post about this program later this week, but for now let me say that I got so much out of being a part of it, and in the process I met a lot of terrific, impressive people.

International Congress of Law and Mental Health, Vienna, Austria, July 2015

In July, I’ll be taking a long plane flight to Vienna, Austria, for the 2015 International Congress of Law and Mental Health, a biennial, global gathering of academicians, practitioners, judges, and students hosted by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health. I’ll be on a panel that examines how therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) perspectives can be integrated into law teaching and legal education. My paper will examine how TJ can be included in continuing legal education programs for practicing attorneys.

This week-long conference, featuring dozens of panels each day, also provides an opportunity for extended conversations with law professors, lawyers, and others who are committed to reforming our laws and legal systems to be more responsive to mental health and well-being. Through this event, the international therapeutic jurisprudence community creates a sort of “conference within a conference,” with an ongoing series of panels dedicated specifically to TJ themes.

I’ve also added a few extra days in Austria, which will serve as a brief summer vacation. I have not visited the city since 1981, as part of a quick jaunt through western Europe following a semester abroad in England. I’m very curious to see how I will react to the city this time around, through more mature and appreciative eyes.

Projects

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a law review article manuscript on intellectual activism, drawing in large part upon my own involvement over the past decade or so on issues related to workers’ rights and worker dignity, especially workplace bullying and unpaid internships.

In the piece, I’m setting out a practice model for law professors, lawyers, and law students that starts with a foundational writing, usually a scholarly law review article, that serves as the intellectual basis of investigating a compelling issue of law and policy and concludes with potential proposals for change and reform. The next steps move into a more activist, public mode, engaging in activities such as drafting legislation, supporting impact litigation, and doing public education work.

By early fall, I hope to secure an offer of publication from a law review and post the draft to my Social Science Research Network publications page. (For a preliminary exploration of the ideas I’m developing more fully now, see my 2013 essay, “If It Matters, Write About It: Using Legal Scholarship to Effect Social Change.)

I’ve got a few other writing projects in the works that I’m not ready to preview yet, but I’ll be working on them during the summer months. In addition, I’ll be working on two local fall program plans, (1) a therapeutic jurisprudence workshop for law professors and lawyers; and (2) an event or two in conjunction with Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week in October.

Finally, I’m tying up a loose thread, finishing a coaching training program that I substantially completed last year. I have some written assignments to finish and an oral certification exam. This training has already proven useful to me in understanding workplace dynamics, and in a more applied sense I’ve used some coaching techniques in working with my students.

All of this looks eminently doable from the view of early June! But as we all know, the Endless Summer that the Beach Boys sang about becomes especially fictitious as we get older, so I’d best be as disciplined as I can about this stuff. Here’s to a good and productive summer to all.

Working Notes: Upcoming speaking appearances and a nice kudo

Hello dear readers, I wanted to quickly share a few items about upcoming speaking appearances, as well as a surprise kudo.

The Mara Dolan Show, Monday at 10:30 a.m.

Today (Monday) at around 10:30 a.m. eastern I’ll be making my second appearance this year on the Mara Dolan Show, 980 WCAP radio in Massachusetts. I’ll be giving an update on the status of the Healthy Workplace Bill in the Bay State and talking about therapeutic jurisprudence, the school of legal thought that examines the psychological impacts of law, public policy, and legal systems.

I was a guest on Mara’s show in January, talking about workplace bullying, and I enjoyed our conversation very much. She’s a highly respected, very knowledgeable political commentator with a background in law and social work.

[4/15/15 Editor’s Note: You may listen to the segment, about 12 minutes, here.]

Work, Stress, and Health Conference, Atlanta, May 2015

This is a repeat of an earlier note that I’ll be presenting at one of my favorite events, the biennial “Work, Stress and Health” conference, co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Society for Occupational Health Psychology. This year’s conference will be held on May 6-9 in Atlanta.

I’ll chairing and presenting on two symposium panels, one on the impact of emerging workplace bullying legislation on employee relations stakeholders (with Gary Namie, Ellen Pinkos Cobb, and Maureen Duffy), and another on coaching as an intervention strategy for workplace bullying (with John-Robert Curtin, Ivonne Moreno-Velazquez, and Jessi Eden Brown).

In addition, I just accepted an invitation to moderate a panel on organizational justice featuring Karolus O. Kraan, Bram P. I. Fleuren, and Dr. Peter L. Schnall.

International Congress of Law and Mental Health, Vienna, Austria, July 2015

I’ll be taking a long plane flight to Vienna, Austria, for the 2015 International Congress of Law and Mental Health, a biennial, global gathering of academicians, practitioners, judges, and students hosted by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health on July 12-17. I’ll be on a panel that examines how therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) perspectives can be integrated into law teaching and legal education. My paper will examine how TJ can be included in continuing legal education programs for practicing attorneys.

Top 30 list

Last week, I was doing some online research on workplace bullying when I found this feature by Dr. Tanja Babic, “The 30 Most Influential Industrial and Organizational Psychologists Alive Today,” on Human Resources MBA, a website and blog for individuals interested in training and degree programs in HR work. I was delighted to see Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute listed at No. 5. Gary’s contributions to our understanding of workplace bullying have been singular and definitive.

I scrolled down the rest of the list and was stunned to find myself at No. 30. Especially given that my formal training is in law and public policy, I am honored to be included on a list of influential people in I/O psychology.

Here’s the January 2015 news release announcing the article and listing.

Mainstreaming psychological well-being in the law: TJ’s challenge

Screenshot from https://mainstreamtj.wordpress.com (Photo: DY)

Screenshot from https://mainstreamtj.wordpress.com (Photo: DY)

What if our laws and legal systems focused on creating psychologically healthy outcomes for parties involved in legal matters and for society as a whole? What if considerations of economics (leaning right) and rights (leaning left) in creating law and policy were screened through the lens of psychological well-being of people affected by those laws and policies?

Long-time readers may recognize that I have aligned myself with therapeutic jurisprudence (“TJ”),  a school of legal thought that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of the law, legal practice, and legal education. In essence, TJ asks if our laws and legal systems lead to psychologically healthy results, and it implicitly favors initiatives designed to make them so.

I discovered the TJ community as a result of my work on workplace bullying and employment law & policy, and I have found it to be a welcoming and natural home for my legal scholarship and public education work.

Now I have taken this affiliation a step further by joining the Advisory Group of the International Therapeutic Jurisprudence in the Mainstream Project, which “seeks to promote the use of Therapeutic Jurisprudence…approaches in mainstream legal settings through a variety of activities,” including a blog (photo above) and:

  • Linking the latest research and resources with the people who are doing this work “on the ground” in courts and tribunals – judges, lawyers, prosecutors, managers, staff and court support workers.
  • Encouraging and sharing TJ scholarship among academic and students in law and other disciplines.
  • Linking people with expertise in this area with others who want to explore how TJ can make their courts and tribunals more effective.

The Project is the brainchild of TJ co-founder and law professor David Wexler (Puerto Rico), Australian magistrate judge Pauline Spencer (Victoria), and law professor and retired judge Michael Jones (Arizona).

The Project’s Advisory Group (list and bios here) is drawn from 18 countries and “includes judges, lawyers and prosecutors, academics and students in the field of law and other fields such as psychology.”

TJ’s challenge

How do we make the promotion of psychologically healthy outcomes a prime objective for our laws and legal systems?

In a field so dominated by considerations of logic, reasoning, economics, rights, and procedure, psychology and human emotion are often regarded with some discomfort for their lack of precision and, well, messiness.

And yet, it makes perfect sense to me that the psychological well-being of individuals and society as a whole should be a primary lens through which we view and develop the law and its institutions. This is far from being the dominant viewpoint among lawyers, judges, and policy makers, but that reality only makes it more important for us to gather together (often virtually) to promote the mainstreaming of TJ.

This is among the many reasons why I am delighted to be more closely affiliated with this global assemblage of lawyers, professors, judges, and students. They inspire me with their dedication to the hard work of making the world a better place.

*** 

Of possible interest

I’ve written two law review articles expressly built around ideas of therapeutic jurisprudence. They can be freely accessed here:

Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the Practice of Legal Scholarship (University of Memphis Law Review, 2010).

Employment Law as if People Mattered: Bringing Therapeutic Jurisprudence into the Workplace (Florida Coastal Law Review, 2010).

Academic conferences: When small is beautiful

I am becoming a big fan of smaller scale academic gatherings that allow time and space for dialogue and fellowship. Toward that end, I’ve just posted to my Social Science Research Network page a short essay, “Academic Conferences: When Small is Beautiful” (Suffolk University Law Review Online, 2015), which may be downloaded without charge. The essay grew out of a 2014 symposium on therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) that I hosted at Suffolk University Law School. Here’s the abstract:

This essay makes a case for organizing and hosting smaller academic conferences, workshops, and symposia that promote genuine dialogue and move at a slower, more contemplative pace. Although the main purpose of an academic gathering is not to create and experience a “feel good” event, smaller scale programs may better facilitate spirited, respectful dialogue, intellectual exchange, and an ethic of fellowship that nurtures connections and friendships. In addition, in offering post-program publication opportunities, we may consider packages of shorter essays as less burdensome alternatives to full-length symposium issues of journals. This essay grew out of the author’s hosting of, and participation in, a small conference on therapeutic jurisprudence at Suffolk University Law School in 2014.

Therapeutic jurisprudence symposium

The piece also serves as an introduction to five essays authored by presenters at the 2014 symposium, which may be downloaded here. In brief, here are the authors and their topics:

  • Prof. Mark Glover, University of Wyoming College of Law (TJ and estate planning)
  • Prof. Michael Jones, Arizona Summit Law School (Teaching TJ)
  • Prof. Shelley Kierstead, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University (TJ and legal writing)
  • Prof. Michael Perlin, New York Law School (TJ law teaching & scholarship vis a vis mental health & criminal law)
  • Prof. David Wexler, University of Puerto Rico School of Law (mainstreaming TJ in criminal & juvenile justice law)

Academic culture and practice

For those interested in reading more of my thoughts on academic culture and practice, especially in legal scholarship, here are two pieces I’ve authored, which can be accessed by clicking the titles:

If It Matters, Write About It: Using Legal Scholarship to Effect Social Change (Bearing Witness: A Journal on Law and Social Responsibility, 2013) — From my abstract: “This essay centers on the concept of ‘intellectual activism,’ discussing how legal scholarship can be used as the foundation for social change work. It recounts and reflects upon the author’s ongoing work in advancing issues such as workplace bullying and the rights of student interns. It concludes with advice on how to be effective in an intellectual activist mode.”

Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the Practice of Legal Scholarship (University of Memphis Law Review, 2010) — From my abstract: “The culture of legal scholarship has become preoccupied with article placement, citations, and download numbers, thus obscuring a deeper appreciation for the contributions of scholarly work. This article proposes that therapeutic jurisprudence (“TJ”), a theoretical framework that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of the law and legal practice, provides us with tools for understanding and changing that culture.”

***

Related posts

Workshopping human dignity (2014)

Inspiration in Amsterdam (2013)

Why conferences? (2013)

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Dignity instead: The “markets and management” framework for U.S. workplace law should go

American employment law has been dominated by a belief system that embraces the idea of unfettered free markets and regards limitations on management authority with deep suspicion.  Under this “markets and management” framework, the needs for unions and collective bargaining, individual employment rights, and, most recently, protection of workers amid the dynamics of globalization, are all weighed against these prevailing norms.

The creation of New Deal labor and social legislation during the 1930s, and the expansion of employment rights during the 1960s and 1970s, provided tangible benefits to workers in terms of collective bargaining, minimum wage, discrimination, and modest wrongful discharge protections.  However, these gains have been under continuous and vigorous attack for several decades, to the point where today the state of American employment relations is at a critical juncture.

For the sake of workers and organizations alike, we must rethink this dominant framework. Thanks to the publication of economist Thomas Piketty’s groundbreaking Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014) — an exhaustive study of income inequality in some 20 nations (including the U.S.) — we have a new understanding of how unbridled capitalism has led to huge concentrations of wealth benefiting the super rich. Furthermore, concerns about job security and working conditions, bullying at work, and steadily lower union membership levels continue to raise important questions about the well-being of everyday workers and their role in shaping the modern workplace.

In addition, the courts and legal process offer marginal solace for mistreated employees. Despite the seeming abundance of potential legal protections for many American workers, effectuating one’s employment-related rights can be a lengthy, expensive, and stressful undertaking.  Employment lawsuits are costly and time consuming for both employees and employers.

Transforming all this is no easy task, but let’s start with the fundamental conviction that human dignity should supplant “markets and management” as the central framework for analyzing and shaping American employment law.  Simply put, we need to reframe the intellectual and rhetorical debate over employment law and policy to focus on the dignity and well-being of workers.

Within such a “dignitarian” framework, there is plenty of room for market-based competition, entrepreneurship, individual responsibility, and sound management prerogative.  Furthermore, the call for dignity in the workplace is not a rallying cry for state ownership, runaway taxation, or regulatory micromanagement of the workplace.  Rather, it is about promoting the complementary goals of healthy, productive, and socially responsible workplaces within a mix of robust private, public, and non-profit sectors.

***

Note: This post is a slightly revised and edited version of the introduction to my 2009 law review article, “Human Dignity and American Employment Law,” University of Richmond Law Review. I find myself returning to this piece periodically to draw out basic themes that I want to share with readers of this blog. The idea of supplanting the dominant “markets and management” framework with a commitment to human dignity is chief among the core precepts. I further developed these ideas in a 2010 law review essay, “Employment Law as If People Mattered: Bringing Therapeutic Jurisprudence into the Workplace,” Florida Coastal Law Review.

Visioning law and legal systems through a psychologically healthy lens

One of my periodic “battery rechargers” is the opportunity to reconnect in person with a network of law professors, lawyers, judges, and students associated with a school of legal thought called therapeutic jurisprudence (“TJ”), which examines law, legal procedures, and the legal profession from the standpoint of psychological health. Law professor and TJ co-founder David Wexler (U. Puerto Rico) defines therapeutic jurisprudence this way:

Therapeutic Jurisprudence (TJ) concentrates on the law’s impact on emotional life and psychological well-being. It is a perspective that regards the law (rules of law, legal procedures, and roles of legal actors) itself as a social force that often produces therapeutic or anti-therapeutic consequences. It does not suggest that therapeutic concerns are more important than other consequences or factors, but it does suggest that the law’s role as a potential therapeutic agent should be recognized and systematically studied.

David was among those who came to Boston and Suffolk University Law School for a Friday public symposium, “The Study and Practice of Law in a Therapeutic Key: An Introduction to Therapeutic Jurisprudence,” followed by a smaller Saturday workshop to plan future TJ activities and initiatives.

In addition to thanking David, I’d like to extend my warm appreciation to out-of-town participants Mark Glover (U. Wyoming), Michael Jones (Arizona Summit), Shelley Kierstead (York U., Osgoode Hall), Michael Perlin (New York Law School), Amanda Peters (South Texas), Amy Ronner (St. Thomas U., Florida), and Carol Zeiner (St. Thomas U., Florida), as well as to my Suffolk colleagues Gabriel Teninbaum, Kathleen Vinson, and Patrick Shin, for being a part of the two-day program.

You can view the agenda for the Friday symposium here. My presentation on  employment law drew heavily from this blog to emphasize the significant stress and anguish experienced by workplace bullying targets, the importance of multi-faceted counseling & coaching for those targets (legal, mental health, and career), and the need to reform our legal processes for resolving employment-related disputes.

As a law professor and lawyer, the TJ community has become my intellectual home base. Equally important, it has provided me with a group of dear friends and colleagues. Last night, a group of us went out to a karaoke bar here in Boston, and while we probably shouldn’t count on Plan B careers as performing artists, we had great fun. Tonight we’ll be heading out for a nice Italian dinner in Boston’s North End. Such fellowship with good people confirms that I’m running with the right crowd for me.

***

For more on the International Network on Therapeutic Jurisprudence, go to the network website.

You may also join the TJ Facebook page here.

 

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