This document is a typed note of the workshop I ran on Tuesday 7 December for judges at Central Family Court, which in turn builds on a workshop I ran on Friday 5 November 2021 for the Association of District Judges. The passages in ordinary type are what I said in the 30 minutes we had. To read them takes about 15 minutes. The passages in italics are what I would have liked to have had time to add – with explanations of some very compressed material and a few links to resources I mention. To read the whole document takes about 20 minutes.
But if that is too long, I have created a summary: A one page “Three Take Home Messages” page also on this website. Three short take home messages from Workshops on Stress /Psychological Health for Judges.
On Friday 5 November I ran a workshop about Judges and Stress for the Association of District Judges, which I was told later was successful.
That’s really good. That’s encouraging. I will offer those ideas again but in addition, in this workshop, I will go deeper and raise the question of whether people will actually use the interesting and useful ideas and techniques or if there is some curious tendency not to look after ourselves. Because I suspect that many people here would be aware of some of this material and it is available elsewhere but it has either not been accessed or it is absorbed as an intellectual, therefore not either an emotional or behavioural, level
I will start as I did before by saying that I am very glad that you have organised this short session and I fully appreciate how hard it is to make any time away from your court list. There is of course a perfect irony there. Too busy and stressed to do enough about the stress. But that is changing.
I value the court system and the judiciary hugely. I think it is one of the finest aspects of British public life and, like the BBC and the NHS, it is under huge pressure and often attacks by this and previous governments who seem to some degree to resent the high standards and who seem to believe that everything can be done more quickly, cheaply and with a populist spin that plays out well in the media. That leaves aside the literally sickening disrespect for the rule of law.
The pressure is unprecedented. As the President said in October 2018 the pressure is “remorseless and relentless” and “I do not think systems collapse in these circumstances. Systems simply grind on; it is people who may “collapse” or “fall over”. Indeed, that is already happening and I could give you real examples of this happening now. ” That is largely invisible to the outside world but still very real. https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Speech-by-Rt.-Hon.-Sir-Andrew-McFarlane-Association-of-Lawyers-for-Children-Conference-2018.pdf
Significantly this is quoted on the first page of PLWG report which itself with he BPG is a massive contribution to improving the system and therefore improving the well-being of all of us. Again in October this year the President said : “I continue to urge each one of you to take your own well being seriously.”
So what can we do?
I want to address: 1. The sources of stress that I have read about and heard about in talking to more than twenty judges – ie the objective, outside stress factors. Or, as I prefer to say, the demands of the job. Then 2, the subjective, internal responses of judges to those stress factors. Finally, 3, ideas to ameliorate that stress – ideas that I have also been told about by judges and others that I have used successfully with lawyers in other workshops.
But… having said all of that, it is necessary to do something quite shocking – to analyse, to dismantle and then abandon the word “stress”.
Stress is a very unhelpful and misleading word – because, as is clear from what I have just said, it runs together two very different things: the objectively demanding or challenging situation. And the subjective reaction of an individual.
To say “being a judge is stressful” is to say the challenges have inevitably got a certain negative outcome: “Stress”. Vaguely defined. In fact undefined. So there’s nothing much we can do about that, if we can’t get a grip on it.
Let’s look at that. Some people apparently find certain situations stressful – others don’t. Is public speaking “stressful“? Obviously, I don’t think so. Personally, I find looking after a baby or a young child for a morning very stressful but fortunately other members of my family do not. Similarly mountaineering, horror films, mathematics…they are challenges and different people have different reactions – at different times, maybe with different skills available to them.
These exaggerated examples simply show that there are the objective demands of any situation or job and the subjective difference in responses.
I think people only remember two or three things from any talk or workshop. I am going to ask for three and this is the first:
In fact, there is no emotion called stress. If we go under that blanket word, we can address what is actually happening and then do something about it. This is daring and may be unwelcome but we need to name the real emotions.
If we stop and think for a moment – clearly and honestly, what is rolled up into that word is often in fact a mixture of anxiety and guilt and sometimes frustration and resentment perhaps real pain and regret – or to be even more daring and visceral – fear and anger and sadness.
Now that is really challenging. Because it’s ok to feel stress. It’s respectable. In fact, traditionally it was rather high status. And in a stressful job -ie an important job – stress is inevitable isn’t it? But to admit anxiety or resentment or fear and anger may be far too personal, embarrassing for some people. But the point is that it does allow us to address what is really going on and therefore take steps to work with it.
Many people will flinch away from such strongly emotional language and see it as excessive. So be it. Maybe I just planted a few seeds here. The human brain is not mechanical or like a computer. It’s organic, like a garden, where ideas can be planted and quietly put down roots and grow.
The anecdote. The time-honoured way of starting a talk like this is with a human and I hope useful anecdote which will start a process of planting a seed.
When I was a young solicitor – many, many years ago of course – there was an even younger member of staff, a paralegal, and one day I found her looking miserable and resentful and paralysed sitting in front of a huge pile of papers. I asked what was happening and she said that she had been given the task of sorting out this famously huge, complicated and messy file.
I simply said to her “oh my goodness – that is a huge task. That’s really unfair, you’ve only just started with us”.
Her response was for her face to light up and for her to say to me “Oh, thank you so much.” I was rather startled by that. Later we talked and she explained that that simple acknowledgement of the reality and her situation had lifted her mood; previously she had been paralysed by anxiety, a sense of failure and a resentment. Was it just her that was struggling? Was she stupid? And my few simple words of acknowledgment of the situation had lifted that demoralisation and that allowed her to get on with the job.
I thought about this later and have often thought about it. It was a precious effective gift to her. And it cost me nothing. Quite magical really. And surely, we need any magic that is going around? So Acknowledgment is one of my favourite words. A word of power.
If I had been all positive and upbeat: “Come on, it’s quite ok, you can do it” blah blah – she would in fact have been more depressed and paralysed.
Paradoxical? Acknowledging the negative had that positive outcome.
You can see the same almost magical effect of an apology. One morning coming to court a colleague says something rather abrupt, rude or hurtful. It niggles away at your mind all morning. There is ample brain scan evidence that the brain reacts and tends to focus on negative stuff – threats – much more than positive. So you rehearse imaginary conversations that you might have. Your body will in fact have detectable levels of anger and anxiety. At lunchtime they acknowledge their actions and apologise and suddenly the niggle and the anger and anxiety have gone and things are much calmer. Magic.
The process of psychotherapy is, in my book, largely about teasing out and acknowledging what is not named, acknowledging something in terms of the objective facts of a situation and equally important the subjective experience.
You may say that you are not paralegals. I would say that these are common human needs. Possibly therefore childish, but we are all children underneath our adult selves and the really mature thing is to admit that and work with our deeper needs.
That is why I am going to start by naming, articulating, and acknowledging the objective challenges you face as judges and then naming and acknowledging the emotional reactions that I hear. Or maybe even more importantly the reactions I don’t hear but I do detect – that are hinted at when I speak to judges about this subject. Naming the emotional, subjective aspect may be challenging, even insulting to some people.
Now this could become a recital of all the negative aspects of being a judge. Could it be quite depressing and demoralising? Maybe. Is it worth it? Yes. Can it lead to a positive benefit? Yes.
There is one thing that is worse than having a negative situation and experience and that is having negative situation or experience but being in denial about it. Covering up. Putting on a brave face. Pretending. Because the truth doesn’t go away. The reality and the realisation of that reality burns quietly and unhealthily under the skin. A wound, even just a sore will fester if it is covered up.
This is to explore the paradox I mentioned – that to have the discomfort or pain of uncovering like a sore or an infected wound is worth it as 1. it will start to heal and 2. We can act constructively on reducing the problem. We do move on to the positives and the skillful means to achieve resilience and not to be exhausted and demoralised. Resilience – “pliability, flexibility, spirit.”
So let’s acknowledge the stress factors – I will not use that word. The demands of the job.
Firstly, too much work. Obviously invariably and loudly I have been told about the huge level of work, “Huge. Massive. Unprecedented. Ever-increasing. Unrelenting” are words I often hear. “The backlog of old cases … back-to-back hearings… emergencies popping up all the time. It’s an almost impossible task.”
At this point I would like to remind people that one of the classic formulas for stress is “responsibility without power“ I.e. you are required to do something but you are not given the means to do it. You are required to get the waiting lists down and deal with urgent cases but there is in fact not enough time.
The subjective impact of that can be a form of anxiety and guilt.
But what I first noticed were comments like: “I don’t know if everyone is struggling like this but ….” So – get it out in the open, get it acknowledged. You’d think it’s fairly obviously true in the case of work load isn’t it? But even so, one judge whispered the news that work was overwhelming. Whispered? Who was listening? Who might think they couldn’t cope? I have had it confirmed by that experience and by other comments that there is still an element of shame for some people, of secrecy. Obviously, that is deeply unhealthy.
This is one of the two main points of this talk. Saying the unsayable. Naming the emotions. Mr Justice Michael Kirby in a lecture to Australian judges called it “The Unmentionable Subject” and gave a brilliant lecture on the subject – and that was in 1995! (Reference below) He is still working on the subject and tells me there is real progress – in Australia anyway. He pointed me to the second reference at the end of this note which is an excellent Handbook for Judges in New South Wales – I really recommend it.
How much progress have we made since then? Answer: not nearly enough. Evidence for that? Numerous surveys of lawyers including judges: The 2020 UK Judicial Attitude Survey: 35% of judges felt the government did not value them at all. A third of judges said they might quit over the next five years.
BUT…. I am aware that the judiciary and the Bar have resources available to them in terms of helplines, or counselling services – and the take up is very, very poor. People prefer to soldier on saying “I haven’t got any time to waste looking after myself” … until maybe they are burnt out – or, long before that, they are exhausted, demoralised, unhealthy and not as good a judge as they could be – or as good a partner, parent, friend etc.
I think people only remember one or two things from any talk. So please can the first one be this turn-key one, the one that makes the rest of the talk have some benefit – stop being in denial and tough all the time. Self-control is totally necessary in court but it is damaging if it becomes denial in the whole of our lives. It is time to get psychological – not to echo the dismissive phrase of the 1950 “It’s just psychological” – ie unreal, unimportant. It is psychological and it is hugely important.
And this is really positive: This talk will highlight the demands of the job which are ever-increasing – and our lives which are embedded in a society and the wider world which is in ever-increasing crisis – but the good news is that we are in society and world where the psychological resources for coping with the demands are greater than before and are ever-increasing. And some of those resources are explored here today.
So we have identified from the anecdote that the very first resource and equipment we need is Acknowledgment – ideally from others but crucially with ourselves – with clarity and honesty. “Everyone is overloaded and everyone is struggling.” Phew. Breathe out. Say it loud and long – and later we will see what we can do about it.
And if there is a feeling of guilt without actually having done anything wrong, then that is unfair. And as judges you obviously have a strong sense of what is fair and a deep commitment to fairness for other people. Therefore there is the subjective but possibly repressed sense of unfairness inflicted on you. And, if we slow down and dare to look at it carefully, it is a source of resentment i.e. very contained and denied anger.
Again – let’s open it up and acknowledge it. “It’s not fair! I am justifiably angry about this.”
Back to the demands of the job – Secondly, disruption. Cases being messed up. The second stress factor that is talked about to me frequently is linked to the first one and it is about the fact that litigants in person and even unforgivably the advocates, really mess things up by being late with documentation or other mistakes that lead to a case being extended or adjourned – which completely throws out the timetable of that case and of others which may get pushed into another day.
Subjective: When I asked about the impact of this, a judge said that it was a form of frustration and then asked if that was a stress factor.
To which the answer is a resounding yes. Frustration is a mild word for being angry. Being angry but not being able to express it fully or to discharge it or have it acknowledged is stressful and is not healthy. Acknowledgment does not mean screaming with rage or chewing the carpets – it can be calm and quiet and honest.
Three: Covid. Before we leave disruption of cases as a source of frustration let me mention our old friend, the pandemic. Chaos. It has and still effects Judges, the court staff, the parties, the witnesses, the advocates. Cases delayed by illness. Backlogs building up.
And a side effect – Remote hearings. Suddenly accelerated. Long hours on Zoom or Teams. Technology “less than perfect” even for professionals. Very difficult for some lay parties. Connecting by a shaky phone call to a life changing moment in court? Our nagging sense that this is not fair. We are not doing what we should be doing. And again it’s not our fault.
Four: Litigants in person. Chaotic. Increasingly with access to online information, misinformation. Getting the wrong end of the stick and it can be a very long and time wasting stick. Your duty to help them but not advise them. There has been training – on the theory. How much practical training? Discus later?
Five: The Unspoken Fear of Appeals. Really interesting that some judges did name this. Some brushed it aside. “I cannot afford to think about that.” Really? That’s an interesting statement. Can’t afford to think about it – not in the forefront of the mind. So, are you sure it’s not there lurking? That you are unconsciously looking over your shoulder? It is not true for some. It is true for others. And a source of anxiety. “Humiliation” is a word I have seen in some of the papers I have read.
Six: Hostile media. For some of us in family law the disturbing news that the President wants to open up the courts to avoid the accusation of “secret courts” – an accusation by the media who want salacious or dramatic stories of family dysfunction no matter what the cost to the parties – including the children who have always expressed horror at the idea.
This is a part of a general lack of respect and loss of trust in authority. The Supreme Court billed as “The Enemy of the People”. The relentless stories of political corruption and of police misconduct are relevant to attitudes to us.
As a lifelong rebel I need to focus and see that it is necessary that Good Authority is respected – otherwise it will be the weak that suffer. Again, we can do nothing to help this – we are powerless – apart from maintaining our own high standards. And acknowledging the truth.
Seven: This transparency will also require more judgments to be published. More work, more exposure, more anxiety, more care needed to anonymise – even against “jigsaw identification” ie clever people joining the dots and using the internet to destroy confidentiality for children. Some big training need here? Discuss later?
Eight: From older – sorry no – longer established judges. I hear repeatedly – “It wasn’t like this when I started.” Slight unspoken hint of “This is not what I signed up for.” If it’s unspoken, then let’s hear it loud and clear.
Some judges started when letters were sent by the post – snailmail as we used to call it. And a reply within a few days was good enough. And the workload – “In by 9.00, leave at 4.00.”
The workload has changed as mentioned before and IT has completely changed our world. It is really worth acknowledging the challenge of this all day, every day especially for people who were not brought up with computers, incredible though that thought may be to younger people here. Yes, we have got used to it and we are now, having caught up with the younger ones, quite whizzy but there is still a strain. And it’s OK – indeed very healthy – to admit that.
That includes Zoom or Teams. We’ve got used to them but they are still really unhealthy for many reasons we could discuss another day. And are on the website.
The latest news is that The Master of the Rolls, Geoffrey Vos, has announced the plan to create “Claims R Us”. I am not joking. The majority of work is to be done by remote and resolving disputes without court hearings. One judge said that the appeal of the job was the personal interaction. That is being diminished even further. Subjective reaction? Dismay?
Possible action – Protest? That’s only going to happen if the facts and the reaction are shared. Something to discuss?
Nine: Perfectionism. This is the background starting point. I have always been struck at the extraordinarily high level of work in our profession. There is a universal perfectionism which is so universal is that it is easily overlooked. It’s only when I deal with people outside the law I really notice this. That sounds arrogant and we are reluctant to say it or even to notice it.
That is not to say that the service is perfect, but it is to say that our standards are extraordinarily high.
Perfectionism – we run cases in a Painstaking way – we take pain. This is unwelcome and not respected by government who think everything can be done more quickly and more cheaply. Frustrating isn’t it?
One result of this perfectionism is a degree of conscientiousness which is admirable – and the reason you got to be judges – but also such a very high degree of conscientiousness that we are very vulnerable to anxiety and guilt. And to workaholism that is profoundly unhealthy. Workaholism is a word that is used casually, flippantly, with a significantly jokey quality – maybe precisely because it is a real addiction. And one day we could look at that more deeply. We need to.
In the meantime I refer you to: How to be a Happier, Healthier, more Efficient and Ever Youthful Workaholic!
Stress and looking after ourselves – a 15 minute read. How to be a Happier, Healthier, more Efficient and Ever Youthful Workaholic!
It is really worth looking at where this comes from, and I have offered the acronym FOBIT. All young people like us know about FOMO – fear of missing out – but FOBIT refers to fear of being in trouble. And when I mention this, when I name and acknowledge this, a number of people including clients have reacted with surprise but some relief “Is that very common then? Isn’t it just me? “ To which the answer is yes it is very common. No, you are not alone.
I have had very senior barristers tell me about just how anxious they have been before important hearings. I was a very junior member of the profession – an articled clerk – remember those? – and on a train to Reading one morning to deal with mitigation for heroin importation, a nationally famous QC told me that, before major cases in the Court of Appeal, he would sometimes vomit up his breakfast. I was struck both by the story and by his need to share this with a very junior member of the profession.
This phenomenon is a close cousin to the impostor syndrome which has been mentioned a few times to me. Am I really a judge? One person I knew as a barrister quite well met me in the street after he’d been made a High Court judge and he told me that he really didn’t believe it had happened and we both agreed that we were still waiting for that phone call from the professional body that said there had been a mistake and we had never actually properly qualified as lawyers all those years ago, so we’d better stop now.
I offer both of these fairly extreme examples to establish, I hope vividly, the power of these phenomena which may allow other people with more moderate versions to feel reassured that they are not alone and there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Perfectionism can be an anxious superstition. Fear of being in trouble. Fear of Disaster. Perfectionism is useful and it’s dangerous – like fire is. Useful if handled carefully and skillfully; dangerous if handles unskillfully and we allow it to burn us.
10. Newer judges. The transition to becoming a judge: I have learnt four things.
10.1. Firstly, some judges, especially the newly appointed have mentioned something that may in time be forgotten…or “forgotten” – ie pushed down. Maybe never really forgotten? So, let’s pull it up and look at it.
It has been explained to me in this way: To get to being a judge you have to be a successful lawyer – dedicated to your clients and their cases. Whatever advice you may give them before court, in court you are unquestioning, single minded, possibly passionately partisan and championing one cause – and in retrospect that was delightfully simple. But now suddenly having to actually make decisions on the merits – a completely different mind challenge. Quite a shock for some people. And it highlights the essence of being a judge sometimes – what can sometimes be the agony of decision making. “From being Perry Mason to being Solomon” – one article calls it.
One very senior judge said she had sleepless nights worrying about her decisions in a way she never had as a barrister.
10.2 And then secondly, you have to apply the law even if you are uncomfortable with the law. You take responsibility for something you are not responsible for. You may not wish to order that eviction, but the law says you must. You have to make an ICO with removal because the LA could not find a suitable placement. In an interactive workshop I am sure people could contribute many other examples – anonymously maybe – and share that pain.
10.3 Thirdly, you go from being a professional speaker to being a professional listener. Shut up and listen. Stay cool and detached. Do not interrupt – or be very careful if you do – even when faced with useless advocates who not doing their client’s case the necessary justice. Again – Frustrating.
10.4 Fourthly, a more general one was explained to me recently by a judge – a very emotionally intelligent judge – “for those of us who were at the bar, we were used to being self-employed and therefore able to choose a work pattern fairly freely – within the limits of needing to make a living. If the case went short, we could take the afternoon off or start to prepare for another hearing with less pressure. But once you are an employed judge, that freedom has gone and there is unrelenting pressure.” The same may be true for someone who was a senior solicitor, more able to regulate their workload and life work balance.
I suggest that this lack of freedom as a judge is innately stressful and again frustrating.
I have noticed that some judges have referred rather obliquely to their relationship with their employers. It is almost as if people are reluctant fully to admit that they are employed and that others, maybe civil servants, have got power over them. And that power obviously goes to the appointment of you as a judge, to any promotion and to the potential issues of complaints.
People become judges after they have become successful and senior in the profession either self-employed or possibly a partner in a firm with a great deal of autonomy. And then to be a judge is apparently and, in some ways, to be invested with quite a lot of power. But to be employed by a faceless bureaucracy is the opposite – it’s a situation of some degree of powerlessness which I suspect is extremely hard to admit, extremely easy to gloss over.
I suspect that there is considerable unspoken discomfort about that mismatch. Unspoken and almost taboo. I am sure you’re glad this is not an interactive workshop in which you are asked to put your hands up if you have negative feelings about your employers! Or even quite think of them as employers and you as workers?
11. Retirement age resentment. At which point it may be germane to return to older judges: One judge I know very well was passionately angry that she had to retire when she felt totally able to continue. Again Powerless, again frustrating.
Time to turn to some more personal emotional issues:
Firstly close to the job: in some areas of law the content is genuinely traumatic. For those doing family law. The impact on children haunts us. We may have seen pictures of injuries and heard stories of abuse that generate Vicarious Traumatisation:
See reference below: ” “Vicarious trauma is an occupational challenge for people working and volunteering in the fields of victim services, law enforcement, emergency medical services, fire services, and other allied professions, due to their continuous exposure to victims of trauma and violence. This work-related trauma exposure can occur from such experiences as listening to individual clients recount their victimization…. .”
In Private Law children are exposed to conflict and tension. In Public Law, children are exposed to neglect and abuse. We see the evidence. Our powers are limited, they are not what is needed. We often end a case dissatisfied and indeed anguished and guilty.
The second aspect of emotional demands is particular to the individual – each of us has a different personal situation. Some of us may be in a good place and have a calm and supportive home life. Others may be struggling with physical ill health in themselves or their loved ones. Their children may be struggling and demanding. Elderly parents may also be struggling and demanding. Or a person may not have those family members at all and be isolated and lonely – or struggling with marital conflict and divorce.
And all these personal problem are supposed to be left entirely at home? Fine for the time in court but deeply unhealthy if they are denied and suppressed longer term. What outlet do people have for this? What acknowledgment and processing? You tell me and tell yourselves.
I repeat: I suspect that people only remember one or two points from any talk or lecture. I have three: The first is the value – the necessity – of coming out of being brave and tough – i.e. being in denial or pretence – and to name and acknowledge these objective stress factors and then, to be more daring and perhaps less welcoming, to name and acknowledge the emotions – the subjective reaction.
The third element of this very compressed workshop is what can be done to help. The feedback from the last talk was a request for more practical tips. This litany of problems doesn’t have to be depressing. Opening up and maybe draining a wound or exposing a running sore to the air and the light is in itself hugely beneficial. The body – and the mind – has the power to heal – with good nursing practice, protect it, keep it ventilated and clean. Avoid or reduce further injury. So what does that actually mean?
Obviously the question can direct itself to both the objective factors and also the internal, subjective aspect.
3.1 Objectively: As regards the total amount of work, I am sorry… I do not have a magic wand! The magic wand is more judges, more sitting days. Can the judges acknowledge that? Spell it out to the government? Or are we / you expected to shut up and press on?
In the meantime I have three ideas derived from judges’ comments.
1. The List Office. I have heard some judges say that they have successfully learnt to be extremely firm and that the List Office has learnt to realise that is the case. They will not accept extra loading. They tolerate the guilt.
Look after yourself. Hear later about the oxygen mask story.. ! Other judges I suspect are more obliging and may be taken advantage of. Time for some personal assertiveness and coordination between judges? More to discuss?
2. Case management: Equally judges can get a reputation for being more or less assertive (tyrannical?) about timing of documentation. In family cases Position Statements had to be in by 11.00 am the day before. It slid to 4.00 pm. In practice it is often a minute or two before the hearing starts. The judge adjourns to read? Or skim the document? There has been a move at least at the Central Family Court to reduce the prolix nature of some documentation and encourage shorter bullet point documents. Much ignored in practice. In your courts? Discuss?
3. It’s important and not obvious to let solicitors know that they really have to tell the listing team in good time if cases are not ready or will need less court time etc and also respond to listing’s emails trying to find these things out.
Another issue which may be going to disappear if people do come back to court is counsel booking themselves to do a 9.30 remote, then a 10.30 etc so that the judge is kept waiting for the 10.30. Even an 11.00 and a 2.00. Not very good if the 11.00 actually starts at 12.00 and goes over lunch? Don’t let them (us) do this!
4. Having said that a judge has to learn to shut up and listen and not talk too much I will now tell a story and give an idea which seems the opposite.
Nick Crichton was a hugely respected judge who set up the Inner London Family Proceedings Court as well as the innovative and acclaimed Family Drug and Alcohol Court. He refused to be a CJ and instead got the CBE!
He got through three times the number of cases as other judges – and yet was hugely respected by the lay parties who felt they had really been heard.
His trick was to start the hearing with a concise but accurate summary of the position of each of the parties speaking directly to the parents. “I have carefully read your very good statements and I understand you think this and want that.. “…ie he was acknowledging them. The same to the Local Authority and the Guardian. It took five minutes. “Now I would like to hear any additional points the advocates wish to make.” That really shut them up! Or made them very concise. It avoided that tedious and time wasting “grandstanding” – advocates banging on and on so the clients know their point has been put across.
First some positivity. There are good things about being a judge. You made an informed choice. And new judges are applying. One new judge said it was great. Less money than in private practice and less freedom but she was free from hassles with her clerks, the clients – and blooming solicitors! I don’t want to skip over this. In an interactive workshop I could hear from you with positives. You could hear from each other. Sharing. Acknowledgement.
As I said quite early in this talk, in terms of subjective, personal self-care, most of the ideas will be familiar and the question becomes why people do not in fact act on them.
Oxygen masks. At which point any therapist or coach tends to mention the flight attendant’s briefing before take-off. “If the cabin depressurises, the oxygen masks will drop down from above you. If you are with a child, put yours on first.” Shock! That goes against our deepest instincts which is to look after our child as a priority. The logic is this – if you put the child’s on first you may go unconscious or worse. Not much use then are you? So – look after yourself in order to be able to look after the child.
So the second take home message is: it is your duty to look after yourself. Relevant here? Please repeat after me… “It is your duty to look after yourself.” Easy? Harder to say “It is my duty to look after myself.” I have found that’s the only argument to get through to duty driven people.
If we had world enough and time, we could look more deeply at Oxygen mask versus virtuous masochism. Martyrdom. The desire to suffer?
1. Some judges have been extremely clear in their holiday planning. Booking holidays far enough ahead and not letting those be compromised. One told me they make sure they have a proper break every six weeks rather than saving it up for one or two longer breaks.
2. Day to day: Several have mentioned the imperative need to get up and get out. Go for a walk. Preferably outside the court building, ideally in nature? At least get up from the desk. Another change is from the traditional physical activities of an advocate where there is much more walking, sitting and standing etc. For the judge, sitting for a long time is bad for you. Really bad. As bad as smoking. Keep moving or die young. Dramatic enough? Put a Post-it note on the screen. “Get up and move”. Possibly some simple stretching and bending.
See the website link below for a very simple, short standing poses Yoga routine – Breathing, Stretching and Bending I call it. 5 minutes good, 10 even better. One judge told me she does yoga three times a week. I do 20 minutes breathing, stretching and bending every morning. I find it better to listen to my body / mind and what it needs than to attend a class where everyone is supposed to be doing the same routine. With added, unyogic self-consciousness.
3. Several people emphasised to me the vital importance of having a collegiate culture in the court and it was sometimes mentioned that very small courts with isolated judges are particularly hard done by.
One judge said that it was imperative that judges have lunch together every day whether that involves discussing actual cases or simply having social time together. Another judge mentioned and really values their WhatsApp group for exchanging ideas. Create a community was her advice.
I make no apology for quoting the old saying “A trouble shared is a trouble halved” and in Sweden they say “a joy shared is a joy doubled”
When do you share troubles? – maybe just as important when do you get to share your joys, get appreciation, be congratulated on good case management or judgement? We do not boast in our culture. In my firm I encourage boasting – but it has to be done by alert colleagues posting on the internal emails– “Big cheer for Sadia who got her first injunction / John who got this appreciation from a client etc”
Yes – good to share. On a bigger scale see Harvard Longitudinal Survey. The world’s longest study – 70 years following a cohort of men (and later women) through their lives. Outcome – the one outstanding thing to have a long, happy, and healthy life is sharing – a community of family and friends. Google TED talk Harvard Longitudinal Study
So acknowledge between ourselves and acknowledge privately the demands and the impact – as per this workshop. Our successes. Dare to acknowledge to ourselves. Dare to care for ourselves.
4. Other self-care: A good diet: it’s time for Nanny David. Some people have spent years and lots of money in therapy about their low mood and low energy. And you know what? They found out they were anaemic. A GP we met on holiday told us she’d been burnt out and about to give up her job until she found she had zero vitamin D. Easy enough to sort out – she was back on the job. Moral of the story – ideally get a GP check-up. And / or – (and I cannot prescribe) – Good diet plus Multivits with minerals. I do and I love the placebo effect.
Nanny David also says: have a good breakfast and some lunch. Maintain blood sugar levels at a steady point all day. Low blood sugar makes you grumpy. Too high makes you jumpy. Neither very judicious? Judicial? So less coffee and sugary biscuits causing yo-yoing of the blood sugar levels. No time for lunch? I carry a small box of mixed nuts and raisins with me at all times. Quick boost raisins plus longer burn nuts.
Water. Every article on health mentions keeping hydrated. Familiar? Too familiar to take seriously? Look at some proper science from PubMed.gov:
Mild dehydration affects mood in healthy young women.
Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men
Eyes. Staring at a screen all day is really bad. It’s a bit better with in person hearings but we all really need to follow the 20-20-20 rule: look away from your computer at least every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object (at least 20 feet away) for at least 20 seconds. As well as consciously looking much further away – out the window or during your walk at lunchtime.
https://www.allaboutvision.com/cvs/irritated.htm or Google “Computer eye strain – 10 steps for relief” Commercial but helpful.
5. Attitude and beliefs. There is some evidence that it’s not so much stress that injures the health as stress plus the belief that stress is bad for you. Which is why I suggest that the idea I put forward earlier – that things are getting better in terms of psychological resources – is so important. The whole change in the culture of the law thanks to The President and the PLWG shows there is hope and progress.
Easy viewing but a bit exaggerated – TED talk
6. Keep a journal or a diary. It may sound irrational – or you can see it is symbolic. Sharing problems and joys with the page or a file in your phone really does help.
7. One very techy suggestion – if you can touch type fine – great. If not or when that’s not practical – have you tried voice recognition? It really works. It is free at the touch of a button on every iPhone. I did the notes for this talk on mine. I sent an example to one judge I spoke to. 100% perfect recognition. I am happy to share the training notes I have – along with some notes that speed up typing. Do you really type out Applicant or Local Authority every time? Do you not have short cuts set up? Eg: Type Apl and LA + Enter? And dozens more. They can increase productivity by maybe 20 %. I am happy to share notes.
8. Finally – choose your parents carefully! This is not the time to do deep psychotherapeutic work, but it might well be worthwhile registering that some members of the judiciary would have had childhoods which leave them more prone to anxiety than others, and one day their simply and privately acknowledging and exploring the reality of that very personal fact could be a step towards a better way of responding.
I approached one judge especially because he was so calm and pleasant in court and he said he is not stressed at all. But also “admitted” to having had a secure, conventional and calm home. Which leads to the formula that you should carefully choose your parents or choose your childhood.
To give you the necessary motivation you need just enough insecurity, conditional love, aspiration ie need to please and gain approval – but not so much that it becomes a liability.
The obvious image is that of a fire. Very useful stuff for warming the house and cooking the food. Very dangerous stuff as well. We need to have a fire in our heads to drive achievements, but fire can burn destructively. It is not chance that the cliche is to become “burnt out” if we don’t handle that fire skillfully.
9. So talking of being skillful ….
My third take home message: The body mind connection is real and is a powerful potential way to cope with the demands of the job.
Breathing. When in a state of “stress” – i.e. anxiety and/or resentment – this goes into the body and in particular the tendency is to hold the breath and breathe in a shallow, top of the lungs way. Most of us can see that. Less obvious is the fact that this is not just a one-way traffic. Being in that state perpetuates the mental state, perpetuates the hormones that lead to that – in terms of cortisol and adrenaline and noradrenaline. That leads to a hyperalertness and a hypersensitivity to negative information. Therefore, that leads to increased anxiety. A perfect vicious circle leading to demoralisation, and burnout. .
That very important and dangerous vicious circle can be broken. By deliberately breathing in a different way as I will show you – as well as other ways of coming out of the stress body which is what Yoga is about. We have no time for that now but a very short, 10 minute, very simple, practical, basic form of yoga is on the website. I do it every morning.
Please try this: imagine that you have a mirror in front of your mouth – if you are uninhibited, you can put your palm of your hand there – and then breathe out in a way that would steam up that mirror. Please do that three times. Sigh. Yawn. Now on the in breath, start with the stomach and therefore the neglected bottom of the lungs. Then fill the lungs up fully and you will find that you are sitting up straighter and stronger. Now that good open throat breath out will cause the shoulders to drop, and you will be in a state of calm and relaxed confidence and strength.Later today do it ten times slowly and count the breaths and really focus. Hey – you’re doing a basic form of Mindfulness. How fashionable is that?! And it is not complicated nor just some ubertrendy thing. Do it several times a day – every day.
And please click on the other articles on the website mentioned – like Breathing, Stretching and Bending.
Certainly, this is a better state to deal with a heavy day in court than being strung up and buttoned up. Stress reduction by breathing can give instant benefit which is great but also a little seductive if it seduces us away from the need to do it later in the day – at greater length and regularly.
After all this is not just about being in court. Calm and relaxed is what we need to be at our best out of court – the rest of our lives – with family and friends. And for our health’s sake.
So there’s hope for us yet. With life being tough and maybe getting tougher, the clever ones, like you, cultivate Resilience. Dare to care for yourselves. Turn your very considerable intelligence …. onto yourselves.
Remember the second take home message: – it’s your duty to care for yourselves and this is becoming a new cultural norm.
What abut a new swearing in ceremony? “I promise I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will” – let’s add … “to the best of my abilities – and in order to do so I promise to look after myself. ”
Some other references:
GENERAL: The Body keeps the Score. Bessel van der Kolk. The book about stress and trauma that is the current favourite book for therapists and psychologically aware people everywhere.
Nelson Mandela: “I have always believed exercise is a key not only to physical health but to peace of mind. Exercise dissipates tension, and tension is the enemy of serenity.” https://www.strategy.rest/?p=688
JUDICIAL STRESS: There are a lot of resources – mainly US and Australian.
The wonderful and prescient UNMENTIONABLE TOPIC by The Hon. Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG AN
In private correspondence he pointed me to the really excellent: Handbook for Judicial Officers. Judicial Commission of New South Wales.
https://www.judcom.nsw.gov.au/judicial-officers/ Scroll down to Stress and Vicarious Trauma..
United Nations: Well-being of judges should be a priority for every judiciary Dr. Joseph Sadek is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada and a Mental Health Advisor to the Caribbean and Commonwealth Judicial Institute
More Stress, Coping With Loss: Pandemic Exacts Toll on Judges
Why Judges are Stressed: Key Revelations from a National Survey
which refers to …..
CoLAP’s 2019 National Judicial Stress and Resilience Survey: The Results Are In!https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/events/lawyer_assistance/2019/wedgen2/national-judicial-stress-resilience-survey092319.pdf
An Indian resource. It mentions the need to move from being Perry Mason to being Solomon. https://thedailyguardian.com/judging-under-stress-what-it-does-to-judges/.
Stress and coping peculiarities among judges https://core.ac.uk/display/225958001
The occupational stress of judges https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1884331/ J M Rogers et al. Can J Psychiatry. 1991 June
VICARIOUS TRAUMATISATION: US Department of Justice: https://ovc.ojp.gov/program/vtt/what-is-vicarious-trauma