Group counseling sessions help lawyers who are mothers
Wellness committee and FLA, Inc., team up to offer Friday online sessions
One participant talked about her recent miscarriage. Another, contemplating becoming a mother, asked how other attendees balanced pursuing professional excellence with parenthood.
The setting was a weekly group counseling session for women attorneys who are also mothers. It is the product of a partnership between the Bar’s Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers Committee and Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc.
Karl Klein, chair of the wellness committee, said that immediate past Bar President Dori Foster-Morales, herself a former chair of the committee, asked the panel to look at the idea of small group counseling sessions for lawyers.
The committee was seeking ways to build on its earlier projects of offering health and wellness CLEs for Bar members, setting up a webpage with resources, and providing a free mental health hotline for Bar members.
“We spent some time trying to think what this would look like, what topics there should be, how to grow it,” said Klein, adding that Foster-Morales liked having the initial group be for working mothers.
One realization was the committee should work with FLA, Inc., which has professional group facilitators on staff. And FLA in the past year already organized such sessions for lawyers, law students, paralegals, and judges on stresses brought on by dealing with the pandemic.
FLA, Inc., Executive Director Dan McDermott liked the idea. Already doing lunchtime sessions on Monday through Thursdays for COVID issues, it added a Friday one as a working mothers’ support group.
The committee worked with the Florida Association for Women Lawyers to initially get the word out about the program. Klein said to be effective, the group size had to be limited and the committee wanted to see that there were people interested in coming back.
The first session was held the Friday before Mother’s Day.
“There have already been a couple of very emotional events that have come out in the sessions and the group has helped those people. FLA followed up to make sure they had resources,” Klein said. “It’s no longer in the trial phase, but it’s still in the early stages.”
McDermott said the group is moderated by Clinical Director Dr. Scott Weinstein with co-facilitator Lauren Morris also sitting in. Around 70 people have registered for online sessions, with up to 12 showing up for the weekly meetings. Some are regulars, some come as they feel the need.
“The FLA staff has remarked from the beginning this has been a robust group where attendees from the start engage and participate,” McDermott said. “The conversation is conducted almost from the start to finish by the participants, which is the mark of a successful group.”
Topics range from the personal to more general issues.
“One woman shared she had just had a miscarriage and it changed everything,” McDermott said. “The outflowing of support for her really moved us, moved the facilitators, and the participants rallied to the person who had just endured this.”
At another recent meeting, “an attorney who is contemplating having children wanted to know from others what she should be thinking about and what the tradeoffs are; ‘How do I balance my drive to be an excellent lawyer with my desire to be an attentive mother?’ There are lawyers who talk about that,” he said.
The group also has discussed workplace and gender equality, with a full spectrum of experiences from participants.
Klein said the goal is not to have the group grow above 15-20 weekly participants, but he noted since FLA, Inc., has two facilitators it can have two sessions if necessary.
With the mothers group doing well, Klein said the committee will be exploring other potential subjects for small group counseling sessions. One of particular interest to him would address secondary trauma experienced by public defenders and state attorneys.
“That’s an issue that no one talks about very much. It’s the ‘You’ve got to be tough and take it’ mentality,” Klein said. “We can address that need, letting people know there’s a healthy way to deal with that.”
He said the committee is working on a CLE program and other resources on that topic.
A link to join the online sessions may be found on FLA, Inc.’s, website at https://www.fla-lap.org/meetings-and-events. The page also has the link for law students, lawyers, and paralegals to sign up for the sessions aimed at helping them deal with the pandemic and stress in general.