The pressures of law school are intense, leading to inordinate amounts of stress and mental health issues for law students. So how can students remain productive without losing themselves in the heavy workload? Podcast host Ashley Baker welcomes licensed professional counselor Dionne Smith to discuss strategies for law students to manage their mental health and well-being through the rigors of law school
Dionne Smith is a licensed professional counselor and the owner of Made Whole Counseling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
ABA Law Student Podcast
Dealing With the Pressures of Law School
Intro: Welcome to the official ABA Law Student Podcast, where we talk about issues that affect law students and recent grads. From finals and graduation to the Bar exam and finding a job, this show is your trusted resource for the next big step.
You are listening to the Legal Talk Network.
Ashley Baker: Hello and welcome to another episode of the ABA Law Student Podcast. My name is Ashley Baker. I am a 3L at Southern University Law Center, where I am the Editor-in-Chief of The Public Defender Newspaper, and a Senior Editor of the Journal of Race, Gender, and Poverty. I am also a former Delegate of Communications with the ABA Law Student Division.
Today we have Ms. Dionne Smith to give us advice on how to deal with the pressures of law school. Ms. Smith is a licensed professional counselor. She received her Master’s degree in Community Counseling from Wilmington College. Ms. Smith specializes in individual and group counseling in grief, depression, anxiety, thought disorders and substance abuse. She is the owner of Made Whole Counseling, LLC and MotivateMeDee, which are both based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Ms. Smith, thank you and welcome to the Law Student Podcast.
Dionne Smith: Thank you. I am so glad to join today, my favorite topic.
Ashley Baker: So 96% of law students experience stress compared to 70% of medical students and 43% of graduate students. Law students experience mental health issues at much higher rates than other graduate students. The number of law students in a particular class that experience mental health issues grows increasingly larger as they matriculate through school.
Law students identified workloads, uncertainty of employment prospects and course content as the triggers of their stress. One student put it this way, learning law is like learning a foreign language.
So my question to you Ms. Smith is can you identify some ways that law students or just people in general can deal with the pressures of excessive workloads and in a way that they can remain productive without losing themselves?
Dionne Smith: Sure. First I would suggest that they acknowledge how they are feeling on the inside and how they would like to feel. Sometimes we have to do our own check-ins to see, where do I want to be emotionally and where I actually am.
After acknowledgement I would absolutely encourage those who live a stressful life to increase their self-care, which could include meditation, journaling, of course exercising, going outside, getting the fresh air, eating well, resting and absolutely making time for family and friends. All of those things will help you to naturally decrease stress.
And if that doesn’t work and you are still feeling overwhelmed, then it may be time to seek professional help. And I will even go further, when you are feeling very overwhelmed and you have allowed yourself to get to the point where you feel like you are in a personal crisis, well, absolutely reach out to professionals. Technology has made it so easy where you could even text a crisis line that you are having thoughts of wanting to harm yourself or others, simply because you are feeling overwhelmed or that depression or anxiety has gotten the best of you.
And while we are at it I am going to go ahead and add that Crisis Text Line, which is 741741, and that’s a universal Crisis Text Line, you can text, just to kind of have that conversation, to talk about where you are at.
Ashley Baker: I recently read an article published with the Law Student Division’s Before The Bar Blog that identified the feelings of some law school deans and the sentiment was kind of that law students today are simply weak and there is a stigma among law students that they shouldn’t seek help or that there is something wrong with them if they feel like they need help.
So my question to you is where is the line between weakness and having a legitimate need to seek help or does a line even exist?
Dionne Smith: I would very much say that no, there isn’t a line. I definitely think whoever made the statement about weakness, they are a little harsh on themselves, because I absolutely would not classify needing help or feeling overwhelmed, especially while you are attending law school, I wouldn’t identify that as weakness.
Unfortunately, that’s not just typical for law students, that stigma is universal that if you seek treatment or if you can’t handle the pressure, then you need to get out the kitchen, then this is not made for you.
So I absolutely would kind of just drop the weakness totally out of the category and just state whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressed, then love yourself enough to seek help, to seek care, and oftentimes when we think of help, we think oh, I have to sign up to go to therapy, but that’s not always true. Sometimes just having a group session with friends will be the help that one person may need.
Then there are other people who their stress is causing them to maybe abuse alcohol or take pills or basically involve themselves in self-harming behavior. Well, then at this point they will need to seek professional help, and it’s okay. I think we all need to be a little kinder to ourselves.
Ashley Baker: I talk to a number of law students and I personally know some law students that have lost parents and siblings and classmates while in law school and I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in law school and lose someone that’s really close to me. So I was wondering if you could speak to how to deal with grief.
Dionne Smith: Oh, grief, especially during the time of a student’s life, it’s very, very difficult and oftentimes students are initially in shock mode. There are a few stages of grief that you may or may not be familiar with and that’s denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. And if any one of the students are experiencing the stages of grief, the very first thing that I would encourage them to do is acknowledge that it’s a process, that although the funeral might be over and the services are all done, that walking out grief is a process, and there is a healthy way to do it.
Sometimes during this process, again, sometimes we rely on substance abuse or kind of do things that are self-harming or using like negative coping skills, but then there is a healthier way to grieve and the first thing that I would say is to acknowledge that, again, it’s a process and acknowledge your pain, identifying support. And again, if you don’t want to immediately go to a therapist, then your supports could be other students who are grieving; if they don’t have that on campus, it’s okay to start one.
Seeking out services with counseling services of course on campus, and then some students attending, ones who they lost, they may need to take a break and it’s okay. If I can just kind of — I wish I had a magic wand and I would just kind of let everyone know that it is okay to take a moment to care for yourself, that law school will be there hopefully, a job of course will be there, all of those things will exist, but if you are not well and if you are not taking care of yourself, then you are not going to produce at your highest functioning level. So taking time away from work, away from school if necessary.
I would also encourage them to increase their self-care, and I would like to add that most students probably don’t use a lot of self-care, because they are focusing in on doing their academics and things like that. So some of the self-care practices that they can do of course is exercising, of course they can get rest, go to therapy, doing things like that, taking a mindful meditation class, those kind of things.
There is a lot of anger that’s associated with grief and there is a lot of loneliness, because you won’t feel like anybody around you understand what you are going through. So seeking those supports is truly going to be key in to them grieving in a healthy way as well as maintaining their school responsibilities.
Ashley Baker: Okay. So law school is very rigorous and competitive. As law students, we typically don’t know how we are doing in a particular course until we get our final grade. Law school is a learning process and you generally don’t go into it just knowing everything you need to know or else why else would you be there.
You have to be willing to extend grace to yourself and you have to be okay with knowing that you are doing your best and your best is okay, and like my mom tells me, do your best, the best is all that you can do. And I was wondering if you could speak to that extending grace to yourself and just being okay with the job that you are doing.
Dionne Smith: Sure. There is a lot of research that shows that we are our worst enemy and that our negative thoughts about ourselves will absolutely show up in our work performance, it will show up in our school performance. And so most students again are going to be hard on themselves, especially if they are a type A personality, where they thrive on being perfect and even competitive, where you want to have that advantage over the other students because you are thinking about who is going to get the job later on.
But that internal chatter, that internal voice oftentimes is negative. We will call ourselves oh, you are stupid, oh, you can’t accomplish anything and you are a failure, things like that, and those are the things that we would need to alter and to change in order — or even our outcomes to change, doing your best is all that you can do, but also changing that internal chatter from negative to positive, not being so hard on yourself.
And again, there are many studies that show that we are a lot kinder to other people than we are on ourselves. So again, changing the narrative of how you speak to yourself.
And there was a study that showed that you should talk to yourself like you would a five-year-old child. You would say you are doing a great job. That was really great, even if you didn’t get the grade that you want, that kind of encouragement is how our internal chatter should sound.
Oh yeah, let’s be kinder to ourselves by first being positive, having that positive internal chatter.
Ashley Baker: Absolutely. Absolutely. This has been a very needed conversation that we have had. And my last question is how can our listeners reach you?
Dionne Smith: Sure. I am a licensed therapist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and you can reach me by calling 225-480-0190 or you can email me at [email protected].
Ashley Baker: Awesome. Thank you Ms. Smith for taking the time to be a guest on the Law Student Podcast.
Dionne Smith: Thank you.
Ashley Baker: Well, I hope you have enjoyed this episode of the Law Student Podcast. I would like to invite you to subscribe to the ABA Law Student Podcast on iTunes. You can reach us on Facebook at ABA for Law Students and @abalsd on Twitter. You can also find all of our law student leaders at #abaforlawstudents on Facebook and Twitter.
Signing off, I am Ashley Baker. Thank you for listening and if anything that was said today really hit home for you, or if you are experiencing depression or anxiety, please, please consider reaching out to a doctor or a licensed professional counselor for help.
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