I used to be a criminal lawyer at the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In many ways this was a fascinating job, and in many ways this was a traumatic job. I eventually left the job to do pursue academic research.
But in my time there, I was struck by the fact that everyday there are ordinary people making extraordinary decisions that deeply affect other people’s lives. There are police officers deciding whether to make arrests, prosecutors deciding whether to prosecute crimes, magistrates deciding whether or not cases should go to trial, and judges running trials and giving gaol sentences.
What amazes me is that no one ever checks if these people are emotionally fit for their positions. No one ever asks these people what is driving them & what their biases are. Or whether they are using their position to achieve power and fill something that lacking in them. Or whether they are traumatised by the experience of witnessing and becoming involved in the trauma of others.
The bottom line is this: there is a significant amount of power and responsibility given to people to lead our society who may or may not have self-awareness.
This is not unique to the legal profession. Of course there are other professions with a considerable amount of social leadership like company executives, journalists, doctors and politicians.
One way to address this issue is to have self-awareness training and mandatory therapy sessions for people who are carrying out important social functions.
What would mandatory therapy involve?
In an ideal world, we would have compulsory self-awareness components in university. Every degree from medicine and engineering to arts and law would have mandatory psychological requirements. Then, as a professional requirement, social leaders like politicians, judges, solicitors and doctors would have a regular (weekly or monthly) session with a psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor.
What would mandatory therapy change?
Let’s take another example of a judge making a decision about a gaol sentence. There are sentencing guidelines, but the judge has the discretion to choose a non-custodial sentence like community service, probation, a good behaviour bond, home detention, or they can send the offender to gaol. Clearly judges are affected by their life experiences in making this decision. Imagine that one particular judge had a mother with a drug addiction and he still harbours deep pain and resentment towards her. He is not aware of it, but his pain leads him to automatically give gaol sentences to every drug addict in cases before him. Self-awareness and therapy would allow him to heal the pain of his mother’s addiction and give him a fresh perspective in his sentencing approach.
In a final example, imagine a female CEO who gave up her chances of marriage and children because she worked so hard and committed her life to the company. She doesn’t realise it, but she sabotages the opportunities for young women in her company to advance because she doesn’t want them to make the same choices that she has.
All of these people need to become aware of what is driving them. At present they are allowing their residual psychological material to affect their work. They need to heal the pain of the past in order to create more positive relationships and decisions in the present.
What would mandatory therapy achieve?
This mandatory therapy would benefit both the leader and those they lead. The people receiving the therapy would become more self-aware, more reflective, more empathetic & more conscious of the consequences of their decisions.
The people who come into contact with the leaders would be reassured that they are being led by emotionally intelligent leaders. They would have confidence that the decisions affecting their lives are being made consciously.
The model of therapy in our culture is based on ‘mental illness’ and fixing someone or something that is perceived to be broken. We need to shift to a model of ‘mental wellness’ and encouraging people to be the best that they can be. Just like a professional athlete has a coach, a social leader needs a psychologist or counsellor to help them maintain peak performance.
In an ideal world, all people would be self-aware and have regular sessions with a trained and objective professional. All of us deeply affect other people in the way that we behave. Mothers, real estate agents, teachers, nurses, scientists, advertising professionals, and electricians can all benefit from more insight and self-love. Enabling social leaders to become more self-aware is a good start.