Why Therapy Should Be Embraced in Law School

Why Therapy Should Be Embraced in Law SchoolThis week we welcome back guest writer Alexandra Muskat to talk about why therapy can be an important aid for any law student.

There is a certain kind of person that goes to law school. They want to change the world, they hope to make a lot of money doing it, and, or, they want to impress their family. They are hard workers, very driven, and meet the demands of law school with outward ease and inward anxiety. Now, there are always a few outliers – those who went to law school to change the world and are calm and collected, outwardly and internally, without a care for grades or the bar exam.

I would definitely categorize myself as an anxious law student. Nearly all of my anxiety and depression in law school came from feeling like I wasn’t good enough – like I had somehow cheated the system to get there. I hadn’t. I studied for the LSAT like everyone else; I knew how to brief a case as well as everyone else; and I had just as much stress as everyone else. What I didn’t have, at least during my first semester, was the ability to filter through the BS. I talked about it in another post, but I felt wholly out of place that first semester. Everyone seemed to have a better handle on law school formalities, office hours, and the ever changing semester schedule due to early snowfall and ill professors. It took moving to the back of the room and realizing everyone was using a “study buddy” (like Quimbee) to see that I wasn’t the only one confused or flustered by the work.

That first semester was rough, but I was older than most of my classmates and had been to therapy multiple times in the past when similar anxiety and depression crept into my life. So I knew what I had to do. I signed myself up for sessions at our wellness center. I went three or four times before she helped me find a permanent therapist near the school who I could really grow with. (I distinctly remember the wellness center therapist saying that they never got students from the law school in for therapy, and I thought, hmm, but we need it the most.)

When I mentioned to anyone that I was in therapy, their noses would turn up and they would squirm away. I never understood that. In my house, therapy was a tool and good therapists were sacred. In fact, I spent most of elementary school going to therapy to learn how to deal with my hypersensitivity, and this was never looked down on. It was like going to the pediatrician – only more fun cause I got to play games.

During law school, I realized how taboo some people found therapy to be, and how no matter how much my classmates could have used therapy to calm their nerves and be confident in themselves, they would not go. I think they thought someone would look down on them for it. But I think this fear limited them, and I would hate for it to limit you too.

1. Therapy is a Tool

Therapy does not have to equal crazy. Therapy can be used to vent your frustrations, come up with a plan to control your anxiety, or give you space to decompress. It can be anything you want – especially if you have a good therapist.

When I was in law school, most of my classmates were using some sort of amphetamine. Most of the time it was adderall, sometimes it was simply cocaine. They needed to outdo one another, so they tried to stay up later, get more done, be more social, drink more, have fewer hangovers, stay skinny, lose weight, run faster. Whatever it was, they found a way to enhance their natural abilities. And for the most part, I found, this wasn’t acknowledged at my school, even though the staff and faculty knew the statistics on law students. In fact, our law school events always revolved around a bar, drink tickets, free wine events, or socials where people were able to get obliterated. No one seemed to see that law students, strung out, overstressed, and not well, shouldn’t be invited to let loose with alcohol.

Having a tool like therapy may have given my classmates another way to deal with their anxiety or stress. If therapy had been embraced by the faculty, offered as an option to its students in a very vocal way, instead of just at the bottom of every syllabus, they may have turned there.

2. Law School Stress is the Culprit

Prior to law school, 8-9% of students have had some form of depression, after a semester, that number rises to 27%, and after graduation it hits 40%. That means nearly half of every class of lawyers is dealing with depression. 96% of law students are stressed – that’s more than medical students (70%). And this stress doesn’t get easier as time goes on or as law students begin to practice. It gets bigger, thicker – cases aren’t just in a book or hypothetical, they’re real, and we are obligated to do the best we can for our clients. This stress leads to more depression, more anxiety. Many lawyers live their lives like this, masking their stress and anxiety with substances, and some even feel the need to commit suicide to escape it.

If therapy was embraced in law school, it could counteract much of this stress, keeping it from following law students into practice. If therapy wasn’t taboo and students felt like they had this tool to turn to, they could incorporate dealing with their stress into their daily lives, eliminating their need for substances to cope.

We should be teaching our law students to cope with all aspects of being an attorney – including how to deal with stress. It shouldn’t be that any student feels like they need to take drugs to compete, or keep themselves calm. They should be encouraged to seek professional help early on where they can create a plan to mitigate the stress before it begins.

If you, or someone you know, is overwhelmed by law school, or life in general, encourage them to seek out a therapist. Therapy is an incredible tool that can help anyone cope with what’s going on in their mind, and in their lives. Therapy has saved my life countless times, and it was the best thing I did for myself when I was a 1L. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t feel like your classmates or professors will think less of you. Focus on what you are going to get out of it, because I promise you, it will insulate you from the negative aspects of being an attorney later in life.


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About Alexandra Muskat

Alexandra graduated from Suffolk University Law School in 2017 and passed the UBE in all 29 states, not that anyone’s counting. She has a bachelors from Florida International University in English Literature with concentrations in Psychology and Creative Writing. In addition to working on her first novel, she works part time consulting in laboratory compliance.

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