That’s exactly what the case was for Brooke Hickman, LMSW, CAADC with practicing law. “I could do it. I believe I was a good attorney, but it just wasn't right for me.”
After taking a step back and doing some soul-searching, Hickman decided to go back to social work. She started working at a community mental health agency in case-management and crisis intervention before moving into therapy. “I'm a big believer in sometimes you’ve got to give it a try to know if it's right for you or not.”
How Law Has Influenced Her Therapy Practice
To be sure, Hickman has been a therapist for far longer than she practiced law, but her training as a lawyer has influenced her current work in ways that are surprising, often resourceful, and subtle.
“I definitely hung up the lawyer hat when I decided not to practice law anymore. Except I will say this: I think the biggest thing that being a lawyer taught me is to strongly encourage people to get a lawyer when they have stuff happening in treatment. Regarding any legal issues, if they don't have that representation, I really encourage folks to get it.”
Sometimes it’s about knowing what options are available to your patient. Hickman says, “It's not unusual that people come in here sometimes, and they don't have two nickels to rub together so I’ve helped them look at resources. For example, I've had patients that were affiliated with a union and we were able to discover that they could get a lawyer through their union.”
Make space for healing.
It’s that combination of legal insight mixed with her years of experience as a therapist that gives Hickman a keen awareness that legal matters can often interfere with the healing process and patients need as much help as they can get on that side of things.
She notes, “It's important that if there's something going on legally, they need to be able to be sure of what's going on regarding their rights or anything in the legal realm. If you could have a lawyer take care of that while you are focusing on yourself and your healing and your recovery and learning how to navigate real-life situations differently in a safe place, that's the best way.”
Let's not forget the Socratic Method.
Besides possessing legal expertise to advise her patients toward legal representation, Hickman also finds that her training as a lawyer touches her current work at times. “I think the most unexpected and most frequent way that it shows up in my therapy sessions is how law students are trained through using something called the Socratic method, or Socratic questioning – that's very open-ended. It really teaches critical thinking, and I find that I use that all the time. My training in law school helped me to think in that very broad way, helped me to be a better clinician by helping patients look at things differently.”
In the End, It's Always Been About Connection and Healing
It was that desire to connect with people that led her to reconsider a career in therapy in the first place. Hickman reflects, “I found that's what I was really most drawn to – supporting and guiding people through this really intense emotional experience. I had my own [law] practice and what I found was that's what I was most interested in. We would spend a lot of our appointments talking and then we would do the [legal] work that we needed to do. You know, it kind of picked up on a pattern that told me maybe it's time to change lanes.”
It’s clear that she made the right choice and that connecting with her patients and helping them along the path to healing is what she values most. “I love working residential treatment because when folks come in, they're not on a winning streak. I mean, people are very often in a hopeless spot and feeling helpless and I get to be with them in that moment. And when they’re leaving treatment, knowing that’s where they were at – you know, that's a pretty amazing thing.”
“The amount of resilience and strength that our patients demonstrate and courage on a daily basis to really talk about and experience difficult things and to learn how to start to think differently. There's nothing like it. That's why I do what I do.”
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