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Reflective Practice as a Tool for Addressing High Levels of Psychological Distress in Australian Law Schools and the Legal Profession. Rachael Field: Senior Lecturer (QUT) and ALTC Fellow James Duffy: Lecturer (QUT). Outline. This paper discusses:
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Reflective Practice as a Tool for Addressing High Levels of Psychological Distress in Australian Law Schools and the Legal Profession Rachael Field: Senior Lecturer (QUT) and ALTC Fellow James Duffy: Lecturer (QUT)
Outline • This paper discusses: • The need for law schools to use curriculum as a site for positive interventions to support student psychological well-being. • The potential for law school interventions to impact on the psychological well-being of the profession. • Reflective practice as a possible tool for promoting psychological well-being in law school and the profession because it provides a way of coping with ‘indeterminate zones’ of experience.
A disturbing snapshot • The Brain and Mind Research Institute surveyed 741 law students studying at 13 Australian law schools. • 13.3% of people aged 18-34 in the general population suffer from psychological distress. • 17.8% of medical students suffer from psychological distress. • 35.2% of law students suffer from psychological distress.
Cross sectional empirical studies • First, the incidence of psychological distress in law students is uncomfortably high. • Second, we cannot identify with precision the exact factors that are causing this psychological distress. • Third, cross sectional studies (by themselves) cannot tell us whether it is law school that is creating these levels of psychological distress, or whether prospective law students already possess these attributes. • Fourth, if law school is somehow causing or contributing to this psychological distress, cross sectional studies (by themselves) cannot tell us when in the law degree psychological distress is most likely to occur.
Longitudinal empirical studies • There are no significant psychological differences between law students and the general population before they begin law school. • Symptoms of psychological distress appear soon after law school begins with negative affect and depression being more prevalent at the end of first year, compared to the beginning of the year. • Worryingly, the more advanced US empirical research suggests that symptomology of psychological distress in law students does not significantly decrease throughout the law degree or into the first few years of legal practice.
Field’s ALTC Fellowship The aims of the Fellowship are to: • stimulate advancement in the legal curriculum, its pedagogy, and assessment practice to better engage, motivate and support student learning of law, focussing on the potential of non-adversarial legal practice.
ALTC Fellowship • The Fellowship’s program of activities include approaches that try to: • 1. Raise awareness in the legal academy of the importance of law student psychological health. • 2. Persuade the legal academy to accept the need for strategic change in legal education, and the efficacy of the proposed approaches for achieving that change. • 3. Model good curriculum and assessment practice that engages, motivates and supports students.
Benefits of learning reflective practice • Reflective practice: • Provides students with a way of managing ‘indeterminate zones’ - Schon. • Supports life-long learning and resilience skills. • Assists students with self-management and with self-direction. • Enhances student ability to process feedback constructively. • Bolsters self-efficacy and confidence. • Contributes to a positive professional identity.
A tested framework for teaching reflective practice at law school • Developed by McNamara, Field and Cuffe, and McNamara, Field and Brown. • This framework involves four steps: • first, explicitly teaching reflective practice skills; • second, creating structures and protocols to help students to reflect; • third, using criterion referenced assessment to enhance the design of reflective activities, and • fourth, providing feedback on the students’ reflections.
A tested model of reflective practice for law schools • The 4R’s method of reflective practice has been developed by Mary Ryan and Michael Ryan at QUT as part of the ALTC DRAW project. • R – Reporting and responding • R – Relating • R – Reasoning • R – Reconstructing.
Some student responses from QUT’s Lawyering and Dispute Resolution • I believe that the material learnt in the subject will be very helpful to me in my future studies and into practice; especially the material on positive professional identity. • This subject brings to the attention of law students the realities of practice. I think that by planting the seeds at university, a better understanding of practice will follow. I have always believed in a work life balance and really began to doubt that this was possible with law. I now think that in the future it will be, or even is right now if I find the right practice. • I loved the experience of doing something else other than applying the black and white of law. • The discussion on positive professional identity and resilience were so helpful. I've struggled with these issues in first year and have now been taught how to deal with them in a more positive perspective. • I personally learnt a lot about myself as the subject’s assessment required a degree of self analysis. The reflective assignment was a personal challenge and took me out of my comfort zone. However, it was a very worthwhile exercise.
Conclusion • Reflective practice should be incorporated into legal education in Australia and internationally in order to equip students and practitioners of law with a critical coping skill. • Intentional and strategic curriculum design is necessary to achieve this. • Including reflective practice in legal education is highly achievable and will be well-received by students.