Thank You For Your Support!

massprint.onlineI was recently featured in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly column Uncommon Law, in an article entitled Counselor at Law,” about my transition out of the law and the journey to becoming a social worker and therapist working with lawyers and professionals.  If you haven’t seen the article, you can read it here.

And here’s the letter I wrote in response to the great amount of positive feedback I received in the weeks since the article was published.

Dear Lawyers Weekly:

I am writing to let you know about the incredible response I’ve received to Brandon Gee’s Uncommon Law article “Counselor at Law,” in the February 24, 2014 issue.  Since the article ran, I’ve received an outpouring of support from friends and colleagues whom I’ve not seen in years, to people from all over the country, and as far away as Australia, Belarus, Italy and New Guinea!  I think Lawyers Weekly’s thoughtful treatment has touched a nerve out there in the legal community, which is why I wanted to let everyone know, and say, Thank You.

My story is not uncommon amongst attorneys, yet it only my story.  Every one has one and everyone’s is unique.  It is critical to understand that, though the pressures lawyers face have commonalities, each person handles those pressures in very different ways.  We all create adaptive mechanisms to deal with stress, anxiety and conflict, and for many in the profession, they are sufficient to make it through each day unscathed.

For others, as for myself, defense mechanisms may not be enough.  As the outreach I’ve recently received makes clear, there are many lawyers out there who are suffering in silence.  They are too busy, or proud, or downright afraid to ask for help.  It has long been a goal of mine to de-stigmatize mental health care for lawyers, and so to that end, I say to the profession: help is out there – you only need to ask for it.

Sincerely,
Andrew Kang, JD, LICSW

Recent Post to The MWI Divorce Mediation Blog

Check out this post on Mediation Works Inc.’s Divorce Mediation Blog.  I will be doing a roundtable discussion with MWI on November 15, 2013.  Please read on and click below for more details.  

Divorce Mediation Blog

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Turning Towards An Alternate View of Divorce

  
  
 

Divorced and HappyBy Andrew Kang, JD, LICSW

Sometimes it happens. Two people fall out of love and lose their connection to one another.   Maybe they’ve tried hard to fix things, to no avail.  Maybe they have kept things going for so long that they run out of the energy or willingness to continue.  Maybe being together just doesn’t make sense anymore.  It happens, quite often, in fact.   That doesn’t mean these people are failures or that they are bad people.  But that’s probably what they’re thinking about themselves, due mostly to the dominant perception and narrative surrounding marriage.  Couldn’t there be another way to look at it?  Isn’t it possible for this to be the best decision for two people, and their family?   I would say, it happens.  And if care is taken in the process, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.  Instead it could be a wonderful beginning. 

I’ve been divorced.  I am familiar with the negative feelings – the pain of loss, the resentment, the guilt.  Such feelings are as inevitable as they are necessary.  In a very real way, a divorce is a traumatic loss.  And just as coping with any significant loss is an arduous process, so too is going through a divorce.   That process is unique to each individual, based on his or her makeup, predispositions and attitudes.  If a person is prone to anger, we might see that as the dominant emotion coming out in the process.  The same is true for someone who tends towards sadness, or detachment, or conflict.  But it can also be true of someone who sees the brighter side of things.  Optimists get divorced too, and their processes might look quite different.

However, what is consistent is what we have all been taught to think about divorce, and its precursor, marriage.   They call it an institution because of its strict codes, rules and traditions.  They call it a sacred bond, never to be entered into lightly, but also never to be broken.  I believe that most people enter into marriage with the best of intentions, and do not take it lightly.  They probably even intend for it to be permanent.  But permanent isn’t really the way most things in this world work.   Everything changes.  Especially people and relationships.  Some people grow together and some grow apart.  The trick is not taking on all of the negative press about divorce.  Going through it is hard enough, without having additional feelings of institutional failure to worry about.

For all of the assumed negatives, it is also true that after the unpleasantness is done, a divorced person gets their life back.  Or, better yet, they get a chance at a new life – one that looks the way they want it to look, one that they get to choose.   They get a life that they want to live, and they get to start living life again.  They have a chance at better choices that are true to themselves.  They get to have better relationships that are fulfilling and supportive rather than burdens that drain them.  They get to seek out connection rather than running to avoid it.  They are now free to have all of these things.  And haven’t they paid a heavy price to get them?  Shouldn’t they now enjoy them?  I think so.  I hope so.  

Divorce Therapist BostonAndy Kang is a therapist and is an Adjunct Professor at the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work.  Learn more about his work online at Boston Professionals Counseling

Andy is conducting an MWI Roundtable, “The Emotion of Divorce – A Primer for Mediators” on November 15, 2013 in Boston, MA.  For more information or to register click here.

“The Emotion of Divorce – A Primer for Mediators”
“The Emotion of Divorce – A Primer for Mediators”

 

Searching for A Profound Experience

“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.”Lao Tzu

I recently visited the Elements Behavioral Health facilities in Malibu California.  These included Promises, Spirit Lodge (located in Texas) the Sexual Recovery Institute, and the Professional Treatment Program, among others.  Offered are top-notch progressive treatments for the various forms of chemical dependency, addictions, and dual diagnosis.  The tour was a full day, and as I scanned through the printed out itinerary, I noticed the “Experiential with Wolf Therapy” scheduled for 2:00-3:00 at the Main house lawn.  I figured it was a new type of treatment that I hadn’t heard of before and that wolf was another acronym to learn among the countless that the field so loves to use.  As the day progressed, I began to realize that when they said wolf, they meant wolf… as in the wild animal; as in the big wild dog with fangs and love of full moons (a misconception, we would later learn).  I began to get nervous.

You see, I’ve always had a bit of fear of dogs. Ever since getting bitten as a young boy by a neighbor’s dog, I’ve shied away from them.  It was just a nip, really, and one that didn’t even cause a mark.  But, nevertheless, that incident was the genesis of an ongoing fear that lasted at least up until the time I got my own dog as an adult.  Certainly, I believed that I had long ago come to terms with the incident and the fear itself.  So it was strange to feel those feelings again as the anticipation of meeting with the wolves that afternoon approached.   It wasn’t dread, really, but more of a mounting anxiety, maybe on the level of worry over an upcoming exam or an important meeting.  Of course, anxiety lives in the moments before, so even as I was really enjoying the rest of the tour and meeting with the clinicians, the feeling of impending something kept growing.

Sure enough, 2:00 arrived shortly after lunch.  We headed over to meet the wolves.  Wait, did you say wolves?  There’s more than one?   My mind was racing with thoughts of possibilities.  What would we do?  What is the wolf therapy anyway?  Surely, they would be trained and we would be protected.  Some of the other people on the tour started talking about those padded suits that trainers wear so they don’t get torn to shreds by rabid dogs.  We aren’t doing that, are we?  Outwardly, I tried my best to keep it together.  We were told to put on our sneakers (would we be running?), and sweatshirts (is that enough protection?) and gathered in a circle on the lawn.

I tried to channel calmness and let the experience come to me.  I knew I had no idea about what would happen.  So I went with it.  We were introduced to Teo Alfaro, the founder of Wolf Connection.  He sat with us in our circle on the lawn and spoke to us about wolves.  The calming effect was instantaneous.  Here was the person who would be leading us through the experience.  He exuded calm and something else… something like awe.  As Teo spoke about the wolves and his experiences rescuing them, training them, and then utilizing them for therapeutic purposes with people, it became apparent how deep the wolf connection could be.

Wolves and humans have a connection that goes back more than 100,000 years.  It is both a natural and spiritual connection.  Because of this it is inherent within both species in the form of mutual adaptation.  Teo told us that the bond between wolves and humans is very different from the bond between dogs and humans because dogs are domesticated animals bred by humans to serve humans.  That process interrupted the natural bond, creating something man-made instead.  This is not to say that the bond between dog and human is not real or deep; it’s just different.  Teo told us we would feel this difference today, if we were open to it.

After going through a few rules which were essentially along the lines that these were not dogs so you couldn’t treat them like dogs.  Don’t approach from above.  Don’t reach out or come towards them aggressively.  Basically, let them come to you.   They will choose to interact with you when they (and you) are ready.  Then he said.  If you have anger and fear in your heart, they will know, and they will not come.  Oh great, I guess they’ll figure me out pretty fast, I thought.  But if you have pain, they will try to help you.   Teo called for Maya and Max. Out they came with their trainers on large chain leashes.  They had clearly been through this before.   They stood silently as Teo spoke.  We all just looked at them in awe.

Maya.

Maya.

Right away, Max began to peruse the crowd, sniffing around, and offering to be petted by the first and bravest of us to stretch out their hands.   I was still nervous they’d sense my fear.  Teo got us on our feet and took us on a hike into the Malibu woods.  As we hiked, we did mindfulness exercises and tried to get into the mindset of the wolf.  We keyed in to each of our senses, including smells, sounds and touch.  And at each stop we learned a new Wolf Principle from Teo, heard stories of how the wolves had touched and helped people in pain, and more of us were chosen by Maya and Max to be friends.

The first Wolf Principle is: “Wolves are always totally OK with who they are.”  Wolves do not have self-doubt, do not care what other wolves think of them, or worry about their power.  These are distinctly human qualities.  And at that point, it dawned on me that my fear and anxiety and history were getting in the way of the experience.  I began to breathe more consciously.  I embraced the surroundings, smelled the strong fragrance of the eucalyptus trees, heard the crackling of twigs and leaves beneath my sneakers, and felt the sun on my face and arms.  I believe this is when I just let it go.  Because, sure enough, that was when Maya came over to me for the first time.

I knelt down next to her, put out my hand for sniffing and started scratching her neck.  I felt accepted.  I felt honored.  And I felt all of my fear melt away instantly.  At that moment, I was so relieved and aware of my relief that I was basically filled with a sense of gratitude, to Maya, to Teo and to everyone around me.  This was a profound experience.  It was happening and I was aware it was happening.  The feeling continued through the hike and through the rest of the day.  I was riding a wave of gratitude and new perspective.  It felt great.

I usually end with some sort of wrap-up lesson, but this time I’ll just let the experience speak for itself.  Because I can’t really describe it any better.  I don’t know how it happened or why it happened.  I just know that it happened and how I feel about it.  Maybe that’s enough.  Please check out Teo and his wolves.  If you feel like it make a donation to help him continue the work with the wolves.  It is really amazing what they can do.

Andrew D. Kang, JD, LICSW, is a former attorney turned licensed psychotherapist.  His practice, Boston Professionals Counseling, LLC, focuses on helping attorneys and professionals with the issues they face and is located in Boston, Massachusetts.  Contact him at andy@bostonprofessionalscounseling.com or visit his website at www.bostonprofessionalscounseling.com

Boston Professionals Counseling

Internalizing Freedom

“Remember, Red, hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”  ~ Andy Dufresne.

I was flipping through the channels the other day, when I alighted on The Shawshank Redemption.  It’s one of those movies that I always watch regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, or even where it is in the course of the story.  It captivates me every time.  I never really stopped to think about why that is; I just figured I really like the movie a lot.  Tim Robbins’ performance as Andy Dufresne is probably his best, and Morgan Freeman as Red is equally spectacular.  But this time I realized that what draws me in is that it is fundamentally a story about freedom and hope, and how the two go together.  So, in the spirit of the 4th of July, I offer this perspective on freedom and wish everyone a wonderful holiday.

My favorite scene in the movie is the one in which Andy locks himself in the Warden’s office and broadcasts Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro over the PA system to the entire prison.  The scene captures the power of truly beautiful music as everyone in the prison stops what they are doing to listen, the faces of the inmates showing surprise, confusion and wonder as the track plays.  The moment is rudely and abruptly interrupted as the Warden’s henchmen break into the office and restore order to the prison.

Red narrates:

I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.
 

When Andy completes his punishment in solitary confinement, he explains the reason behind his act of defiance:

Andy: That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you…haven’t you ever felt that way about music?
Red: I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it though. Didn’t make much sense in here.
Andy: Here’s where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don’t forget.
Red: Forget?
Andy: Forget that…there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside…that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.
Red: What’re you talking about?
Andy: Hope.
 

I imagine these words would have even greater import if we were sitting in a prison cell.  And even though we are not, we often inhabit prisons of our own creation, within our minds.  We get trapped by and within limiting and self-defeating thoughts.  We are possessed by the confining belief that other people are in our way and to blame for our inability to move freely.  We think, if only I had this, or if only that would happen, everything would be better.  And we pace around furiously within this cage of thoughts, always focused outside of us, when the answer is and was always within.

Instead, why can’t we learn to embrace that freedom is a state of mind?  We don’t have to be in Shawshank to know that.  We only need to look inside of ourselves to that place no one else can touch, where the hope that things will be better resides.  We can be like Andy Dufresne and abide by the conviction of our belief that, regardless of our circumstances, we are truly free as long as we believe we are free.

Andrew D. Kang, JD, LICSW, is a former attorney turned licensed psychotherapist.  His practice, Boston Professionals Counseling, LLC, focuses on helping attorneys and professionals with the issues they face and is located in Boston, Massachusetts.  Contact him at andy@bostonprofessionalscounseling.com or visit his website at www.bostonprofessionalscounseling.com

Boston