A Connecticut Therapist in King Arthur’s Court

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's CourtWell, maybe not King Arthur’s court, but how about just the idea of a Connecticut Therapist in Juvenile Superior Court? It’s a pretty scary idea for many of us and unfortunately is not always a great place for a therapist to be. And not unlike the Mark Twain classic, it can feel almost like being in a foreign land in a foreign time, complete with its own language and rituals, for many of us therapists.

Court is something that all therapists are trained in how to avoid, how to educate clients about it being in their best interest for therapists NOT to go to court. But sometimes it’s truly unavoidable and we seem to be woefully unprepared for that eventuality.

Often it’s a case involving the state in which a court appearance is unavoidable, like a DCF (Department of Children and Families, here in CT) case for instance. Adults divorcing is one thing, but speaking up for a child or children in tough circumstances is another. Kids need our voices. But also remember that a court is not a fun place for a therapist, or at least for this therpist.

When one is called to the stand, powerlessness overwhelms. No longer is it your job to guide the process, to say what you want, how you want or to reframe or to offer metaphors or analogies. It is a place of “yes” and “no” and only being able to respond to what is asked of you, even if you wish the attorney had asked something else. It is very disconcerting to want to say something that you might deem relevant but which might undermine the attorney’s strategy and plan.

As I have written previously, attorneys and therapists think and work very differently, necessarily so. So much of the law is about black and white while so much of therapy is about breaking the rigidity of black and white in lieu of vast shades of grey. But while you are in court, follow your attorney’s guide, even if you don’t know where they are going with something, it helps to trust that they do.

Court humorThere are rules associated with a courtroom. Here are a few tips. 1) If you are called to court by one attorney, that’s your ally. When that attorney asks you questions, it is your opportunity to say whatever you really want, to expand and offer as much as the Judge or opposing counsel will allow you to (before it’s objected to). 2) When the opposing attorney cross examines you, often that’s when it becomes very tough as they are trying to pin you to a “yes” or “no” type answer which may not fit the story. It is my experience that when I feel cornered like that, I ask the cross examiner to restate the question as many times as I need to be able to answer comfortably. But it can be tough to stand your ground when feeling pressured. 3) Remember too, to always take deep breaths and to go as slowly as possible as your words are being recorded and they will be referred back to and possibly even held against you.

I find the best mindset is to remember your task: to be the best therapist as possible to your client and to be as truthful and forthright as possible. No matter what happens in the court process, remember you get to go back to your office and continue doing the work you consider important and helpful, regardless of how the opposing counsel tries to make you seem. The courtroom day is only a small part of a large process and so try to keep it in healthy perspective.

Yes, we therapists do feel much like that Connecticut Yankee when we are in court, but remember too, like the Yankee, we get to go back to our favorite place, familiar surroundings and all, afterwards.

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