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Intelligence, Willpower, and Status Don’t Always Help

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be used in place of professional advice, treatment, or care in any way. Lawyers, law students, judges, and other legal professionals in Massachusetts can find more on scheduling a Free & Confidential appointment with a licensed clinician here.

As a clinician at LCL, I recurrently have the opportunity to meet lawyers who present with exceptional academic backgrounds, who have excelled in their careers, and who have shown impressive vision and determination in their professional lives.  Even so, the matters bringing them to me are reminders that depression, addiction, attention deficit, anxiety, and the like are equal-opportunity problems, and that these individuals are no more immune from them than those whose backgrounds are less extraordinary.

One reason for that is the fact that different parts of our brains are, in some respects, at war with one another.  Rationality, decision-making, goal-directedness, etc. are functions that seem to go on mainly in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the cerebrum that is uniquely evolved in humans, and we’d like to think that we employ our cognitive capacities to control our lives.  But the fact is that much of our behavior is affected strongly by the limbic system, where we find the influence of emotion and reward.

Lawyers seek to live professionally in the prefrontal cortex, which is essential in the practice of law.  But they are human beings as well, and subject to the powerful behavioral impact of feelings (whether or not these are acknowledged) and reward states (such as those that can be unnaturally elevated by alcohol and other drugs of abuse).   Thus, we find highly intelligent, accomplished individuals, who have tried to apply their reasoning skills to problems of emotion or addictive behavior only to see these difficulties worsen.

We all have to recognize that there is much of life over which we have little or no control, and that when it comes to those parts of our experience we will probably benefit most from (a) acceptance of our human limitations and (b) willingness to make honest connections to others as sources of help.

Jeff Fortgang, PhD

CATEGORIES: Treatment & Therapy | Uncategorized

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